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Afrika Bambaataa – The Godfather of Hip Hop

22 Aug

Afrika Bambaataa–the godfather of hip hop–is responsible for first using the phrase “hip hop”–giving hip hop its name, and spreading the music around the world.

Kevin Donovan aka Afrika Bambaataa, born April 19, 1957, is undoubtedly considered one of the godfathers of hip hop.  Afrika Bambaataa was a DJ from the South Bronx during the 1970’s, who is often credited with naming the culture “hip hop”, a term frequently used by his friend Love Bug Starski aka Kevin Smith.  Love Bug Starski, who is currently an MC, musician and record producer, was a record boy and DJ from the Bronx, New York during the birth of hip hop in the early 1970’s. “Hip hop” was a common phrase used by MCs as part of a scat-inspired style of rhyming, and Afrika Bambaataa appropriated it for use in describing this new emerging culture, which included four elements: 1) the music of DJs, 2) the lyricism and poetry of emcees, 3) the dancing of b-boys and b-girls, and 4) graffiti art.

As a teenager in the mid-1970′s, Afrika Bambaataa was a founding member of The Bronx River Projects-area street gang The Savage Seven. Due to the explosive growth of the gang, it later became known as the Black Spades, and Bambaataa quickly rose to the position of warlord. As warlord, it was his job to build ranks and expand the turf of the Black Spades.   Bambaataa was not afraid to cross turfs to forge relationships with other gang members, and with other gangs.  As a result, the Spades became the biggest gang in the city in terms of both membership and turf.

Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc–the Father of Hip Hop

Afrika Bambaataa’s involvement with gangs was heavily influenced by his activist mother and uncle.  As a child, he was exposed to his mother’s extensive and eclectic record collection. He was also exposed to the black liberation movement, and witnessed debates between his mother and uncle regarding the conflicting ideologies in the movement.  Gangs in the area became the law in the absence of law, clearing their turf of drug dealers, assisting with community health programs and both fighting and partying to keep members and turf.

Afrika Bambaataa’s ideological influences ran the gamut of the black political leaders of the time.  Although he was involved with gangs, he began to take on a different interest than causing trouble.  After winning an essay contest that earned him a trip to Africa, Afrika Bambaataa’s worldview changed.  He saw the film Zulu, which depicted the battle between British troops and the Zulu tribe in 1879. The British seem victorious before they were overwhelmed by the number of Zulus who spared their lives.   Bambaataa was so impressed with the solidarity exhibited by the Zulus in that film that during his trip to Africa, and the communities he visited, he was inspired to stop the violence and create a community in his own neighborhood. He later changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim, which means “affectionate leader.”

Afrika Bambaataa decided to form his own Zulu Nation to help assemble what he referred to as “the elements” of the culture into organization. The original crew was called The Organization, but after two years he changed it into the Zulu Nation.  The group was a break dance crew at first but then it grew to include rappers, deejays, and graffiti artists.   As a result, the Hip hop culture began spreading through the streets via house parties, block parties, gym dances and mix tapes.

Following is an example of one of the first breakbeat and beat-mixing soundtracks by DJ Kool Herc while rapping and performing at a club during the early stages of hip hop. Watch.

Audio & Slideshow Version

Video Version

Because of his mother, Afrika Bambaataa had a passion for buying records and his tastes were very diversified from rock to R&B to African sounds to Latin, calypso, and classical.  Although Kool Herc was the top DJ at the time, Afrika Bambaata knew he owned most of the same records as Kool Herc so he decided to start playing on his own. He wanted to be a DJ, so he started deejaying in 1970, and would later be known as the “Master of Records”.  

Afrika Bambaataa began his career as a record boy in 1971 as hip-hop first appeared in the Bronx, and eventually became a DJ at the Disco Fever club in 1978.  Along with other DJs such as DJ Kool Herc and Kool DJ Dee, he too began hosting hip hop parties. He vowed to use hip hop to draw angry kids out of gangs and formed the Universal Zulu Nation.  He released his first record on Paul Winley Records called “Zulu Nation Throwdown, Part 1″ in 1980. The group released the first 12″ at Tommy Boy “Jazzy Sensation” in 1981.

In 1982, hip hop artist Fab Five Freddy was putting together music packages in the largely white downtown Manhattan New Wave clubs, and invited Afrika Bambaataa to perform at one of them–the Mudd Club. It was the first time Bambaata had performed before a predominantly white crowd. Attendance for his parties downtown became so large that he had to move to larger venues, first to the Ritz, with Malcolm McLaren’s group “Bow Wow Wow”, then to the Peppermint Lounge, The Jefferson, Negril, Danceteria and the Roxy.

“Planet Rock”, a popular single produced by Arthur Baker and the keyboardist John Robie, was later released under the name Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force. The song borrowed musical motifs from German electronic music, funk, and rock. Different elements and musical styles were used together. The song became an immediate hit and stormed the music charts worldwide.  The song melded the main melody from Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” with electronic beats based on their track “Numbers” as well as portions from records by Babe Ruth and Captain Sky, thus creating a new style of music altogether, called electro funk.

Afrika Bambaataa is one of the three originators of break-beat deejaying, and is respectfully known as the “Grandfather” and the Amen Ra of Universal Hip Hop Culture as well as the Father of The Electro Funk Sound.  He was instrumental in the early development of hip hop throughout the 1980s. Through co-opting the street gang–the Black Spades– into the music and culture-oriented Universal Zulu Nation, he is responsible for spreading the hip hop culture throughout the world.  On September 27, 2007, Afrika Bambaataa was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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DJ Kool Herc – The Father of Hip Hop: How It All Started

29 Jul

Kool Herc – The Father of Hip Hop

Clive Campbell, AKA “Kool Herc”, is considered to be the Father of Hip Hop.  Clive Campbell, was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1955.  In 1967, when Kool Herc was 12 years, he and his family emigrated to the Bronx, New York.  While attending Alfred E. Smith High School, he spent a lot of time in the weight room.  That fact, coupled with his height , coined him the nickname “Hercules” by his schoolmates.

Kool Herc’s first deejay job was his sister’s birthday.  1520 Sedgwick Avenue.  This was the address  where he and his family lived, and the recreation room in the building was where he would throw many of his first parties as a DJ.  Unbeknownst to him at the time, this would be the start of the hip hop music industry.

The Birthplace of Hip Hop

Kool Herc would deejay many parties in the recreation room of this building where he lived.

Throwing parties at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue lasted for a while until his parents started to come in early, and find a house full of kids, tearing up the new furniture that his mother had just put some money down on. The kids were still looking for a place to release this energy.’ Herc’s sister asked him to help out by playing music in the recreation room of his family’s housing block, 1520 Sedgewick Towers.  ”OK, I throw my hand at it, and she rented the recreation room, I think for twenty-five dollars at the time. We could charge it at twenty-five cents for girls, fifty cents for fellas. It was like, “Kool Herc, man. He’s giving a party, westside man. Just be cool, that’s what I’m saying, come and have a good time. Just don’t ditch the programme.”

Becoming skilled at deejaying, Kool Herc became aware that although he knew which records would keep the crowd moving, he was more interested in the break section of the song.  At this point in a song, the vocals would stop and the beat would just ride for a short period.  His desire to capture this moment for a longer period of time would be a very important one for Hip Hop.

To extend the break section of a song, Herc would purchase two copies of the same record and play them on separate turntables next to each other.  He would play the break beat on one record then throw it over to the other turntable and play the same part.  Doing this over and over, he could rock any house in New York–not to mention it being an early form of looping that would later be made easier through electronic sampling.  Herc would dig in crates and look everywhere to find the perfect break beat for his parties.  He didn’t care what type of music it was because he only needed a small section of a song for his purposes.

By 1969, Herc was deejaying regularly at local clubs, but noticed that the crowds he joined frequently objected to New York’s  cocky DJs. ‘I used to hear the gripes from the audience on the dancefloor. Even myself, ’cause I used to be a breaker (breakdancer). Why didn’t the guy let the record play out? Or why cut it off there? So with that, me gathering all this information around me, I say: “I think I could do that”. So I started playing from a dance floor perspective. I always kept up the attitude that I’m not playing it for myself, I’m playing for the people out there.’

DJs needed to establish an identity or niche in this highly competitive market. So Herc was determined to find records that no one else owned, to distinguish himself from the pack. For example, he talked his father into buying him James Brown’s Sex Machine LP in 1969. ‘A lot of people wanted that record and couldn’t really find it. So a lot of people used to come to the party to hear that.’ Herc did his research, checking out what was being played on local jukeboxes to test a song’s popularity and picking up rarities at Downstairs Records on 42nd Street and the Rhythm Den. ‘This is where your recognition, your rep comes from. You have a record nobody else got, or you’re the first one to have it. You’ve got to be the first, can’t be the second.’

While violence has become rap’s defining characteristic in the 90s, hip hop actually started out as a means of ending black-on-black crime two decades earlier.  People living in the Bronx during the early 70s had much to live in fear of. ‘The gangs came and terrorized the whole neighborhood, the boroughs. Everybody just ran back into their house. There was no more clubs. If you did do a house party, it had to be: “I have to know you. Don’t bring nobody who I don’t know to my house.”

In the following video, Kool Herc describes how he invented the idea of playing two breakbeats together, what he calls the merry-go-round.   The merry-go-round involved him mixing sections of James Brown’s ‘Give It Up Or Turn It Loose’ into Michael Viner’s ‘Bongo Rock’ and back out into Babe Ruth’s ‘The Mexican’. His audiences loved it.

The merry-go-round became the blueprint for hip hop… The first to react to the innovations, naturally enough, were Herc’s party-goers. Breakdancers, or B-Boys, began to interpret Herc’s idiosyncratic style with routines of their own. Some historians trace the development of Breakdancing to the African martial arts form, capoeta, brought to America by slaves a century before.

His first professional DJ job was at the Twilight Zone in 1973.  He wanted to get into another place called the Hevalo, but wasn’t allowed to at the time. His fame grew.  In addition to his break beats, Herc also became known as the man with the loudest system around.  When he decided to hold a party in one of the parks, it was a crazy event.  And a loud one.  At this time Afrika Bambaataa and other competing DJ’s began trying to take Herc’s crown.  Jazzy Jay of the Zulu Nation recalls one momentous meeting between Herc and Bam.

“Herc was late setting up and Bam continued to play longer than he should have.  Once Herc was set up he got on the microphone and said “Bambaataa, could you please turn your system down?”  Bam’s crew was pumped and told Bam not to do it.  So Herc said louder, “Yo, Bambaataa, turn your system down-down-down.”  Bam’s crew started cursing Herc until Herc put the full weight of his system up and said, “Bambaataa-baataa -baataa, TURN YOUR SYSTEM DOWN!” And you couldn’t even hear Bam’s set at all.  The Zulu crew tried to turn up the juice but it was no use.  Everybody just looked at them like, “You should’ve listened to Kool Herc.”

Finally his fame peaked and at last, in 1975, he began working at the Hevalo in the Bronx.  He helped coin the phrase b-boy (break boy) and was recently quoted as saying he was “the oldest living b-boy.”

Eventually, spinning records became an an all-intensive thing and Herc

Kool Herc and Coke La Rock

realized he didn’t have as much time to talk to the crowd and get them going.  He needed someone else to help out and act as the Master of Ceremonies for him.  And thus, for all practical purposes, Coke La Rock became the first hip hop MC ever.

Although he is not part of the hip hop vocabulary of most of those who listen to it today, Kool Herc is the father of this underground sound from New York that has found its way in becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

The Birth of Hip Hop

25 May

The birth of Rap is sometimes attributed to the righteous street poetry of the Last Poets and the Watts Prophets, but it didn’t begin to take full shape — and earn its tag — until after the Sugarhill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. Since then, rap spread from its New York epicenter throughout the remainder of the U.S. (with each region taking on its own specific flavor) and then to countless countries.

The most successful rap acts where groups like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Kurtis Blow and Whodini, wore outlandish, glam rock inspired outfits on stage, while their music sampled disco and funk. Run DMC’s successful merging of heavy metal riffs and hip hop beats and street-inspired style brought rap music and hip hop culture to the mainstream.

Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five

Rap music was formed during the 1970s when block parties became increasingly popular in New York City, particularly among African American and Latino youth residing in the Bronx.  Block parties incorporated DJs who played popular genres of music, especially funk and soul music. Due to the positive reception, DJs began isolating the percussion breaks of popular songs. This technique was then common in Jamaican dub music.  Because the percussive breaks in funk, soul and disco records were generally short, DJ Kool Herc and other DJs began using such techniques with two turntables to extend the breaks.

Hip hop music eventually emerged out of rap as party DJs  made improvisations to existing music. Although hip hop music predates the introduction of rapping into hip hop culture, the majority of the genre is accompanied by rap vocals.

Turntablist techniques, such as scratching (attributed to Grand Wizzard Theodore), beat mixing/matching, and beat juggling eventually developed along with the breaks, creating a base that could be rapped over, in a manner similar to signifying, as well as the art of toasting, another influence found in Jamaican dub music.

Rap and Hip Hop’s core components are beats and rhymes, but that simplicity belies the wide range of sounds that have sprung from them. Instrumentalists, a sampled breakbeat, or a drum machine can form the backbone of a track, while an arrangement can be spaciously spare or chaotically dense, and a

LL Cool J is considered to have the greatest longevity in Rap music. His career as a rapper spans more than two decades — beginning during the early stages of rap and surviving through the emergence of hip hop music.

chorus,  can range from atonal shouting to a sweet melody. Detractors were still calling rap a fad in 1985, when LL Cool J released his first single. They were doing the same thing when, roughly 20 years later, he released his tenth album, and they’ll probably continue to do so as long as the genre exists. Should rap ever die, which isn’t likely, it would be far too late to prevent its effect on most other music forms, from R&B to rock to jazz.

Since hip-hop’s emergence in the 1970s, the movement has fostered a cultural climate of harmony and good music for everyone. From the early days of B-Boys and break dancing to the modern era of big jewelry and even bigger rhymes, hip-hop has been able to transcend generations and color boundaries despite initial dismissals as a fad.

All About Hip Hop

23 May

Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Whodini and others are considered to be the pioneers of rap and hip hop music.

1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the Bronx — the avenue used by Kool Herc is often considered the birthplace of hip hop.  DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock provided an influence on the vocal style of rapping by delivering simple poetry verses over funk music breaks, after party-goers showed little interest in their previous attempts to integrate reggae-infused toasting into musical sets.  DJs and MCs would often add call and response chants, often consisting of a basic chorus, to allow the performer to gather his thoughts (e.g. “one, two, three, y’all, to the beat”).

Rap group Run DMC had a huge impact on hip hop

Rapping, also referred to as MCing or emceeing, is a vocal style in which the artist speaks lyrically, in rhyme and verse, generally to an instrumental or synthesized beat. Beats, almost always in 4/4 time signature, can be created by sampling and/or sequencing portions of other songs by a producer.   They also incorporate synthesizers, drum machines, and live bands. Rappers may write, memorize, or improvise their lyrics and perform their works a cappella or to a beat.

The roots of spoken hip hop music are found in African-American music and ultimately African music, particularly that of the griots of West African culture.  The African-American traditions of signifyin’, the dozens, and jazz poetry all influence hip hop music, as well as the call and response patterns of African and African-American religious ceremonies.

Emerging out of Rap, Hip hop music came about as party DJs made improvisations to existing music.   Turntable techniques, such as scratching, beat mixing/matching, and beat juggling eventually developed along with the breaks, creating a base that could be rapped over, in a manner similar to signifying, as well as the art of toasting, which is prevalent in Jamaican dub music.  Although hip hop music predates the introduction of rapping into hip hop culture, the majority of the genre is accompanied by rap vocals.

DJs Mixing

Later, the MCs grew more varied in their vocal and rhythmic delivery, incorporating brief rhymes, often with a sexual or scatological theme, in an effort to differentiate themselves and to entertain the audience. These early raps incorporated the dozens, a product of African American culture. Kool Herc & the Herculoids were the first hip hop group to gain recognition in New York, but the number of MC teams increased over time.

Rhythm and Blues (R&B) singer and ”Godfather of Soul”,  James Brown, and musical ‘comedy’ acts such as Rudy Ray Moore and Blowfly are often considered “godfathers” of hip hop music.