History of Rap Music
American minority artist creation of which students need to be proud. Unfortunately, rap music is not perceived by many Americans as an art form, but as a fad which they hope will soon fade away. One of my Intentions with my unit Is to show that rap music Is not a fad, but a musical art form that has been around for over 20 years In the united States. In fact, one can trace the history of rap back to the West African professional singers/storytellers known as Grits. However, It Is not my intention to discuss in my unit the connection between the Grits and American AP music.
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Although, I will assign my students the task of doing a brief report on the African Grits prior to beginning my unit to help illustrate to my students that rapping has a long and illustrious history. I strongly suggest that anyone using my unit do the same. My unit is intended for middle school or high school students who are studying American history. One can not study American rap music without studying what is known as the Phi Hop’ culture. Rap is an integral part of this subculture that did not evolve or exist in isolation from Its other major components.
Thus, one of my unit objectives will be to not only discuss and study rap music but also the other major parts of this subculture. Dip Hop’ culture was also comprised of graffiti, break dancing, and the attitude and dress of the people who subscribed to the mores and traditions of this subculture. Another objective of my unit will be to examine the influence Jamaican music had on American rap music. Finally, I intend to examine some of the major American rap artists and their styles and the technology which played a major role in the evolution of rap music in the united States.
According to my research all sources seem to point to the Bronx in New York City as the origin for the Phi Hop’ culture. The first major component of this subculture I wish to explore is the graffiti aspect. Prior to discussing this aspect students need to know what conditions or events existed in the Bronx which fostered the development of the Schlep Hop’ culture. Steven Heaver In his book, “Hip Hop; the Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music and Graffiti,” states that there were three major events which took place In the Bronx which led to the birth of this subculture.
First, In 1959 Parks Commissioner Robber Moses began building an expressway through the heart of the Bronx. As a result, the middle class Italian, German, Irish, and Jewish neighborhoods disappeared overnight. In addition, businesses and factories relocated and left this borough. (l intend on having a map of New York City available to show my students where the Bronx is located at this point in my unit. I also plan on writing to the city of New York to inquire if a map exists which depicts the Bronx and the expressway construction back in 1959.
I would advise anyone using my unit o do the same. ) These exiting middle classes and businesses were replaced by poor black and Hispanic families. Accompanying these poor people were crime, drug addiction, and unemployment. The second major event which occurred once again under the direction of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses would siphon off a majority of what was left of the 1 5,382 unit co-pop apartment complex on the northern edge of the Bronx near an expressway. This project fostered and accelerated the Bronx middle class exodus from comfortable and well-kept apartments.
As a result of the skyrocketing vacancy dates reputable landlords began selling out to professional slumlords. As a consequence of this action the Bronx deteriorated into a neighborhood with many unwept and vacant buildings. The Bronx in this deteriorating condition fell prey to the third major event which led to the direct development of the graffiti aspect of the Phi Hop’ culture. This event occurred in 1968 and coincided with Robert Moses’ second major project in the Bronx, the Co-pop City. It should be noted that these last two events were not related.
This third event involved a group of seven teenage boys who began terrorizing the succinct around the Broadband Project on Brenner Boulevard in the southeast Bronx. This may not seem important, but this group of teenagers laid the groundwork for a surge of street gang activity that would overwhelm the Bronx for the next six years. This group at first called itself the Savage Seven, but as more members Joined, the group changed its name to the Black Spades. Overnight street gangs appeared on every corner of the Bronx.
It should be noted that Africa Bumboat (who from time to time in my unit will be referred to as Bam), who had a tremendous effect on rap USIA and the Phi Hop’ culture and who will be discussed at length in another section of my unit, was a member and leader of the Black Spades at one time. I bring this point up to illustrate that many rappers in the Phi Hop’ subculture were gang members at some time in their life. Gangs in New York reached their peak in 1973, so states Steven Hager in his book. The Black Spades, one of the largest stressing in New York, started to decline after this period.
According to Bam, some gangs got into drugs, others got wiped out by rival gangs, while others became so large that members did not want to be involved anymore. Bumboat went on to say that girls got tired of the gang life and wanted to start to raise children. Times were changing, with the advent of the seventies people were getting into music and dancing and going to clubs. One legacy of the gangs which affected the Phi Hop’ culture was gang graffiti. Nobody really knows how graffiti evolved, but we know that it has been around for a long time.
It goes as far back as during World War II when someone wrote “Killer was here” in a startling number of places in our country and abroad. During the fifties stressing used raffia for self-promotion, marking territorial boundaries and intimidation. However, around 1969 something changed and graffiti became a way of life with its own code of behavior, secret gathering places, slang, and esthetics standards for hundreds of New York City youths according to Steven Hager in his book. No one knows who started graffiti during this era but we do know who made it famous. It was TAKE 183.
TAKE 183 was a teenager from Greece named Demerits. Demerits was first influenced when he saw “Julio 204” written on a street. Julio was a teenager who lived on 20th Street. Demerits took his nickname which was Take and placed it front created. Demerits proceeded to write his tag name in as many places as he could find. Graffiti writing was mainly written with spray paint until the invention of the magic markers in the sixties. The magic marker helped the spread of graffiti writing because it was easier to conceal and at the same time left an indelible mark on Just about any surface as did the spray paint.
At first graffiti writing was limited to Just artists writing their tag names. Some examples of some famous tag names in NYC other than TAKE 183 were SLY II, LEE 16th, PHASE 2, and TRACY 168. There was a large group of graffiti writers who attended DeWitt Clinton High School which was located across the street from a Transit Authority storage yard. The subway system was a main target of the early graffiti writers. A common meeting place was a coffee shop near DeWitt on W. Moguls Parkway. Whenever a bus pulled up outside, dozens of writers would descend upon it and write their tags on it.
It is even evident today that some graffiti writers are still into writing their tag names by walking through any neighborhood in New York, or in fact by even walking through certain sections of New Haven. One activity I plan on having my students to do is to canvas the Fair Haven neighborhood looking for graffiti tag names written on buildings, sidewalks, etc. It might be difficult for students to find out who these graffiti artists are in their neighborhood because it is part of the graffiti writers’ code not to reveal their real names except to other graffiti writers.
Style is one of the most important aspects in graffiti writing. One could gain respect and recognition by getting one’s name around in large quantities, but it was more prestigious to create an original lettering style. One graffiti writer who did this in 1972 was an artist known as Super Cool. Super Cool replaced the narrow dispersion cap on his spray paint with a wider spraying cap found on a can of oven cleaner. Graffiti writers who imitated the writing styles of others were known as “toys”. According to the graffiti artist PHASE II in Steven Wager’s book, stealing spray paint went along with the graffiti lifestyle.
As you can see, as graffiti writing developed so did a code dictating behavior and style. As the graffiti aspect of the Phi Hop’ subculture developed, graffiti writing groups started to form. One of the most revered and earliest group to form was the Ex- Vandals. Another famous group was the Independent Writers who had Super Cool as a member. Independent Writers indicated their affiliation with their group by writing MINDS’ after their tags or signatures. Another graffiti writing group that deserves mentioning is a group called Wanted which was founded by TRACY 168 in 1972.
Tracy was a streetwise white kid who was so tough that he was allowed to hang out with the Black Spades. What made the group the Wanted unusual was that they had a permanent clubhouse in the basement of an apartment complex on the corner of 66th Street and Woodsiest Avenue in the Bronx. At its peak in the seventies the which existed in NYC were the Magic, Inc. , the Three Yard Boys, the Vanguards, the Ebony Dukes, the Writers Corner 188, The Bad Artists, the Mad Bombers, the Death Squad, the Mission Graffiti, the Rebels, the Wild Style, the Six Yard Boys, and the Crazy 5.
Membership was not exclusive, some graffiti artists belonged to several groups. Graffiti reached a new peak of activity during 1976 when whole subway car murals started to appear more frequently. The graffiti artist Lee Quinine’s became well known for his subway car murals. The Transit Authority did not view these murals as works of art. In 1977 the Transit Authority established a giant subway car wash at its Coney Island train yard at annual cost of $400,000. This discouraged many graffiti artists who were into subway train murals. At this subway car wash the cars were sprayed with large amounts of petroleum hydroxide.
After which, the graffiti murals and writings were buffed off. The graffiti artists referred to the spray as arrange Crush’ which they named after the defoliant Agent Orange’ which was used in Vietnam. The smell from this spraying caused many people who came into contact tit it to become nauseous. Some graffiti artists tried to counter this process known as Buffing’ by using a better quality of spray paint which they covered with a clear enamel. This was not effective because the Transit Authority found out that in order to counter this new technique, all they had to do was run the trains through the Buffing’ process several more times.
Lee Quinine’s had a better solution to the Buffing’ process. Quinine’s abandoned painting his murals on the subway trains and started painting his murals on handball courts. It should be noted that handball court painting originated with TRACY 168 but it was Quinine’s who was known primarily for painting these courts. Quinine’s court murals mingled cartoon imagery with a strong moral sensibility. One mural pleaded for end to the arms race. Another mural portrayed a ten foot tall Howard the Duck emerging form a trash can with the inscription: “If art like this is a crime, let God forgive me. These graffiti muralists painted for the pure pleasure without ever attempting to earn money from their art. One day, Fred Brattiest, a graffiti artist himself, approached Quinine’s about painting murals for money. Quinine’s thought that this as a good idea and together with Brattiest formed a graffiti mural group known as the FAA 5. The other members were Lee, Doc, and Slave. In the February 12, 1979 issue of the Village Voice in an article by Howard Smith this group advertised that they were available to paint murals at a cost of $5 per square foot. Smith asked Brattiest, ” Are you kidding?
Most people I know in this city are trying to get rid of you spray can freaks! ” Brattiest responded by telling Smith that graffiti art is the purest form of New York art ever created. Brattiest went on to say in this article hat it was obvious that the FAA 5 was influenced by such new wave artists as Warhol, Crumb, and Liechtenstein. Brattiest said this knowing that graffiti muralists were not influenced by these new wave artists let along the fact that many graffiti artists were realized the importance of connecting graffiti art with the hip downtown New York art scene, especially Andy Warhol.
Smith’s article attracted the attention of an Italian art dealer by the name of Claudio Brunt. Bruin contacted Brattiest and invited the FAA 5 to submit five canvases for an art show in Rome. The five canvases sold for a thousand dollars apiece. There were three other contacts with the legitimate art world at this time that should be noted according to the author Steven Hager. The first involved Stephan Nines, owner of the gallery Fashion Mood. Nines cultivated a relationship with local graffiti artists because he was looking for a new direction to go in other than what was socially acceptable at the time.
Graffiti art fit the bill. The second contact involved Sam Sexes, a Park Avenue art collector. When Sexes found out that there was an European interest in graffiti art via his contact with Claudio Brunt, he decided to pursue this art form. Graffito’s third contact with the legitimate art world was via Henry Callahan, a sculptor who had been taking pictures of graffiti during this period. Callahan approached Ivan Kara of O. K. Harris Gallery about exhibiting his graffiti photographs in his gallery, which Kara agreed to do. Slowly but surely graffiti art began to receive the recognition which it deserved.
In 1980 two key things happened that would have a lasting effect on graffiti art. The first occurred in June of 1980 with the Times Square Show. It was the first time new aspiring artists would come in contact with and display their art work with graffiti artists. One of the most notable contacts was that between Keith Haring and Fred Brattiest (Brattiest began to be known as Baobab Five Freddy’. Our students might recognize this name as the name of the person who hosts OHO! MAT Raps! ‘). It was after this show that Keith Haring began to produce the graffiti art for which he became famous.
Haring would be walking along through the subways and would Just stop and begin drawing with white chalk on the black tar paper used to cover unreturned poster ads in the subway corridors. It wasn’t unusual for Hiring’s work to o untouched in the subway system because his work was so admired. The other major event which was to occur in 1980 happened in December. Richard Goldstein, author of the first pro-graffiti story in a New York magazine in 1973, wrote an extensive article in the Village Voice on new graffiti writers.
This article was important for two reasons. First, Goldstein countered the myth that graffiti writers were an antisocial element. Goldstein felt that some of the graffiti artists who wrote on subway walls and tenement halls were bright individuals who were Just expressing themselves in the environment in which they lived. Second and most important, Goldstein in this article was the first to link graffiti and rap music together. His assumption that graffiti and rap music originated from the same cultural conditions was a valid assumption.
In fact, some prominent graffiti writers went on to record rap records and play an influential role in the development of the rap music industry, for example PHASE 2, FUTURE, and FAA Five Freddy (Brattiest). To have originated in the United States in the Bronx. Before discussing rap music in the United States one must examine Jamaican music because it had a tremendous effect on American rap music. One style of Jamaican music that needs to be explored was known as Toasting’. Dick Hebrides in his book, “Cut ON’ Mix” described Jamaican Toasting’ as when the Jamaican disc Cookies talked over the music they played.
This style developed at dances in Jamaica known as “blues dances”. “Blues dances” were dances which took place in large halls or out in the open in the slum yards. “Blues dances” were a regular feature of ghetto life in Jamaica. At these dances black America R&B records were played. Jamaican were introduced to these records by black American sailors auditioned on the island and by American radio stations in and around Miami which played R&B records. Some favorite R&B artists were Fats Domino, Amos Melbourne, Louis Jordan, and Roy Brown.
There was a great demand for the R&B type of music, but unfortunately there were no local Jamaican bands which could play this type of music as well as the black American artists. As a result, Sound systems’ (comprised of Ads, roadies, engineers, bouncers) which were large mobile discotheques were set up to meet this need. The record playing systems of Sound systems’ had to be large so people could hear the bass by which to dance according to Hebrides. The major player in the Sound systems’ was the DC. Some notable Jamaican Ads were Duke Reid, Sir Condone, and Prince Buster.
They were performers as well as Ads. For example, Duke Reid dressed in a long ermine cloak with a pair of Colt ass in cowboy holsters with a cartridge belt strapped across his chest and a loaded shotgun over his shoulder. This outfit was topped off with a gilt crown on his head. Just as there were to be DC battles (competition) in the Bronx, they would occur first in Jamaica with one DC trying to out play another DC. As in both Battles’, here in the U. S. And Jamaica, the competition oiled down to who had the loudest system and the most original records and technique.
It was not uncommon for things to get out of hand and for fighting to erupt during these DC battles at the Jamaican “blues dances” once the crowds got caught up in this frenzy. It was said that Duke Reid would bring the crowd under control by firing his shotgun in the air. At first Jamaican toasting began when Ads would Toast’ over the music they played with simple slogans to encourage the dancers. Some of these simple slogans were “Work it, Work it” and “Move it up”. As Toasting’ became more popular so did the lengths of the toasts. One of the first big “toasting” stars was a Jamaican named U Roy (his real name was Reward Backfire).
Another technique which developed along side Toasting’ was called Dubs’. Dubbing’ was when the record engineers would cut back and forth between the vocal and instrumental tracks while adjusting the bass and the treble. This technique highlighted the Jamaican Toasting’ even more. There are four areas which Jamaican Toasting’ and American rap music have in types of music relied on a strong beat by which they either rapped or toasted. American rap music relied on the strong beat of hard funk and Jamaican “toasting” elided on the beat from the Jamaican rhythms.
Third, in both styles the rapper or toaster spoke their lines in time with the rhythm taken from the records. Fourth, the content of the raps and toasts were similar in nature. For example, as there were boast raps, insult raps, news raps, message raps, nonsense raps, and party raps there also existed toasts that were similar in nature. At this point in my unit I will introduce my students to some music of some notable Jamaican toasters such as U Roy, Duke Reid, Sir Condone, and Prince Buster. In addition, I will ask my students to ring in some rap records which illustrate the different types of raps mentioned above.
Steven Hager in his book states that in 1967 a young Jamaican would immigrate to the Bronx bringing with him his knowledge of the Jamaican Sound system’ scene and Jamaican Toasting’ style. His name was Clive Campbell. He was known as Cool Here in the Bronx. Campbell received the nickname Hercules while he was attending Alfred E. Smith High School in 1970 by a friend. His friend called him Hercules because of his physique. Clive was into weight lifting. Clive did not like the name Hercules so he shortened it to Here. When Here became a graffiti writer he took the tag name Cool Here.
Cool Here began to DC in 1973 once he had amassed a great sound system. The Jamaican influence of having a large sound system was not lost on Here. Here realized that in order for large crowds to dance to his music they needed to hear the beat. Cool Here seldom played an entire song. He knew which part of the record sent his audience into a frenzy. It was usually a 30 second “break” section in which the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar stripped the beat to its barest essence. Here would buy two copies of the same record and play it over and over emphasizing he break section.
Here used two turntables to accomplish this feat. This technique became known as “beats” or “break-beats”. As in graffiti, style was important and to be imitated if it was good. What was odd about Here’s style was that he did not use headphones to locate the breaks on the other turntable as other Ads would do who would later use his style. As with the onset of Jamaican Toasting’, Cool Here also used simple phrases to encourage his dancers. But as the mixing in the “breaks” between the two turntables required more concentration, Here became the first DC to create MS-Dance team.
While Cool Here performed at a club named the Heaven, dancers to his music became known as Break dancers’) There are several other Ads that made contributions to American rap music that need to be noted of whom my students may not be aware. Most students if you ask them are aware of a technique called Scratching’, but are unaware of who started it. The technique called Scratching’ was invented by a DC called Theodore. Scratching’ involves the DC spinning a record backwards and forward very fast while the needle is in the groove. A record when it is handled in this way can become a percussive instrument.
With the advent of the CD, this technique may become obsolete. Another important Bronx DC was George Saddler who was known as Grandmaster Flash. Hits a particular break on one turntable while the record on the other turntable is still playing (and it does not necessarily have to be the same record as in the case of Here’s “break-beat” style). Punch phasing’ is used to accentuate the beat and rhythm for the dancing crowd. Flash also used a beat box. This was a machine that produced an electronic beat. As time went on some rap groups had members who were known as Nonhuman beat boxes’ who produced sounds using their mouth, lips, ND throats.
This technique has faded in use. One group that was famous for the Nonhuman beat box’ sound was known as the Fat Boys. There is one other early American DC that deserves mentioning and that is Africa Bumboat. Bam ran a sound system at the Bronx River Community Center. As Bob Marled was a spokesperson for reggae, Bam was an ambassador and spokesperson for the Phi Hop’ culture. Africa Bumboat was the name of a famous 19th century Zulu chief, the name means Affectionate Leader. Bam took his role as a leader in the Phi Hop’ culture seriously. In 1975 Bam founded an organization known as the Zulu
Nation. The major function of this organization was to replace gang rumbles and drugs with rap, dance, and the Phi Hop’ style. There is a chapter of the Zulu Nation in New Haven. At this point in my unit I will see if it is possible to get representative from this chapter to visit my classroom. At this point in my unit I would like to break away from talking about rap music and talk about Break dancing’ which evolved around rap. Break dancing’ was a style of dancing that grew up around rap music during rap’s early stages of development in the United States. Break dancing’ stretched the human body to its limit. It was a very dangerous form of dancing which I am glad to say has faded in its popularity due to the number of injuries incurred. Very few, if any students Break dance’ today. Once I describe some of the common Break dance 0 moves it will be quite evident why this type of dancing declined. One popular move in Break dancing’ was known as the Floor Lock’. In this move dancers would support themselves on one hand while spinning their bodies around while kicking out their legs. Another popular move was the Mishandling or Flow’.
In this particular move the dancers would spin their bodies while balancing them on en elbow. The backspin’ and the Mandolin’ moves were beak moves that used the shoulder as a pivot. The Theodosia’ move as its name indicates, required the dancer to spin using his head as the pivot point. Then there was the Lofting’ move in which the dancers would dive in the air and land on their hands. Probably one of the most dangerous break moves was the Suicide’ move. In this move the dancer falls forward with their hands to the side doing a complete flip landing flat on their back.
If the dancer survived this move they would freeze into a posture indicating the completion of their routine. As with other aspects of the Phi Hop’ subculture, originality and style were of the most importance in Break dancing’. It seemed that the more original the moves were in Break dancing’ the more hazardous they were to the dancer’s health. Replaced in the Phi Hop’ culture by dance moves known as the Dielectric boogie’ moves. Most of these moves would call for dancers to snap and twitch muscles in time to the music.
Some of the most popular moves of this style of dance were the Tick, the Mannequin or Robot, the King Tutu, the Wave, the Pop, the Float, and the Moonwalk which was made famous by the great Michael Jackson. In fact, many of Michaels dance moves were this style of dancing. Our students may still be familiar with some of these Dielectric boogie’ moves and with a little encouragement they might be willing to demonstrate some of them. Michael in his recent famous interview with Opera Winfred gave credit to the Moonwalk and several of his moves to dancers he observed in clubs and on the streets.
These moves had originated from dancers into the Phi Hop’ culture. The Dielectric boogie’ moves according to Hebrides were replaced in 1982 by a type of dancing known as Offer style’ in which dancers would improvise their own moves. As I was researching my unit I asked several middle and high school students what new dance was popular now and their response was Offer style’. They said, “Mr.. Rhodes, we Just do whatever we feel like doing. ” This may be the case, but if one observes a middle school or high school dance one can not but help to notice that some of the dance moves seem very similar in nature.
I believe that this can be explained by the fact that even though style and originality have always been important factors in the Phi Hop’ culture so has imitation. When one examines the dress of the Phi Hop’ culture it is quite evident that one ajar factor affecting the dress of this subculture has been their dances. Whether the dancer was doing Break’ moves, Dielectric boogie’ moves, or Offer style’ moves loose fitting clothing was a prerequisite in order to do these moves. Also, comfortable shoes would be needed, and sneakers seem to have filled this need.
One only needs to look at what are students love to wear to see the validity in the statements concerning dress made above. A question may arise about why young male students wear their pants hanging down by their hips. This style did not result from the dance tales of the Phi Hop’ culture but from a more dubious source, one that many of these young male students are completely unaware of. This style originated in the prisons. Unfortunately, there is a high percentage of young minorities that are incarcerated at some point in their life.
Once behind these locked doors prison officials usually remove inmates’ belts for obvious reasons. As a consequence, inmates would walk around with their pants around their hips. Once these young inmates were released and returned to their old neighborhoods, they brought with them this style of wearing their pants around their hips. This style became popular with young males without their realizing they were emulating a style that had originated in prison. I by no means am implying that if these young males had known the origin of this style that this style would not have become so popular.
If one talks to any one who has been incarcerated they will substantiate the fact that this style has been in prisons for many years. Though rap is proportionally more popular among blacks, its primary audience is white and lives in the suburbs according to David Samuels in his article in the November 11, 1991 issue of “The New Republic. The article was titled “The Rap on Rap: the Aback Music’ that Isn’t Either”. Samuels attempts to substantiate this fact by revealing that the number one selling record in 1991 according to Billboard Magazine was Magazine, a celebration of gang rape and other violence by the group N. W. A. Naggers With Attitude). Billboard Magazine in the summer of 1991 started to use Scandalous’, a much more accurate method of counting record sells by scanning the bar codes of records sold at the cash register instead of relying on big-city record stores to determine the most popular record. Samuels went on to state that the more papers were packaged as violent black criminals the bigger the white audience became. I do not think any one can account for the popularity of rap to a white audience no more than one could account for the popularity of the black entertainment in the Speakeasies’ to the white audiences of the late asses and asses.
Other than the attraction which exists for something that is taboo or forbidden by one’s social group. The first rap record to make it big was “Rapper’s Delight” released by the Sugar Hill Gang on Saliva and Joey Robinsons Sugar Hill label. Mr.. David in his article said that Rapper’s Delight” (a nonsense rap), “White Lines” (a rap with an anti-drug theme), and “The Message” (about ghetto life in the black neighborhood) were designed to sell records to whites and had a less favorable reaction in the streets where rap was created according to Russell Simmons, president of Defy Jam Records.
Simmons recalls an incident when Jungle, a famous DC of the time, was playing “The Message” and Ronnie DC put a pistol to his head and said, Take that record off and break it or I’ll blow your boo-g head off. The whole club stopped until he broke the record and put it in the garbage. This attitude may have been true for certain papers but I have my doubts if this attitude was a true reflection of how a majority of African-Americans felt who liked rap music.
I base my assumption on the fact that when I used to frequent clubs, two of the most requested records were “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message”. (These clubs were predominately attended by blacks. ) Run-D. M. C. Was the first black rap group to break through to a mass white audience with their albums, Run-D. M. C and King of Rock. These albums led the way that rap would travel into the musical mainstream. Even though Run-D. M. C. Dressed as if they came right off the street corner, this was not the case. Run and D. M.