EARLY DAYS OF HIP HOP
example in August of '67, Martin Luther King Jr addressed the Association
of Television and Radio Broadcasters. Here he delivered an eloquent
speech in which he let it be known that Black radio djs played an intricate
part in helping keep the Civil Rights Movement alive. He noted that
while television and newspapers were popular and often times more effective
mediums, they rarely languaged themselves so that Black folks could
relate to them. He basically said Black folks were checking for the
radio as their primary source of information.
Author Nelson George talks extensively about this in his book 'The Death Of Rhythm And Blues'. He documented how NY's Black radio station began to position themselves so they would appeal to a more affluent, older and to a large degree, whiter audience. He pointed out how young people found themselves being excluded especially when bubble gum and Europeanized versions of disco music began to hit the air waves. To many, this style of music lacked soul and to a large degree sounded too formulated and mechanical. In a recent interview hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa spoke at length how NY began to lose its connection with funk music during this that time. He noted that established rock acts doing generic sounding disco tunes found a home on black radio. Acts like Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones were cited as examples. Meanwhile Black artists like James Brown and George Clinton were for the most part unheard on the airwaves. Even the gospel-like soulful disco as defined by the 'Philly sound' found itself losing ground. While the stereotype depicted a lot of long haired suburban white kids yelling the infamous slogan 'disco sucks', there were large number of young inner city brothers and sisters who were in perfect agreement. With all this happening a void was created and hip hop filled it... Point blank, hip hop was a direct response to the watered down, Europeanized, disco music that permeated the airwaves.. FYI around the same time hip hop was birthed, House music was evolving among the brothers in Chicago, GoGo music was emerging among the brothers in Washington DC and Black folks in California were getting deep into the funk. If you ask me, it was all a repsonse to disco.
In the early days of hip hop, there were break dance crews who went around challenging each other. Many of these participants were former gang members who found a new activity. Bambataa's Universal Zulu Nation was one such group. As the scene grew, block parties became popular. It was interesting to note that the music being played during these gigs was stuff not being played on radio. Here James Brown, Sly & Family Stone, Gil Scott Heron and even the Last Poets found a home. Hence a younger generation began building off a musical tradition abandoned by its elders. Break beats picked up in popularity as emcees sought to rap longer at these parties. It wasn't long before rappers became the ONLY vocal feature at these parties. A microphone and two turntables was all one used in the beginning. With the exception of some break dancers the overwhelming majority of attendees stood around the roped off area and listened carefully to the emcee. A rapper sought to express himself while executing keen lyrical agility. This was defined by one's rhyme style, one's ability to rhyme on beat and the use of clever word play and metaphors.
In the early days rappers flowed on the mic continously for hours at a time..non stop. Most of the rhymes were pre-written but it was a cardinal sin to recite off a piece of paper at a jam. The early rappers started off just giving shout outs and chants and later incorporated small limricks. Later the rhymes became more elaborate, with choruses like 'Yes Yes Y'all, Or 'One Two Y'all To The Beat Y'all being used whenever an emcee needed to gather his wind or think of new rhymes. Most emcess rhymed on a four count as opposed to some of the complex patterns one hears today. However, early rappers took great pains to accomplish the art of showmanship. There was no grabbing of the crotch and pancing around the stage. Pioneering rapper Mele-Mel in a recent interview pointed out how he and other acts spent long hours reheasing both their rhymes and routines. The name of the game was to get props for rockin' the house. That meant being entertaining. Remember back in the late 70s early 80s, artists weren't doing one or two songs and leaving, they were on the mic all night long with folks just standing around watching. Folks had to come with it or be forever dissed.
Before the first rap records were put out (Fat Back Band's King Tem III' and Sugar Hill Gang's 'Rapper Delight'), hip hop culture had gone through several stages. By the late 70's it seemed like many facets of hip hop would play itself out. Rap for so many people had lost its novelty. For those who were considered the best of the bunch; Afrika Bambaataa, Chief Rocker Busy Bee, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Four (yes initially there were only 4), Grand Wizard Theodore ad the Fantastic Romantic Five, Funky Four Plus One More, Crash Crew, Master Don Committee to name a few had reached a pinnacle and were looking for the next plateau. Many of these groups had moved from the 'two turntables and a microphone stage' of their career to what many would today consider hype routines. For example all the aforementioned groups had routines where they harmonized. At first folks would do rhymes to the tune of some popular song. The tune to 'Gilligan's Island' was often used. Or as was the case with he Cold Crush Brothers, the 'Cats In the Cradle' was used in one of their more popular routines. As this 'flavor of the month' caught hold, the groups began to develop more elaborate routines. Most notable was GM Flash's' Flash Is to The Beat Box'. All this proceeded 'harmonizing/hip hop acts like Bel Biv DeVoe by at least 10 years.