New school hip hop  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The new school of hip hop was a second wave of recorded hip hop music starting 1983–84 with the early records of Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J. Like the hip hop preceding it, it came predominately from New York City. The new school was initially characterized in form by drum machine led minimalism, often tinged with elements of rock. It was notable for taunts and boasts about rapping, and socio-political commentary, both delivered in an aggressive, self-assertive style. In image as in song its artists projected a tough, cool, street b-boy attitude. These elements contrasted sharply with the P-funk- and disco-influenced outfits, novelty hits, live bands, synthesizers and party rhymes of artists prevalent in 1984, and rendered them old school. New school artists made shorter songs that could more easily gain radio play, and more cohesive LPs than their old school counterparts. By 1986 their releases began to establish the hip hop album as a fixture of the mainstream.

The innovations of Run-D.M.C., LL, and new school producer Rick Rubin of Def Jam were quickly advanced on by producer Marley Marl and his Juice Crew MCs, and acts like Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim. The production became denser, the rhymes and beats faster, the music admitting more possibilities as the drum machine was augmented with the sampler. Rakim took rapping about rapping to new heights, while the MCs of the former two groups, KRS-One and Chuck D, pushed "message rap" towards black activism and beyond. Developments in the New York new school continuum in the face of factors like the rise of a new, West Coast underground—gangsta rap—were represented by Native Tongues artists whose inclusive, sample-crowded music accompanied their positivity, Afrocentricity and playful energy. With the eventual commercial dominance of gangsta rap, particularly following the emergence of the relaxed sounds of g-funk in the early nineties, hip hop can be said to have moved into a new period.

The terms "old school" and "new school" have fallen more and more into the common vernacular as synonyms for "old" and "new" (witness the current Urban Dictionary entry for new school which reads, "Anything contemporary") and are often applied in this conversational way to hip hop, to the confusion and occasional exasperation of writers who use the terms historically. The phrase "leader of the new school", coined in hip hop by Chuck D in 1988, and presumably given further currency by the group Leaders of the New School (named by Chuck D prior to signing with Elektra in 1989), remains popular, and has been applied to artists ranging from Jay-Z to Lupe Fiasco.


Elements which new school acts made central to commercially recorded hip hop had existed in some form in the culture since its birth. The first MCs rapped over DJs swapping back and forth between two copies of the same record playing the same drum break, or playing instrumental portions or versions of a broad range of records. This part of the culture was initiated by Kool DJ Herc in 1972 using breaks from James Brown, The Incredible Bongo Band and English rock group Babe Ruth in his block parties. Brown's music—"extensive vamps" in which his voice was "a percussive instrument with frequent rhythmic grunts", and "with rhythm-section patterns ... [resembling] West African polyrhythms"—was a keynote of hip hop's early days. By 1975, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa had taken up Kool Herc's breakbeat style of DJing, each with their own accompanying rappers. Flash was especially associated with an important break known as "The Bells"—a cut-up of the intro to Bob James's jazz cover of Paul Simon's "Take Me To The Mardi Gras"—while Bambaataa delighted in springing occasional rock music breaks from records like "Mary, Mary", "Honky Tonk Women", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Grand Funk Railroad's "Inside Looking Out" on unsuspecting b-boys.

The earliest hip hop records replaced the DJ with a live band playing funk and disco influenced tunes, or "interpolating" the tunes themselves, as in "Rapper's Delight" (Sugar Hill, 1979) and "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" (Spring, 1979). It was the soft, futuristic funk closely tied to disco that ruled hip hop's early days on record, to the exclusion of the gritty James Brown productions so beloved of the first b-boys.

Figures such as Flash and Bambaataa were involved in some early instances of moving the sound away from that of a live band, as in Flash's DJ track "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (Sugar Hill, 1981), and even innovating popular new sounds and sub-genres, as in the synthesizer-laden electro of Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" (Tommy Boy, 1982). Often though the rawer elements present in live shows did not make it past the recording studio.

Bambaataa's first records, for instance, two versions of "Zulu Nation Throwdown" (Winley, 1980), were recorded with just drums and rhymes. When Bambaataa heard the released records, a complete live band had been added. Something closer to his intentions can be heard on a portion of Death Mix, a low-quality bootleg of a Zulu Nation night at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, released without his permission on Winley Records in 1983. Likewise on the bootleg Live Convention '82 (Disco Wax, 1982), Grand Wizard Theodore cuts the first six bars of Rufus Thomas's "Do the Funky Penguin" together for five and a half minutes while an MC raps over the top. Grandmaster Flash's "Superrappin'" (Enjoy, 1979) had a pumping syncopated rhythm and The Furious Five emulating his spinbacks and needle drops and chanting that "that Flash is on the beatbox going..." The beatbox itself however, a drum machine which Flash had added to his turntable set-up some time earlier, was absent on the record, the drums being produced by a live drummer.

Kool Moe Dee's verbal personal attacks on Busy Bee Starski live at Harlem World in 1982 caused a popular sensation in hip hop circles. In the same way, groups like the Cold Crush Brothers and The Force MCs were known for their routines, attitude and battle rhymes. Tapes of battles like these circulated widely, without making it to record. Apart from some social commentary like Melle Melle's one verse on "Superrappin'", Kurtis Blow's ruefully comedic "The Breaks" (Mercury, 1980) and a spurt of records following the success of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message" (Sugar Hill, 1982), the old school specialized lyrically in party rhymes.


"One time, in probably 1983, I was in the park in Brooklyn. I was getting beat up by about eight kids, I don't even remember why. But as it was happening, this dude was walkin' by with one of those big boomboxes. And as he's walking by, we hear [imitates the unmistakable intro drum pattern from Run-D.M.C.'s 'Sucker MCs', loudly]. They all stopped beating me, and we all just stood there, listening to this phenomenon. I could have run, but I didn't, I was just so entranced by what I heard. Then the dude with the box passed by and the kids continued to beat me up. But it didn't matter. I felt good. I knew right then that I had to get into this hip hop shit."Pras of the Fugees, 2003, as told to Brian Coleman|Check the Technique 2nd. ed., New York: Villard, 2007

David Toop writes of 1984 that "pundits were writing obituaries for hip hop, a passing fad" which "Hollywood had mutated into an all-singing, all-dancing romance" in movies like Flashdance and Breakin'. Against this, Run-D.M.C., The Beastie Boys and the label Def Jam were "consciously hardcore", "a reaction against the populist trend in hip hop at the time" , and "an explosive emergence of an underground alternative". For Peter Shapiro, Run-D.M.C.'s 1983 two-song release "It's like That"/"Sucker MCs" "completely changed hip-hop" "rendering everything that preceded it distinctly old school with one fell swoop." In a 47 point timeline of hip hop and its antecedents spanning 64 years, Shapiro lists this release as his 43th point. Reviewing Toop's book in the LA Weekly, Oliver Wang of Soul Sides concurs, hailing Run-D.M.C. as inaugurating the new school of rap.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "New school hip hop" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools