Hip Hop Did Not Begin the Way You Think It Did

Hip Hop Did Not Begin the Way You Think It Did
Courtesy Kent Comedian Series
Back to Genesis: Rudy Ray Moore

To hear most people tell it, the history of rap goes like this:

MCs were originally rapping primarily to showcase their DJs. That is, until Sugar Hill Gang put out "Rapper's Delight" in 1979. It was the second rap record of all time and an enormous hit, proving there was a market for rapping on wax.

From there, Kool Moe Dee battled Busy Bee and changed how rappers could rap, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel put out "The Message," changing what rappers could rap about, and Run-DMC released "Sucker MCs (Krush Groove 1)," which changed how rap could sound.

At the start of it all, of course, was DJ Kool Herc's 1973 block party in the Bronx, which effectively created hip-hop as we know it.

Those are the bullet points, but they don't answer the questions of how rapping got started in the first place, or what gave birth to the music at block parties like Kool Herc's.

There are plenty of awful college music professors who, attempting to shock their students, float the idea that Bob Dylan "invented rap" or was in any way an influence on hip-hop. With all due respect to Jakob Dylan's father, this is not the case. Others primarily credit The Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron. But those theories are flawed, too. To get a fuller picture, let's take a few steps back.

There were many examples of proto-rapping on '60s and '70s records. While the influence of James Brown on early b-boys and MCs has been well documented, there were other influences as well. Take the tradition of "toasting," a rhyming speech given at urban parties, most popular in Harlem in the late '60s and early '70s.

"The toast would be a series of rhymes, and you would say it so it sounded real cool," says Curtis Sherrod of Harlem's Hip-Hop Culture Center. "It's like a boastful speech to set the party off." He cites a famous toast given by former WBLS DJ Frankie Crocker, who would end his shows by saying:

May you live as long as you want

But not want as long as you live

May you live to be 100 and I live to be 100 minus a day

So I never knew good people like you passed away.

Hip-hop was also greatly influenced by party records. Take Blowfly, the comedian and musician whose 1965 track "Rapp Dirty" is considered by some to be the first rap song. Then there's Rudy Ray Moore, better known as Dolemite, whose dirty rhyme routines over music not only predated Andrew Dice Clay by several decades, but continued the long tradition of rhyming in African culture.

Some stories told in rhyme go back centuries. Moore's "A Signifying Monkey," for example, is his take on the enduring tale of a trash-talking primate. Another famous rendition was by Oscar Brown Jr., a pre-rap poet and singer who was among the first to take traditional African rhyme routines and poems and set them to music.

Sherrod suggests that this rhyming tradition can be traced back to griots, who maintain thousands of years of history through oral tradition in West Africa.

There's also the use of rhyme in the black churches of midcentury New York, and the influence of the insult game "The Dozens." Add it all up, and the genesis story of rap begins to take shape.

Things began to crystallize in 1970s New York. Isaac Hayes rhymed in his soulful voice, and tracks like Jimmy Castor's "Hallucinations" (1974) feature an instantly identifiable early rap cadence. A favorite at this time was Lightnin' Rod's album-length tale Hustlers Convention, which was probably the closest relative to rap, before hip-hop officially began.

In traditional discussions of hip-hop forebears, the names that most often pop up are The Last Poets and Scott-Heron. But according to Priest Forever, a hip-hop historian and one half of rap duo The Gecko Brothers, the connection between The Last Poets and hip-hop wasn't really made in the media until the rise of Public Enemy.

While there's no denying The Last Poets and Scott-Heron helped popularize rhyming as a means of social communication, there's debate as to how much influence they had on those early 1970s block parties, like the ones Kool Herc rocked. And the huge sonic differences between these supposed direct antecedents and that of early hip-hop can't easily be overlooked.

At the end of the day, folks like Moore, Blowfly, and Lightning Rod surely had at least as much influence as their more politically correct contemporaries.

Even if that doesn't sound as safe in a cultural studies thesis.

 
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13 comments
lindseykims
lindseykims


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nycwindrider
nycwindrider

a well written article...but I do feel that the history of rap as stated above above is not going back far enough ....the largest influences on early rap I'd say was the West Indian songs performed through the islands (Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, The Virgin Islands etc.) using the call and response (or shout and sing)...where someone calls out a word and the performer sings) and the battling (performer to performer with music) is what is called CALYPSO that goes as far back as 1900's in the Islands...with greats like the Mighty Sparrow. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Lord Melody, think songs like "Banana Boat," "Jump the Line" songs by Harry Belafonte (the most commercial) "Back to Back, Belly to Belly, I don't give a dam, I done dead already" (a description on how poor people were buried) Calypso was a very political voice and the battling of performers were highlighted during Carnival times (a straight through week of dancing/partying during the Easter season.) for a full week the Islands celebrating by 3 days of marching with "troops" dressed in costumes to via each other for the best costumes...and the bands would "battle" the entire week and at what is now called "block parties. The island influence was brought to the "States" by West Indian families who settled in NYC especially in the Bronx. the most famous of singers that Calypso influenced is Bob Marley...who put "Ska" music (a style of dance) on the map.  I'm just sayin..ya kno?

nycwindrider
nycwindrider

a well written article...but I do feel that the history of rap as stated above above is not going back far enough .... the most important one (for me) is that  "... largest influences on early rap I'd say was the West Indian songs performed through the islands (Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, The Virgin Islands etc.) using the call and response (or shout and sing)...where someone calls out a word and the performer sings) and the battling (performer to performer with music) is what is called

Calypso that goes as far back as 1900's in the Islands...with greats like the Mighty Sparrow. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Lord Melody, think songs like "Banana Boat," "Jump the Line" songs by Harry Belafonte, "Back to Back, Belly to Belly, I don't give a dam, I done dead already" (a description on how poor people were buried) Calypso was a very political voice and the battling of performers were highlighted during Carnival times (a straight through week of dancing/partying during the Easter season.) for a full week the Islands celebrating by 3 days of marching with "troops" dressed in costumes to via each other for the best costumes...and the bands would "battle" the entire week and at what is now called "block parties. The island influence was brought to the "States" by West Indian families who settled in NYC especially in the Bronx. the most famous of singers that Calypso influenced is Bob Marley...who put "Ska" music on the map.  I'm just sayin..ya kno?

b1201
b1201

Check out 1966, Steve Reich's "Come out--Bruise Blood" Hip hop Sampling begins

b1201
b1201

Though be correct and give groove props to the true Sampling originals--the electronic avante garde composers of the 50's and sixties--Cage--then to Steve Reich's 1966 masterpiece "Come out-Bruise blood" Brilliant---game changer---smart brothers must check  out this Caucasoid genius!

shug4000
shug4000

@nycwindrider lol Are you kidding????? There's NOTHING remotely caribbean sounding about hip-hop. It's a uniquely American creation, it developed in the States and all of the music that it's mixed with is American(r&b, funk, and disco). Hip-hop traces it's roots to West African groits traditions, slaves who rhymed on plantion fields(signifying), the dozens, jazz-poetry, and spoken word poetry.

nycwindrider
nycwindrider

@shug4000 @nycwindrider  we're talking history and influences...so apparently you haven't been exposed to the music I'm talking about...but there is a definite influence. don't know what you think the Caribbean sound is but all of what you described as the traces of Hip-Hop are also out of the Calypso mix especially the 'battling." it's history...and influences...it's more the form of the music...or signifying ...so maybe you could take a few minutes and discover what I'm talking about...do a search on some of the performers  i mentioned.i started out in my comment saying it didn't go back far enough...and this is not an argumentative situation...its just history that you apparently don't know about...that's my point. the islands were the first stops on the slave trade shipping lanes... for the plantations on the islands, if you listen carefully enough you'll hear the rhythm of the spoken word which does indeed go back that far... and that's exactly what I'm bringing to (your) attention, the spoken word rhythmic poetry. the same goes for dance...it evolved right along with the music (which was often just what ever could be used to create a rhythm...tree logs, etc.) so a lot of the movements in most forms of dance can be traced back and recognized in the same fashion as Hip-hop...movements and music that tell a story...don't be so emphatic that you cut out knowledge...especially in defense of what you do know. if you are truly into music you might actually enjoy the discovery of a 'new' (old) musical influence.


nycwindrider
nycwindrider

@shug4000 @nycwindrider  we're talking history and influences...so apparently you haven't been exposed to the music I'm talking about...but there is a definite influence. don't know what you think the Caribbean sound is but all of what you described as the traces of Hip-Hop are also out of the Calypso mix especially the 'battling." it's history...and influences...it's more the form of the music...or signifying ...so maybe you could take a few minutes and discover what I'm talking about...i started out in my comment saying it didn't go back far enough...and this is not an argumentative situation...its just history that you apparently don't know about...that's my point. the islands were the first stops on the slave trade shipping lanes... for the plantations on the islands, if you listen carefully enough you'll hear the rhythm of the spoken word which does indeed go back that far... and that's exactly what I'm bringing to your attention, the spoken word rhythmic poetry. the same goes for dance...it evolved right along with the music (which was often just what ever could be used to create a rhythm...tree logs, etc.) so a lot of the movements in all forms of dance can be traced back and recognized in the same fashion as Hip-hop...movements and music that tell a story...don't be so emphatic that you cut out knowledge...especially in defense of what you know. if you are truly into music you might actually enjoy a 'new" discovery of musical influence.

shug4000
shug4000

@nycwindrider @shug4000  Everything is related in some way or another, however there's no DIRECT connection between Caribbean music and hip-hop. The genre was developed over time on American soil, by the descendants of American slaves.

kidkai_103
kidkai_103

@shug4000 @nycwindrider Actually if you look at it DJ Kool Herc himself is from Jamaica and has stated "toasting" Which is a staple in caribbean music is a DIRECT influence of rapping which is a part of hip hop. To say that there is no direct realtion between caribbean music and Hip-Hop is very very misinformed

 
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