This is the first of what will probably be a monthly series on the subject of Rap and Hip Hop’s evolution. I’ve thought about doing this for some time and more so after I wrote that blog post on why I never liked BET. I plan to write on this topic through June ^_^
Before we can talk about Hip Hop’s history over the last 30 years, we first need to talk about its origins. For those who do not know, Rap is basically poetry over beats. Rap as a genre dates back hundreds of years. Like Rock & R0ll, Blues and Jazz, its origins are African. The difference is unlike those three genres, it was not white-washed when it became popular in the U.S. Not until very recently, anyway.
Before it was…”re-discovered” in the Bronx in 1983, Hip Hop was lost to time. Much of that was due to the slave trade in West Africa that saw over 15 million Africans forced from their homes, packed on boats and sent to The Americas as slaves against their will. Before Slavery ravaged Africa, Hip Hop was used as a form of spoken word to preserve the histories of families, tribes, nations and traditions. Written literature did exist but it was far more efficient to use hip hop and rap to preserve and convey important and practical information.
When Africans were brought to the U.S., they used music to keep the old traditions alive as well as to communicate in secret under the watchful eyes of their new masters and overseers. The rise of Abolitionist Movement during the 19th Century saw most African American Slaves stripped of what was a way of life for them. They would begin to regain that lost knowledge before and during The Great Depression. As time marched on, old traditions long lost to time began to resurface.
…It would be fair to say that Hip Hop was re-discovered in 1983 in the Bronx. Talk to anyone in the Bronx today and they will tell you that what Hip Hop was in the span of time from 1985 to about…I wanna say 2009 was not what Hip Hop was back then. What happened? Greed, that’s what. The Music industry wanting a piece of the pie and the allure of fame were the main reasons but they weren’t the only reasons Rap changed so suddenly and drastically in the mid-80s.
The message and Hip Hop’s purpose were what changed. Remember what I said at the top: Rap is basically poetry over beats. In the early years Hip Hop was used as a way to talk about politics, where you came from, who you are and what you’re about. You had rappers and artists talking about real issues, empowerment and learning from the mistakes of others. NWA’s “Express Yourself” is pointed to from that era as a song with positive messages though of course you had your occasional diss tracks. They were nowhere near as direct and person as they would become a few years later though.
Starting in 1985, we would see a dramatic shift in how Rap and Hip Hop would be used and how it would be viewed and consumed. People like to blame Public Enemy and later NWA for the dramatic shift but it would be more accurate to say the intentions of those who got into “The Rap Game”–and I will talk about this in a separate blog–were motivated by fame and fortune more than anything else.
…To Be Continued.