Thursday, August 11, 2005

History of Hip-Hop: Planet Rock 1975-1986

Novel Soundtracks: Can't Stop Won't Stop - A History of the Hip-Hop Generation Broken into 4 parts (Loops)

Playlist: Loop 2 Planet Rock 1975-1986
Bam used to say, 'Hey, they throwing a block party in Bronxdale,' and he has his box and bagful of tapes with all the music... and when he starts walking to Bronxdale, he'd have like forty people walking behind him."
—Jayson "Jazzy Jay" Byas on Afrika Bambaata
Part 2 of Jeff Chang's excellent book Can't Stop, Won't Stop: History of the Hip Hop Generation, which explores the intellectual roots, political movements, and society's ills in the formation of a full-fledged culture that is hip-hop. (Click here for Loop 1.)

When you talk about the godfathers of hip-hop, three are usually named - Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and the enigmatic Afrika Bambaata, or Bambaataa Kahim Aasim. Bambaata was born (in 1957, probably - he won't talk about his age) in Manhattan and came of age during the late 60's, right in the middle of the struggle - integration or separation. James Brown's beat was of black power , while Sly & the Family Stone was a dance of integration, and both crossed-over to both sides, which appealed to Bambaata. He joined a gang around age 12 and soon found himself crossing gang lines and forming alliances. Later, as the gangs were receding, the Black Spades warlord could see the future, and it meant crossing not just gang but also musical borders to bring people together. He founded Universal Zulu Nation, the first hip-hop institution, raising consciousness of the four elements - Djing, MCing, b-boying and Graffiti writing (he later added a fifth column - knowledge.) He pulled together mashes as disparate as Kraftwerk and The Rolling Stones for the parties he DJ'd, and folks crossed gang lines for these events.

Kool DJ Herc was first with his the powerful sound system, and Baambaata followed, changing the game with his knack for programming... both of them were giants and had a crew to back them. Young Joseph Saddler had none of this... but what he did have was his style. Saddler, who would become Grandmaster Flash, took notes and experimented with two turntables in his room. He took Herc and DJ Jones' merry-go-round concept and turned it around, cutting one break into another. It fell on deaf ears initially, but he developed a crew that would vocalize over the top. "Cowboy" Wiggins commanded the crowd to "Say ho!" and "Throw your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care!" The Glover brothers, Melvin "Melle Mel " and Nathaniel "Kidd Creole," joined in as well, devising more intricate lines, inspired by the Last Poets and others. Grandmaster Flash and the Three MC's eventually grew to the Furious 5, and by 1977, every DJ that didn't rap scrambled to line up crews as raw as the Furious.

By 1979, however, the scene was dying... the kids had grown up and moved on to nightclubs, and DJ's there were adapting the Bronx rap and mix styles into their gigs, and the bottom seemed to fall out of the scene. Several record producers heard about the rap and fished for someone to sign, and Flash and the 5 were at the top of everyone's list - but Flash didn't really see the point. Black indie label owner Sylvia Robinson and her son Joey decided to record a track with three unknowns, Henry "Big Bank Hank " Jackson Guy "Master Gee" O'Briend and Michael "Wonder Mike" Wright. The song they recorded was Rapper's Delight" and they released in on their Sugar Hill Records label, under the moniker The Sugar Hill Gang. It used rhymes Big Bank Hank learned from managing Grandmaster Caz over Chic's "Good Times," and was an instant sensation. On one side, listeners were amazed to hear a 15-minute long song on the radio, while most MC's at the time couldn't understand how you could put hip-hop onto a record... how did they boil 3 hours down to 15 minutes? It became the best-selling twelve-inch ever pressed.

Overnight the world changed... suddenly Kurtis Blow (managed by a young Russell Simmons) was signed to a major label and released "Christmas Rappin'" and "The Breaks" on Mercury. Bamabaata jumped in the fray, and Flash decided to return Sugar Hill Gang's calls and released "Superappin'" a month after "Rapper's Delight" (thinking it would increase their bookings.)

Both hip-hop and punk were born of similar economic circumstances, only having race as a separation. Hip-hop crossed racial lines across the Atlantic immediately, with The Clash recording two songs with rap ("The Magnificent Seven" and "This is Radio Clash") for their album Sandanista! (1980.) When they played in New York in January of 1981, they added Grandmaster Flash and the Furuious Five as an opener. The crew was abused by the punk crowd and left after the second night. The Clash criticized their fans and learned a lesson about racism in America. Other white proto-punkers incorporating hip-hop into their sound were Malcom McLaren (manager of the New York Dolls and Sex Pistols) with "Buffalo Gals"; Tom Tom Club (Talking Heads vets Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth) with "Genius of Love"; and especially Blondie with their hit "Rapture," that had Debbie Harry rapping callouts to graffitti artist FAB 5 FREDDY, rapper Grandmaster Flash and... eh... something in French:
FAB 5 FREDDY told me everybody's fly, DJ's spinning I said, 'My, my!' Flash is fast, flash is cool. Francois c'est pas flashe non deux
In April of 1982, Bambaata released a single that had as much impact as "Rappers' Delight" in "Planet Rock," opening the world of rap for everybody. Sampling Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express," it had a feel that wasn't limited to the Bronx experience: "No work or play, our world is free. Be what you be, just be!" Meanwhile, over at Sugar Hill Records, controversy was brewing. House band percussionist and songwriter Ed "Duke Bootee" Fletcher put together a song called "The Message" that wasn't all fun and styling, and Flash and the crew refused to rap on it. But Sylvia Robinson and Bootee recorded it anyway, getting Melle Mel to add a verse from an unused version of "Superrappin'." After the rap was laid, they knew it was the next single. It became their biggest hit, and raised tensions in the group until Flash left Sugar Hill (within a year,) and for awhile there was two groups calling themselves Furious Five while a court decided who had rights to the name.

A documentary made during this time (the excellent Wild Style, now out on DVD) that created a stir, showing the graffiti artists and b-boys of the Bronx and their brief rise to the art gallerys of New York. B-boys the Rock Steady Crew also made a stir in Flashdance, setting the stage for the scene to be fully exploited. Breakin', Beat Streat were first out of the box, followed by Body Rock, Fast Forward, Krush Groove, Delivery Boys, Turk 182, Rappin', and even Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. It was too many movies, all rushed too quickly, and the scene was quickly squelched.

Hip-hop's center was now slowly shifting away from New York's uptown. By 1984, the biggest rap group was from the Queens: Run DMC. Managed by Russell Simmons, Run DMC were a reaction to old school - they used big booming drum machines and echoing raps instead of the disco rhythms that fueled rap before. Their first single, "It's Like That/"Sucker MCs" was released on Profile and sold well. Simmons teamed up with a Jewish NYU student named Rick Rubin and they formed their own label Def Jam to put out their albums, along with another Queens rapper, teen LL Cool J and white ex-punkers The Beastie Boys.

About this time, drugs began to deteriorate the uptown scene. CIA-sponsored anti-communist groups were funded by heroin (Southeast Asia) and cocaine (Cuba, Contras in South America) profits and by the 80's the drugs became affordable through volume and the innovation of one "Freeway Rick" Ross, who created "Ready Rock" or crack cocaine. Black and poor neighborhoods in large cities like NY, Philly and LA were the targets, and soon a new environment developed for hip-hop to be created in. Schoolly D, from North Philly, began rapping about beating down 'style-biters' and screwing cheap whores. Meanwhile, LA rap pioneer Tracey "Ice T" Marrow heard Schoolly D's song "P.S.K." and borrowed some of his style to rap from the perspective a teenage Crip on a b-side ("6 N the Morning") that created quite a stir in L.A. By the time Run DMC's tour (with Whodini opening) made it to SoCal, LA's gangs turned the concert into their own battlefield. Hip-hop was now becoming a voice of rebellion.

Next: Loop 3 The Message 1984-1992

Previously: Loop 1 Babylon is Burning 1968-1977

More: Jeff Chang's blog

Novel Soundtracks is intended as a soundtrack for a novel/book that is being read and can also serve on it's own as a music playlist. Songs referenced in the book are put into a playlist.

Previous Novel Soundtracks:
Novel Soundtrack: Kafka On The Shore (Murukami)
Novel Soundtracks: Killing Yourself To Live (Klosterman)
Novel Soundtracks: Drive Like Hell (Hudgens)
Novel Soundtracks: Fortress of Solitude (Lethem)
James Frey's My Friend Leonard
Jonathon Lethem's The Disappointment Artist

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drake leLane said...

History of Hip-Hop - Planet Rock 1975-1986

* "Everyday People" - Sly & The Family Stone
* "Family Affair" - Sly & the Family Stone
* "P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)" - Parliament
* "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself), Pt.1" - James Brown
* "Bambaataa's Theme (Assault On Precinct) " - Afrika Bambaataa and Family
* "Zulu Nation Throwdown (LP Version)" - Afrika Bambaataa Nation Cosmic Force
* "White Man's Got a God Complex" - The Last Poets
* "Hustlers Convention" - Grandmaster & Melle Mel
* "It's Just Begun" - Jimmy Castor Bunch
* "Love Is The Message" - M.F.S.B.
* "Good Times" - Chic
* "Rapper's Delight" - The Sugarhill Gang
* "Rappin' Blow (AKA Christmas Rappin')" - Kurtis Blow
* "The Breaks" - Kurtis Blow
* "Super Rappin' No. 1" - Grandmaster & Melle Mel
* "Melting Pot" - Booker T. & The MG's
* "Dance To The Drummer's Beat (Extended Version)" - Herman Kelly
* "Expansions" - Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echos
* "The Magnificent Seven" - The Clash
* "This Is Radio Clash" - The Clash
* "Buffalo Gals (original version)" - Malcolm McLaren
* "Rapture " - Blondie
* "Down by Law" - DJ Black Steel
* "Wild Style Theme (Charlie Chase Scratch Mix)" - Grandmaster Caz
* "Genius Of Love" - Tom Tom Club
* "It's Nasty (Genius Of Love)" - Grandmaster & Melle Mel
* "Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)" - Afrika Bambaataa and The Jazzy 5
* "Planet Rock" - Afrika Bambaataa
* "Trans-Europe Express" - Kraftwerk
* "Numbers" - Kraftwerk
* "Give It To Me Baby" - Rick James
* "Start Me Up" - The Rolling Stones
* "Pump Me Up" - Grandmaster & Melle Mel
* "Stepping Razor" - Peter Tosh
* "Youth Of Eglington" - Black Uhuru
* "The Message" - Grandmaster & Melle Mel
* "Hard Times" - Kurtis Blow
* "Tough" - Kurtis Blow
* "Renegades Of Funk (12" Vocal Version)" - Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force
* "Message From A Black Man" - The Temptations
* "Beat Bop" - Ego Trips
* "It's Like That" - Run-D.M.C.
* "Sucker MC's (Krush Groove 1)" - Run-D.M.C.
* "Rock the Bells" - LL Cool J
* "Brass Monkey" - Beastie Boys
* "Cokane In My Brain" - Dillinger
* "White Lines (Don't Do It)" - Grandmaster & Melle Mel
* "Freaks Come Out At Night" - Whodini
* "Roxanne, Roxanne" - U.T.F.O.
* "6 N The Mornin'" - Ice-T

Andrew said...

Great post. A lot of people don't make the connection between punk (aka the Clash and Blondie) and early hip-hop.


P.S. - Your presence is requested here

Kwame said...

Thanks for posting this valuable and historic material.

I lived in the Bronx in those days. I saw what happened.

I also have a blog here:

I manage a Yahoo! Group called NYC Gang History:

drake leLane said...

Cool... thanks for posting the link on the Yahoo Group!

I wasn't there... I was just a skinny white kid who was break dancing with immigrants from Guam in rural Washington State. Not a lot of street cred there, I know!

I still surprise folks now and then with a well timed helicopter spin, or some freak poppin'.

Term Papers said...

It meant crossing not just gang but also musical borders to bring people together.