It seems like nothing can stop us from throwing a party: not even a world pandemic. Being stranded at home for almost three months left some of us with FOMO (fear of missing out) and a desperate need for partying. So, it’s not surprising that as soon as Boris Johnson announced we can meet outside, house and block parties sprouted up everywhere. In Harlesden, Battersea, and more recently Notting Hill, hundreds of people gathered together to dance off the lockdown sickness. Although these ones didn’t change history, these block parties remind us of the early days of Hip Hop and this is the story of how Hip Hop started back in the 1980s. A sound so implemented in our culture that no good party can really sustain without it.
This is the story about a DJ and the block party were hip hop started.
Hip Hop is everywhere. In music, in art, in fashion and in history. Hip Hop is a movement. Hip Hop is a lifestyle. Hip Hop is a culture. Hip Hop is art. Just like internet, Hip Hop changed our way of life and this is the story of how this sound was born.
A Movement Born from The Ashes
It’s probably hard to tell exactly when hip hop was born, but it’s not hard to tell where it was born. You can’t talk about hip hop and not mention New York, particularly The South Bronx. Hip Hop is the rose that grew from the concrete of a bankrupted, corrupted and burning city.
Throughout the 70’s, the South Bronx had been burning in a massive series of fire and these fires were believed to be set by arsonists who worked on behalf of landlords. Landlords paid arsonists to torch their buildings so they could collect more money from insurance companies which they would use to afford the raising rent in the area.
The South Bronx turned into war zones due to raising unemployment which led to increased crime activity (muggings, killings), gang and police violence and systemic racism. It was a boiling point. Under all that turbulence and upheaval, a new generation of youth would give birth to a sound that would change the world forever. Turning to the streets for entertainment and self-expression, these youngsters took on abandoned buildings and parking lots to set the stage for what would later be known as block parties.
The youngsters used their boredom and creativity to create new entertainment. Cardboard became the new dance floors for break dancers (later known as B-Boys and B-Girls) and artists would turn brick walls into canvases for graffiti. DJ’s and MC’s would bring music by setting a mobile sound system influenced by Jamaican culture (due to the heavy Jamaican population in New York). But one particular party would change history.
AUGUST 11th 1973. The birth of a new sound called Hip Hop
When Clive Campbell, better known as DJ Kool Herc threw a party for his sister Cindy, he didn’t know he would be changing history, music and the way we party.
On August 11th 1973, DJ Kool Herc threw a back-to-school party inside the recreation room. His sister Cindy needed to earn money to buy clothes for the fall so, he charged entry prices for the attendees: $25 for the ladies and $50 dollars for the boys. The party was set to start at 9pm finishing at 4am with a DJ set with soul and funk soundtracks.
When playing these records, DJ Kool Herc began isolating the instrumental portion of a song and then switch to the break in another song. It’s this technique that would shape hip hop and make DJ Kool Herc one of the gurus of hip hop. A founding father of hip hop. Known as ‘the break’, the DJ would encourage the crowd to dance to these portions. When the break would drop down, dancers would gather around and form a circle and a person would step in the middle to freestyle or dance battle another person. Kool Herc named them B-Boys and B-Girls (later evolved to break dancers).
What was supposed to be a simple end of summer party at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue became the most important musical (but not only) phenomenon of the century.
The resilience of Black people
Hip Hop is more than just a movement. It is the condensed expression of Black people’s resilience.
Ever since the cotton field, Black people have been singing and dancing their pain away and Hip Hop was born in the exact same way. Despite the debris, burnt corpses, blood and the toxic haze, Black people found a way to exhale this pain. Partying, slamming poetry over a beat, singing, dancing, painting the walls with spray paint became an outlet.
Even today, Hip Hop and its subcultures (grime and drill music) continues to become a global phenomenon with Asian rappers. Over the years, Hip Hop continues to develop new art forms impacting education, entertainment, language, politics, media and more.