Topic Selection Paper

By Zack 

            Hip hop is one of the youngest genres of music to manifest itself in American pop culture. It went from being the theme music of neighborhood block parties in the lower class boroughs of New York, to invading the radio waves and music stations and controlling the direction of what’s “cool” in pop culture. It’s interesting to me that before hip hop had a chance to really blow up; it was already being excused as a temporary fad that would eventually die out. But as we know from partaking in pop culture and television programs such as VH1’s “100 greatest hip hop songs” and multiple award shows consisting of all hip hop music; that this genre is alive and well. What’s even more interesting to me is the evolution of hip hop as a mainstream commodity.

            Hip hop’s humble beginning starts in the 70’s in the boroughs of New York, (The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens etc…) even though at this point it hadn’t been labeled as hip hop and was still in its infancy. It was certain individuals that would bring forth and basically create the culture that future generations were to emulate. People like DJ Kool Herc who would ride around the neighborhood in his convertible with giant 6 foot speakers in the back seat playing music that local DJ’s had created. Another innovator in the world of hip hop is Afrika Bambataa, a former gang member and drug dealer who started an organization by the name of the Zulu Nation. He would host block parties where the troubled youth could substitute music and dancing for drugs and violence. He saw these parties as an alternative to the dangerous gang lifestyle that much of the youth was being drawn to. Most of these parties consisted of just a DJ on the turntables providing the music for the party, and the partygoers ‘battling’ on the dance floor. So as we can see, hip hop can go on to influence other forms of art besides music, such as the creation of breakdancing.

            But as time went on, hip hop was subject to innovation by anyone who caught on and wished to create or be part of something new. Disco was the music of choice for most mainstream media at this time, which explains why the video for the song credited for being the first hip hop song on record, “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang is reminiscent of an old disco party. The group was discovered by a record label assistant who gave them a chance to record the song and make a video. It was meant to be this way as an easy transition between the mainstream music and what seemed to be on the rise to popularity. This sort of reminded me of how marketers for MTV would go out and find out what’s “cool” in order to expose that, but this of course was decades before MTV even existed.

            As hip hop grew more popular, so did the concerns of the people who feared what kind of consequences there could be from the dangerous images being shown to the impressionable youth who take it all in. Hip hop would migrate from New York all the way across the country to Compton, California. This was the next main stop in the evolution of hip hop. The group N.W.A would become notorious for making profane and shocking music and videos. But it was all the controversy and exposure that really launched them into superstardom. They spoke on issues such as police brutality, before the Rodney King beatings. I think the reason many political figures wished for the halt of hip hop music, was because they didn’t want to hear the sort of reality check that hip hop was speaking on. But there are many other things that hip hop speaks on and it’s just something that nobody can really deny or work to eliminate.

            I think it’s important to dig deeper and discuss more how hip hop became such a dominant genre of music in popular culture today, when it originally began as a rejection of the mainstream; but something about it was so captivating that it inadvertently became a main focus point in popular culture.

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