Hip Hop Caribbean Origins

Most Hip Hop historians claim that Hip Hop was formed in the South Bronx, during the 1970’s, in the poor Afro- Caribbean, Latino – Caribbean, and African American mixed neighborhoods.

However, after viewing Founding Fathers: The Untold Stories of Hip Hop, it much more likely that elements of Hip Hop was developed throughout New York City’s Afro- Caribbean, Latino- Caribbean, and African American communities, including Flatbush, Brooklyn and East Elmhurst, Queens. It began as a sub-culture between these neighborhoods. Hip Hop was non-mainstream music that most people only knew if they were involved in those communities, especially since it was most played in block/house parties. The Bronx is where all the elements of Hip Hop- graffiti art, break dancing, DJ-ing, rapping- were solidified and institutionalized. This formation of Hip Hop culture was facilitated by the Zulu Nation, a group formed by Afrika Bambaata during the 1970’s.

Mainly focus on the Grandmaster Flowers segment (11:28-14:30), Kings Charles segment (29:30-34:30), and overall spirit of Hip Hop culture during that time (1:02:00-1:09:06).

Grandmaster Flowers and King Charles predated better known Hip Hop contributors, like DJ Kool Herc; however, both were also heavily influenced by Jamaican music. Grandmaster Flowers was not of Caribbean descent, but he did live in primarily West Indies community of Flatbush, Brooklyn. Participants of the documentary remember how he was one of the first people to play club music from a sound system during Carnival, instead of traditional Caribbean instruments, like the steel drum. He brought the West Indian community and African community together through music- like Hip Hop.

King Charles was originally from Jamaica and moved to East Elmhurst. He was noted for developing innovations to New York sound systems with knowledge from sound systems from the Caribbean, such as using a certain type of amplifier to create a heavy bass, like in reggae. People in the documentary noted they knew that King Charles was foreign, but they had little idea that his heritage influenced his music so much, so when he played music most Americans did not recognize his sounds as ‘Caribbean,’ just unique. This is an example of how Caribbean style contributions can sometimes go unrecognized, because the audience of the music, as spreaders of knowledge, did not know themselves.

The clip about the overall spirit of hip hop culture during this time period expresses hip hop as a positive thing. It created a culture that connected various neighborhoods across New York City through the enjoyment of music. It stimulated friendly competition and acted as an outlet for creative expression for rebellious youth.

DJ Kool Herc is widely considered one of the founding members of Hip Hop. He was born in Jamaica, but emigrated at the age of 12 to the Bronx. This clip shows how his Caribbean heritage influenced his music, but how that influence goes largely unrecognized. Although DJ Kool Herc cherished his roots, he did not overly publicize his ethnicity in fear of backlash from the his new American community. In the interview he switches from his ‘American’ voice and his Jamaican accent. He states the Caribbean community were characterized as ‘smelling like curry’ and ‘being dirty’; this reveals dissonance between American blacks and the Caribbean, and the need to hid parts of his identity in order to be accepted. However, regardless if everyone was aware of it, Caribbean music did influence Hip Hop’s creation in NYC.

DJ Kool Herc’s main innovation that contributed the basis of Hip Hop is called ‘breaking’ aka the ‘merry go round’, which is combining and repeating instrumental breaks in order to make a rhythmic base.

The usage of sound systems and rapping over beats (toasting) was prominent in Caribbean dancehall, reggae, calypso, and dub music before the 1970’s creation of Hip Hop in America.

Example of 60’s Jamaican dub artist, King Tubby. Note his use of the sound system and short repetitive beats.

Example of Toasting from U-Roy, a Jamaican Reggae/ dancehall musician. He is performing a song from the 60’s in Jamaica.

Example of Heavy Reggae Bass Beats that influenced Jamaican- New York DJ King Charles, from Jamaican Reggae/ Dancehall artist Yellowman.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, are also considered founding members of Hip Hop. Grandmaster Flash was born in the Barbardos and moved to the Bronx when he was young. He is mostly known for building on breaking/ mixing/ scratching techniques used by earlier DJs, such as DJ Kool Herc. Another member of the group was called Kidd Creole, which points to Caribbean heritage. Supposedly, one of the members, ‘Cowboy,’ coined the term ‘hip hop’ when he was mockingly scatting to an army friend. Although, the term ‘hip’ has previously been known in association with drug culture.

Here is their 1982 hit, ‘The Message,’ that found mainstream success, which is definitely similar to the toasting video above.

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