History

The New York City Housing Preservation fought to keep the apartment at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue protected because of its historical importance in New York City. This building has been crowned as the birthplace of hip-hop, found in the South Bronx. This was where DJ Kool Herc, who was Clive Campbell at the time, held his first party in August 1973.

(Below is a documentary about hip-hop called Scratch taken from YouTube, submitted by user TheHistoryofRap with a standard YouTube License)

The South Bronx has been in a state of struggle quite a long time—in fact, it is currently one of the five poorest Congressional Districts in all of the United States. At mostly Jewish, the South Bronx saw a huge transformation at the coming of World War I that also brought about what is called “White Flight.” This huge migration wave moved whites out of the South Bronx into locations both south (into Manhattan) and north (upper New York) of it. By 1960, a majority of the people living in the South Bronx were African Americans and Puerto Ricans. With the neglect that followed “the White Flight” came a true decay of the South Bronx with massive landlord abandonment, increased gang activity, and recurring arson crimes. Further destruction was brought about by a man named Robert Moses, perhaps unintentionally, whose urban renewal plan included construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway straight through the middle of the South Bronx. The project displaced thousands of already impoverished Black and Hispanic people that were living in its designated path, and drove them to move further out into the South Bronx and even to other areas like Brooklyn and Queens.

(Below is a clip of extras from the 1983 film called Style Wars on graffiti in New York City submitted by YouTube user TheHistoryofRap)

At the same time, in the 1960s, the vacancy rates were at their highest in the South Bronx because of desegregation policies bussing students of color to different schools to put desegregation policies in action. Most parents soon followed suit and moved closer to the schools. The vacant spots made the perfect destination for block parties from whence the culture of hip-hop came about.

All of these oppressive factors set up the ideal environment for the flowering of hip-hop to take place, like a rose that grew from the concrete. The youth of the South Bronx were raised in a society that told them that they were not wanted or cared for, and so they took these sentiments of anger and abandonment and transformed the negative energy in an entire new culture that flourished from it.  From the vacant buildings that housed the block parties, to the neglectful NYPD that gave leniency for graffiti to color the Bronx, all of these circumstances buffered something larger than a music genre– but instead created a culture and social movement.

Originating in the late 1970s and continuing to present-day, hip-hop music has gone through many different transformations, and spawned a plethora of sub-genres around the world. Early hip-hop was distinctively percussive, as DJs isolated and looped the “break beat,” cueing the b-boys and break-dancers on the dance floor. It was created by the blending of various sections and elements of popular funk and soul music using turntables, a practice common in Jamaican dub music, introduced to New York City by the growing Caribbean immigrant population. DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican immigrant is often regarded as the father of hip-hop music. As mentioned before, his Sedgwick Ave apartment is considered the birthplace of hip-hop, where he used to throw block parties for everyone in the neighborhood. DJs like Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore hosted block parties all around the South Bronx where local artists like Afrika Bambaataa would perform, which helped to foster and spread the hip-hop culture as something completely unique to the area. The genre would be influenced not only by funk and soul, but also by a mix of mambo, electronic music, disco, and jazz as well.

Soon the hip-hop movement reached beyond the South Bronx and even beyond New York City, and soon enough it arrived in the West Coast. Today is a worldwide phenomenon. In the United States, hip-hop music began to move away from the dance floor and focus more on rappers by the mid-1980s and 90s. There was now an emphasis on the lyrical content of the songs and the rapper’s rhythmic delivery, which was often aggressive, harsh, and profane. Rappers’ lyrics often described the destitute conditions in which their fans lived in and were often the voices of activism and dramatic change. “Gangsta Rap” (also referred to as “West Coast Rap” despite the contribution of East Coast groups like Boogie Down Productions) was now a tool for Black and Hispanic youth to use for their voices to be heard. Groups like Public Enemy, N*ggas with Attitude (NWA), Ice-T, Tupac, and Snoop Dogg would reach national fame during this time, known as the “Golden Age of Hip-hop.” The Golden Age was a time characterized by great albums like “The Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest, “Enter the Wu-Tang Clan” by the Wu-Tang Clan, and “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” by Public Enemy. A link to a list of some of the greatest hip-hop albums to be released during the Golden Age can be found here, created by LA Weekly.

“Early Hip Hop” by Ronald Willaert (flickr)

The time of the “Golden Age of Hip-hop” is generally considered to have taken place between the 1980s and early 1990s because of the genre’s innovation, diversity, and international influence. MTV’s Sway says, “The thing that made that era so great is that nothing was contrived. Everything was still being discovered and everything was still innovative and new.” Writer William Jelani Cobb says “what made the era they inaugurated worthy of the term ‘Golden’ was the sheer number of stylistic innovations that came into existence… in these golden years, a critical mass of MC prodigies were literally creating themselves and their art form at the same time.”

 

Sources:

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  13. “Gangsta Rap – What Is Gangsta Rap”. Rap.about.com. 2009-10-31.
  14. 5:27 p.m. ET (2004-08-02). “The ’80s were golden age of hip-hop – RAP/HIP-HOP MUSIC- msnbc.com”. MSNBC.
  15. Cobb, Jelani William, 2007, To the Break of Dawn, NYU Press, p. 47.
  16. Scott Mervis, “From Kool Herc to 50 Cent, the story of rap – so far”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 15, 2004.
  17. Dyson, Michael Eric, 2007, Know What I Mean? : Reflections on Hip-Hop, Basic Civitas Books, p. 6.

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