Old-school hip hop  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"The 1983 PBS documentary Style Wars documented hip hop culture and its American roots. The film has an emphasis on graffiti, although breakdancing and rapping are covered to a lesser extent. The documentary captures many historical moments and is noted for its soundtrack, which includes Rammellzee's "Beat Bop" (1983), The Fearless Four's "Rockin' It" (1982) as well as some Richard Wagner."--Sholem Stein

Related e



Old school hip hop describes the some of earliest hip hop music to come out of the block parties of New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is preceded by hip hop's formative period, Roots of hip hop, from the early 1970s to the late 1970s, and followed by the Golden age of hip hop in the late 1980s.



Hip hop music began in the early 1970s in New York City with the advent of breakbeat DJing. Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash and other DJs extended the breaks (short percussion interludes) of funk records, creating a more sophisticated "danceable" sound. This use of extended percussion breaks led to the development of mixing and scratching techniques, and later to the popularization of remixes.


As hip hop's popularity grew, performers began speaking while the music played, and became known as MCs or emcees. Melle Mel, a rapper in the group Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was the first to call himself "MC". Performers often emceed for hours at a time, with some improvisation and a simple four-count beat and basic chorus. Teams of emcees (many of whom were former gang members) sprang up throughout the country, led by the first emcee team, Kool Herc & the Herculoids. The MCs grew more varied in their vocal and rhythmic approach, incorporating brief rhymes, often with a theme. These early raps incorporated rhyming lyrics from African American culture (see roots of hip hop music), such as the dozens.


Old school hip hop would often sample disco, soul, and funk tracks. In the case of the Sugarhill Gang, a live band was used for samples. However, the old school sound soon became based largely on drum machines and popular "break" samples. This use of extended percussion breaks led to the development of mixing and scratching techniques. Scratching was invented by Grand Wizard Theodore in 1977, and was found on DJ records such as Grandmaster Flash's "Adventures on the Wheels of Steel". Scratching later resulted in the popularization of remixes in hip hop. In 1984, Marley Marl accidentally caught a drum machine snare hit in the sampler; this innovation was vital in the development of electro and other later types of hip hop. In contrast with the later rhymes of new school hip hop, old school rap was relatively simple in its rhythms and cadences.

"The Message"

Old school rap was often focused on good times, parties and friendship. An exception was "The Message", a rap song written by Melle Mel for his hip hop group, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. The popularity of "The Message" led the "message rap" to gain a place in the hip hop canon.

First steps towards commercialization

The first steps towards the commercialization of hip hop came with the release of what are usually called the first two commercially issued hip hop recordings: "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" by the Fatback Band, and "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang. While "King Tim III" is widely regarded as the first recorded hip hop song, it was the Sugarhill Gang that won hip hop its first mainstream popularity. Though neither the Fatback Band nor the Sugarhill Gang had significant roots in the DJ culture, "Rapper's Delight" became a Top 40 hit on the U.S. Billboard pop singles chart. After the releases of follow ups by acts such as Kurtis Blow ("The Breaks"), The Sequence ("Funk You Up"), and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five ("Freedom"), hip hop was pegged as a successful, yet temporary, trend in music.


During the 1980s, hip hop began to diversify and develop into a more complex form. The simple tales of 1970s emcees were replaced by highly metaphoric raps over complex, multi-layered beats. Some rappers even became mainstream pop performers, including Kurtis Blow, whose appearance in a Sprite commercial made him the first hip hop musician to be considered mainstream enough to represent a major product, but also the first to be accused by the hip hop audience of selling out.

Old school figures

Big Apple Rappin': The Early Days of Hip-Hop Culture in New York City 1979-1982

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

Personal tools