A deep dive into the origins and future of hip-hop
The artists that your favorite rappers of today were inspired by
Hip-hop has been the most popular genre in the United States since 2017. It’s no secret the genre has taken over the country, but what exactly is hip-hop, and how did it start?
Before there was the modern rap scene with acts like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, there was a long line of people who built the foundation for the greats we have today.
How was hip-hop created?
Hip-hop originated in New York City during the 1970s. It started out as strictly live music, reserved for loud nightclubs and street corners.
Block parties started up in the ‘70s as well, and DJs found that if they played just the percussion and no melody, it could create a genre in and of itself. The term hip-hop, however, was not used until this music first started being recorded.
DJ Kool Herc, known as the godfather of hip-hop, hosted live parties during this time with traditional hip-hop drums, building the foundation for the beats we know today.
Artists of this time drew crowds at different parties in the Bronx and eventually moved to Manhattan once the genre got more traction within the city. 1520 Sedgwick Ave. is credited as the birthplace of hip-hop, where Kool Herc threw a historic birthday party for his sister, and where the idea of hip-hop would first come into existence.
The main reason hip-hop gained traction and popularity was due to the oppression of Black and brown communities in New York.
Rappers told the unfiltered truth about their environment — how it was severely overpoliced, and how their resources were taken away by external forces such as the government.
Hip-hop as recorded music originated in rap groups because resources were limited in the Bronx, and it required multiple people to pool funds in order to have adequate resources for recording time and equipment.
“Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang was the first rap song officially recorded and published. “Rapper’s Delight” was also the first hip-hop single to reach the Top 40, and the name “hip-hop” actually originates from the song’s lyrics. Although the genre prides itself on original songwriting, the reality is that the first hip-hop record wasn’t written by the recording artist, with the lyrics on “Rapper’s Delight” accredited to Grandmaster Caz.
Another classic is “Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C., which was the first hip-hop song to reach the Top 5 on the charts, and helped hip-hop evolve into a fusion of rock and rap instead of just the traditional brake drums.
Influential artists in the genre
DJ Kool Herc promoted brake drums in hip-hop to a large audience and inspired listeners of the genre to become rappers.
Groups such as the Cold Crush Brothers and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five were influential in starting the hip-hop genre and hosted live rap battles where emcees would take turns rapping over drum breaks. These two groups had a legendary rap battle between each other, and it got passed around in the streets, spreading the hype of hip-hop all over New York. This one battle inspired hundreds of emcees to take the craft more seriously.
As for more recent acts, Tupac Shakur, known professionally as 2Pac, influenced the poetic side of hip-hop. Although the storytelling aspect of hip-hop was present, 2Pac was able to convey emotions from his environment better than any other MC at the time. 2Pac set the groundwork for lyrical and conscious hip-hop.
In the modern day, many cite Drake for bringing hip-hop to intersect with pop listeners, creating a mix of traditional hip-hop combined with melodies to create something more accessible for a mainstream palate. While some may critique Drake for “watering down” the original form of hip-hop, Drake is heavily responsible for hip-hop’s rise to mainstream fame.
Hip-hop on an international level
Hip-hop has come a long way since that fateful DJ Kool Herc birthday party, and the genre has been used in countless ways outside of music since.
For example, many rappers from Iran have criticized their corrupt government through hip-hop, and due to censorship laws in the country, many of said artists have had to go abroad to release their music. The censorship and detainment many face for criticizing the government prove the exact point that artists are trying to make about the government’s corrupt nature.
Another example of international rappers making a difference is Vietnamese rapper Suboi, with her song N-Sao?, taking aim at corrupt police in Ho Chi Minh City.
Hip-hop has affected many lives, allowing people who were given a voice a chance to tell their story, and it has and continues to be a massive vehicle for political change.
So the next time you turn on the newest Drake pop-rap record, don’t forget about how the genre came to be, and the people who laid the groundwork for it to rise.
This article was edited by Sara Winick, Kylie Bill and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Sophia Rocha and Stella Guzik.