The History and Origins of Hip-Hop Music
Hip-hop music was started in the United States in the 1970s by predominately young African American youth. Although the terms “hip hop” and “rap” are often used interchangeably, they are two separate things. Hip-hop is a genre of music and a subculture that formed during the 1970s in South Bronx, New York when block parties were commonplace.
The first moment in hip-hop history took place on August 11, 1973 during a block party hosted by Clive Campbell, better known by his stage name DJ Kool Herc. Campbell provided the music for his sister’s birthday party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, where he used a sound system, a guitar, and two turntables to entertain the crowd. Marcus Reeves, journalist and author of “Somebody Scream! Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power,” stated that “Kool Herc brought the idea of the Jamaican sound system to America.”
Herc also invented the technique often used by DJs called the breaks or breakbeats. This technique involves playing a song on two turntables, while spinning one of the records back to the break repeatedly. Reeves went on to say about Herc that “his innovation was bringing the breakbeat to the sound of this new movement… He would just kind of drop a needle on the record, and just kind of go back and forth.” Because of these achievements, DJ Kool Herc is widely known as the father of hip hop.
Hip-Hop Music, The Beginnings
Born and raised in Jamaica, DJ Kool Herc got his musical start as a teenager by spinning records at parties between sets when his father’s band played in the Bronx. He often borrowed from the sounds of music DJs in Jamaica by toasting (talking) over the records, but Herc’s real success came from something even more innovative that would be copied by everyone from rappers, comedians, and talk show hosts for years to come. DJ Kool Herc’s signature innovation came from observing the crowd and the crowds’ reaction toward him. He said, “I was noticing people used to wait for different parts of whatever records he happened to be playing.” Herc saw that people would wait for particular parts of the record and then they would dance or do their signature dance move. Coincidentally, or fortuitously, for Herc, these moments happened during the drum breaks or when there would be a measure of nothing but pure rhythm.
Herc saw the opportunity and used the two turntables to switch back and forth repeatedly between the two copies of the records, thereby extending the drum beat that the crowd was most interested in hearing. He called his hip-hop music trick the “Merry-Go-Round,” but today it is known as the “break beat.”
Although the party on August 11, 1973 was what many consider to be the start of the hip-hop movement, it was only the beginning. The success of that party helped begin a grassroots musical revolution that would spread across the country and the world.
It would be six more years after that 1973 block party before the term “hip hop” even entered the American lexicon. Credit of coining the term itself is often given to Keith Cowboy of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. While Cowboy and others in the band used the term hip-hop, the musical style was still commonly known as “disco rap” music. It is believed that Cowboy coined the term while poking fun at a friend who had recently joined the U.S. Army. He did this by scat singing the words “hip/hop/hip/hop” to mock the cadence of soldiers marching. Cowboy later started using the “hip-hop” wording in his stage performances and then other artists like The Sugarhill Gang started using it in songs like “Rapper’s as well. The first known use of the term in print was by Steven Hager on September 21, 1982 in the news and culture paper The Village Voice in a profile of Afrika Bambaataa.