Friday, August 05, 2005

History of Hip-Hop: Babylon is Burning 1968-1977

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

Playlist: Loop 1 Babylon is Burning 1968-1977
Hip-hop is the voice of this generation. Even if you didn't grow up in the Bronx in the '70s, hip-hop is there for you. It has become a powerful force. Hip-hop binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together.
—DJ Kool Herc, from the Introduction
Jeff Chang's comprehensive look at hip-hop is quite a read. It explores the intellectual roots, political movements, and society's ills in the formation of a full-fledged culture that is hip-hop. It's born, like steel and glass, in fire. Both the Bronx (NY, USA) and Trenchtown (Kingston, Jamaica) were ablaze with fires and saw music born of it's ashes. The following is just a 'cliff notes' of the musical-related aspects of the book - I recommend it highly for an in-depth look.

Jamaica had a national identity crisis following it's independence from Great Britain. From this rose Reggae, which as often is said, is rap music's elder kin. Leaders like Marcus Garvey and Ethiopia's Haile Selassie (pictured left) brought a rise in the black identity of youth (especially in the impoverished western Kingston ghettos - Back-O-Wall being the most prominent,) which became known as the Rastafari movement. These Rastafarians learned Burru drumming, an African art durvived from the days of slavery. Burru centered on the interplay of three drums, bass, alto and the repeater. In Jamaica, the repeater was mimiced by the 'DJ' which was their term for 'rapper.' In 1966, Back-O-Wall was demolished by the Jamaican Labour Party, ending in a blazing fire. A housing project named Tivoli Gardens was put in it's place and populated with JLP-friendly residents. "Two Sevens Clash," by Culture, sings of this divide.

In 1972, Perry Henzell's movie The Harder They Come (starring Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff) came out based on a real-life fifties Kingston outlaw. Both the movie's music and story helped frame Jamaica in the 1970's. The record label Island Records financed the movie, and head Chris Blackwell was so inspired by it's success, that he signed a struggling reggae band called the Wailers and tried to cross them over to a wider mainstream audience. For their Island debut (Catch a Fire, 1973) they brought in Muscle Schoals session guitarist Wayne Perkins and keyboardist Rabbit Dundrick to overdub tracks ("Concrete Jungle".)

About this time, a small backyard studio in Kingston called the Black Ark was cranking out imaginative sounding releases, and it's eccentric owner was Lee "Scratch" Perry. Perry used his analog machines to turn sounds over and back into themselves creating fragmented loops. Dub had already existed by this point, created by accident, legend has it, by Ruddy Redwood. Songs were often recorded on to exclusive acetates called 'dubplates' and one time an engineer forgot to pan up the vocals on the Paragons' hit "On the Beach" and Redwood used the uncorrected acetate to a dance that night and mixed between the vocal and the dub, sending the crowd wild. They began to use these 'vocal-less riddims' as b-sides, which was cheaper then recording another song, and they could be used by DJ's to rock patwa rhymes over. Thus 'dub' is born by accident, and a clear foreshadow of rap's riddims to come.

Dub became a force of political lyricism and African idealism, with Lee "Scratch" Perry at the helm for much of it. Artists making time in the dub scene were Max Romeo, Keith Hudson, Niney the Observer, Joe Biggs, Philip Smart, Harry Mundie, and the most influential dubmaster, King Tubby. During this time, politics and economic difficulties burdened Jamaica, and there was even an attempt on the life of Bob Marley, so he'd gone into exile. In 1977, he was brought back to headline a "One Love Peace Concert," uniting the warring sides under a peace treaty. That wouldn't last, however, and the Reagan-courted JLP helped spring a new wave of violence in 1980, with nearly 900 dying in election-year violence. In 1979, the Marley camp was being tailed by CIA operatives and Marely himself was diagnosed with cancer. By 1981, he was dead. In 1978, Perry's Black Ark (which had become a center for Boboshanti by that time) began to be dismantled. Perry shaved his dreads and sent away the Rasta groups. In 1983, Perry burned the studio to the ground.

The South Bronx was also ablaze, as slum lords repeatedly burned their properties for insurance when maintenance was needed - between 1973 and 1977, 30,000 fires were set in the South Bronx. How did this happen? The Cross-Bronx Expressway displaced 60,000 people, forcing them into housing projects in the south Bronx. White picket fences of the suburbs drew the white families while the working class poor got isolated concrete slab housing that became riddled with crime. The South Bronx was full of white (Jewish, Irish, Italian) youth gangs that preyed upon the new occupants, making them form their own gangs. These gangs were set up originally to protect their neighborhood: The Young Lords, Savage Skulls, and Savage Nomads. Soon though, they began fighting eachother. More gangs joined in, the Black Spades, the Bachelors, the Roman Kings, the Mongols... and the Ghetto Brothers, who tried to act as peacemakers (and musicians.) After a truce was reached, the Ghetto Bros. played Friday night block parties, which the kids loved to dress up and dance at - instead of gang'ing.

DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) came from Jamaica in 1967 with his family and started DJing house parties before moving up to taking on these outdoor block parties. By 1974, Herc started noticing the kids waiting on certain drum breaks (ex. "Get On The Good Foot " by James Brown live on Sex Machine & "Fencewalk" by Mandrillto) to make their moves, and he zeroed in on what was becoming the heart of the song - the break. He began looping two of the same album together in a technique he called the merry-go-round - extending a five-secon break into a much more danceable length of sequence of loops. The dancers got a name from Herc too, he called them break boys, or b-boys for short. By 1977 competitors lined up for Herc's crown, with a grid setup not unlike the gangs in prior years - Grandmaster Flash had a grid as did former Black Spade Afrika Bambaataa (with his Zulu Nation.)

Next: Loop 2 Planet Rock 1975-1986
Loop 3 The Message 1984-1992

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.

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)
Jonathon Lethem's The Disappointment Artist

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Shawn Anderson said...

Hip-Hop History - Babylon's Burning 1968-1977

* "Two Sevens Clash" - Culture
* "The Harder They Come" - Jimmy Cliff
* "Concrete Jungle" - Bob Marley & TheWailers
* "Police & Thieves " - Junior Murvin
* "Mr. President " - The Heptones/Jah Lion
* "Children Are Crying" - Johnny Osbourne
* "On The Beach" - The Paragons
* "Better Must Come" - Delroy Wilson
* "Simmer Down" - Bob Marley & The Wailers
* "Smile Jamaica (Part One)" - Bob Marley
* "Satta Massa Gana" - The Abyssinians
* "Africa" - The Mighty Diamonds
* "Place Called Africa" - Junior Byles
* "Dreamland" - Bunny Wailer
* "Ballistic Affair" - Leroy Smart
* "War In A Babylon" - Max Romeo
* "Revelation Dub" - The Upsetters
* "Three Little Birds" - Bob Marley & The Wailers
* "Baby I Love You So" - Jacob Miller
* "Dread Lion" - The Upsetters
* "So Long Rastafari" - Niney The Observer with Dillinger and Trinity
* "Heavy Manners" - Prince Far I
* "State Of Emergency" - Joe Gibbs & The Professionals
* "King Tubby's Conversation Dub" - King Tubby
* "Blackman Redemption" - Bob Marley & The Wailers
* "Rastaman Live Up!" - Bob Marley & The Wailers
* "Jamming" - Bob Marley & The Wailers
* "I'm Your Captain" - Grand Funk Railroad
* "Get On The Good Foot" - James Brown
* "Fencewalk" - Mandrill
* "Get Ready" - Rare Earth
* "Soul Power, Pt.1" - James Brown
* "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose" - James Brown

Robert Burke said...

Great post! You never cease to amaze!

Shawn Anderson said...

hey, thanks... this book has been so informative and enjoyable, I figured it'd be hard not to do an interesting post around it.

of course now I have to deliver the other 3 loops, which is no small order.