Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Hip Hop @ 30

I cannot believe that hip hop is 30 years old. It was back in 1979 when the music genre came onto the scene with the block parties that took place in the Bronx, New York where a certain DJ Kool Herc took to the helms. Those humble days are a long way from the billion industry that hip hop is now as well as a global phenomenon that is has become. I will be honest I used to get confused between hip hop and rap music and it took me a while to differentiate between the two. While rap is a genre of music that involves a vocal rhyming over a beat, hip hop is a cultural movement that consists of clothes, dancing, language, art as well as music. Last week Tim Westwood and Zane Bowes hosted, Most Hip Hop which was a five hour marathon that celebrated 30 years of hip hop cultre by counting down to the most important people in the genre. The likes of Pharrell Williams, P Diddy, Public Enemy, Eminem, Barack Obama, Kanye West and many many others were in there along with Jay-Z who headed the list. It was certainly an interesting line up which many will dispute (read Janice's Mad News' blog about it here) and it got me thinking about my own influences in hip hop so I sat down to jot down a little list and ended up with this below.


Back in 1987 this was the first hip hop concert I ever went to and I believe their first ever gig in London. Their debut album, Hot, Cool & Vicious was doing some serious damage in the charts with singles, Push It, Tramp and I'll Take Your Man burning the airwaves, so London was ready for a live Salt-n-Pepa act. I went to this concert straight from little Saturday job on Oxford Street and as the tube (subway or metro to others) pulled into Green Park and a number of people piled in and more and more people got on at Victoria, Pimlico and Vauxhall and by the time we got to Stockwell, lets say the tube was totally packed with Salt-n-Pepa fans with a few donning the jackets. The whole train got off at Brixton and made their way down to the academy. The show was very entertaining and the ladies from Queens certainly know how to put on a show. There was no Kid 'n' Play though which I was very disappointed about as I was looking forward to seeing their flash dance steps but it was all good and I left happy feeling that I got my money's worth.

Public Enemy

This group was my initial introduction to hip hop and boy what an introduction it was. Good old Public Enemy or PE as they were fondly known were really conscious brothers who were bursting with strong positive messages. Chuck D, the lyrical assassin, Professor Griff, the hyper intellectual, Flavor Flav - the eccentric clown , Terminator X, the DJ with a mission and the formidable S1W. During the period of 1985 and 1990 they reigned supreme with albums such as Yo Bum Rush the Show, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Fear of a Black Planet and Apocalypse 91, The Enemy Strikes Back. I went to see them in 1989 at Brixton Academy and 1990 at Dockland Arena. The atmosphere at both stadiums were electric but the concert at Brixton stood out to me. Not because it was on my door step but because the size of the academy was just right to cram in enough people to feel like we were in a real gig but also enabled us to feel like we were close to PE. Chuck D's performance was mesmerising as usual and Black people as well as white got down to a night of dancing and jostling.

Big Daddy Kane

While other rappers on the scene presented the elements of street culture into their music, Big Daddy Kane brought a form of sophistication to hip hop. Other rappers wore trainers, tracksuits, t-shirts and jeans; Big Daddy Kane did not. He lounged around in beautiful suits, elegant shoes and the occasional hat and he looked fine! His music was not too shabby either with classics such as Ain't No Half Steppin, Set It Off, The Wrath of Kane and Smooth Operator. He also paid a trip to Brixon Academy in the late 80s with his two lookalike dancers called Scoob and Scrap and kicked ass. Decked out in a blue suit that was so sharp it would have made Ozwald Boateng cry, Big Daddy Kane performed his pioneering fast rap and executed some outrageous acrobatic dance moves that took the place down. In 2005 he was honoured in the VH1 Hip Hop Honours where he performed with Scoob and Scrap and showed that he might be a bit older but he had not lost any of his dance moves. It is on the video above, check out Common's breakdancing skills.


Sadly I never got to see this guy live but listening to his music and speeches made up for it. Having a powerful orator such as Chuck D was blessing enough but to have KRS-One on top of that was totally amazing. KRS-One (which stands for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) is the co-founder of Boogie Down Productions along with DJ Scott La Rock who was tragically killed in a shooting. Their first album, Criminal Minded was released in 1987 and contained the iconic tune, South Bronx with scratch beats that are still used today. After Scott La Rock's death KRS-One joined forces with D-Nice and Ms Melodie and released a second album, By All Means Necessary. As well as exemplary songs such as My Philosphy and Ya Slippin which talked about police corruption, safe sex and violence in the hip hop community, it was the cover of the album that got a lot of attention. The image showed KRS-One adopting the famous stance of a certain Malcolm X holding a rifle while looking out of the window. It would be safe to say that a large part of the album pays homage to Malcolm X from the title to the overall message. KRS-One was the first hip hop artist to use Jamaican culture into his music by sampling the ZungaZung melody that was brought to us by Yellowman. According to Wikipedia, this album was a huge landmark in hip hop.

"The album is widely seen as one of, if not, the first politically conscious efforts in hip-hop. Allmusic.com described the album as "a landmark of political rap" and Rolling Stone praised its social commentary.[4] Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone wrote that "Over irresistible beats provided by his BDP cohorts, KRS delivers the word on the drug trade, AIDS and violence – three forces that threaten to destroy minority communities".[5]

I am a fan of KRS-One for many reasons and these are just a few:
  • In 1989 he kicked off the Stop the Violence Movement - a response to violence in Black communities which resulted in the single, Self Destruction and a video that featured prominent hip hop artists of the time. The campaign raised a lot of awareness about Black on Black crime. He has relaunched the campaign this year and the single features the likes of Syleena Johnson and Twista.
  • His berating of that muppet Tim Westwood back in 1997 accusing him of being a sell out and so not true to the game. Makes me laugh till this day.
  • He brought us that magnificent song, Sound of da Police which is aimed at the police in the Bronx. The lyrics, 'Whoop-whoop, that's the sound of da police', makes fun of them.

I don't really listen to much hip hop these days. A large majority of it have formed into a concoction of hip pop that leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. The rest of it is so negative or comical that all I can do is shake my head. There are a few gems out there such as Mos Def, Kanye West, Nas and Common but they are all too far and between. Still I have my memories. What are your hip hop memories?

Top image from Blackstate.com.

4 cool comments:

Dajamzback said...

I wish there were a machine to take us back in time so we could truly appreciate the acts of the late 80's. The scrutiny over PE lyrics and lack of respect Salt and Pepa received is just amazing. Very nice of you to take us back to some of the shows in Brixton I have heard soo much about.

Anonymous said...

wow, 30! don't they grow-up fast?

PE still my favourite

MsQuiche said...

Loved this post! OMG I was there at both the Salt n Pep concert and the Public Enemy one. The S n P one holds bitter sweet memories. It was my 16th bday and to celebrate me and my mates bought tkts for the Brixton show. I remember queueing up for ages (which was standard practice at B Academy) before finally being granted entry. But then when we got into the venue we had to wait an age before S N P finally graced the stage. And when they did - whoosh, it was over and done with in what seemed like half an hour. They did the whole 'Goodnight London' thing and we all assumed they'd come back out, but they never did. Man, was I vex. After spending all my Saturday job money on tickets, new hairdo and new outfit I was not impressed, lol. Funny how you never forget things like that.

On the other hand PE was a different story. Their show was my first ever concert and it was everything you mentioned in your post - nothing short of amazing. Oh the memories.

Like you, I don't listen to hip now either. Just hope it eventually comes full circle and the next crop of artists will draw inspiration from the founding members of the genre. Just think of the positive impact it had on our generation.

BNN said...

You brought back some memories!

Just found yr blog will be a regular reader 8)