As the Autumn term comes to a close it is school tradition for all of the year 7 forms to compete in a christmas karaoke competition, and as a music teacher I must put aside my scheme of work to help the year 7s prepare.
2016 is weeks away from becoming a nostalgia trip, the current billboard charts are full of modern hiphop/r&b stars such as Drake, Fetty Wap, the Weeknd and amazingly Rihanna and Adele. In youth culture within the UK these artists are massive but there has been a rise of Grime, which may or may not have been around longer than I predict. The young boys in year 7 are very interested in Stormzy and Skepta, so naturally they wanted their christmas karaoke songs to be performed “as a rap”.
I am the kind of teacher who thrives off of not being ‘down with the kids’, yet I can’t seem to escape it as I have a cultural curiosity that consumes me. I always need to know where music has come from (both geographically and from an evolution standpoint). With a modest knowledge on hiphop I set up a sample of the Apache beat and was promptly told that this was nothing to do with hiphop. My anger of ignorance was firing, until I realised that these students genuinely had no idea, and were in need of a musicology lesson on the origins of hiphop.
My general understanding that hiphop has grown to become the leading voice for urban neighbourhoods worldwide, whether it is in the USA, UK, NZ or India, hiphop is now a key tool to supply the people with knowledge. Some might say that hiphop was founded the moment that Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald began to scat sing, or it could be traced to the Slave’s field hollers on the plantations, or maybe in underground clubs where beat-poets began to recite in time with a beat. I was always educated to believe that it began with the Sugarhill Gang and Run DMC, until I attended a lecture at university where the lecturer introduced me to a man known as ‘Pigmeat’ Markham. Released on Chess Records. Markham’s Here comes the judge (1968) is slowly becoming more and more recognised as the genesis of hiphop.
Four years after here comes the judge, came the underwhelming release of ‘Michael Vinners Incredible Bongo Band’ (1972) and album of funky re-recordings that were performed by session players (great documentary on this record called Sample This). One track in particular, Apache has become one of the most sampled pieces of music in history (including: Grandmaster Flash, Nas, Amy Whinehouse, Rage Against the Machine, Sugarhill Gang and the Roots). It is rumoured that Ringo Starr took part in this session, so could it be that the Beatles had their hand in the creation of hiphop? or could I argue that hiphop was conceived when Hank Marvin from the shadows put finger to string and recorded the first known, and number one, rendition of Apache?
With the two basic elements of hiphop invented, rhythmic rhyming by Markham in ’68 and the Incredible Bongo Band’s funky backing in 72, all that was needed was a visionary to put them together.
Deep within NYC you there was a brewing counterculture, young men such as DJ Kool Herc, DJ Hollywood and African Bambaataa, who are seen as the founding fathers of hiphop, began to host parties where the goal was to have non-stop music. DJ Kool Herc discovered how to link two turntables together, African Bambaataa and DJ Hollywood were pioneers of MC and toasting. The group that brought these elements together however was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, five MCs and one DJ to keep a party entertained, they quickly became the posterboys of a new musical movement that has influenced many.
After the Grandmaster came a new generation that saw Run DMC and the Beastie Boys take hiphop to a white audience with thanks to their rejection of soul and disco backing records in favor for white punk and rock music, not to mention the harmony-less backing of Run DMC that featured only a beat and the new technique of scratching. With the success that both these groups found (both of them signed to the newly founded ‘Def Jam Records’ the path was cleared for a new type of hiphop, and Def Jam artist to emerge. Forging together the currently public attention of hiphop with the ideals and honesty within Grandmaster Flash’s The Message, a new group known as Public Enemy took to the streets to provide the people knowledge about the current climate.
Suddenly hiphop was no longer about partying and having a good time, it was about spreading political ideals. Chuck D from Public Enemy is a powerful voice (pun intended) in hiphop and a keen advocate on living in a fairer world, take two of their album titles as evidence, ‘it takes a nation of millions to hold us back’ and ‘fear of a black planet’. Public Enemy made way for a new, raw and angry approach to hiphop where the gangsta rap group Niggas With Attitude (N.W.A) released the mammoth and aggressive ‘Straight Outta Compton’. N.W.A were even more direct than Public Enemy leading to the phrase that Public Enemy were the brain for change whilst N.W.A were the brawn for a new dawn, Public Enemy allowed people to conclude whilst N.W.A used scare tactics, and who is to say the other’s tactic was better, both were incredibly successful but with the help of member turned producer turned business mogul, Dr. Dre, N.W.A have rejuvenated their fan base recently by releasing the biopic film Straight Outta Compton.
With the absence of N.W.A and Public Enemy from the mainstream media hiphop was there for the taking. The media decided they wanted to hear less political songs and more songs about parties, soon after this decision was made hiphop lost its lustre and became an advertisement for either corporations or capitalist success. The now over-commercialised world of hiphop where it is more acceptable to brag about what you have rather than speak up about what you don’t, I can’t help but want to push the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy and Mos Def onto the unknowing students to ensure that they enjoy quality over quantity.