Which aspect of Hip Hop came first?

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Which element of Hip Hop Kulture was expressed first in this modern incarnation? Since, there have always been poets and dancers and painters etc., we understand that Hip Hop expressions are just their modern forms. Superhistorically, Hip Hop cultural elements have always been present in our various cultures, but the modern forms we refer to as Graffiti, Breakin, Emceein, Deejayin, Beatboxin etc. were introduced in their recent form in the 1970’s. By the close of the decade, all of the elements (9) would be known character traits of those who considered themselves Hip Hop. But which elements came first?

We always have been inclined to give utmost respect to the deejay as the motivator behind the Hiphop concept. In that regard we shout out Kool Herc as the prime mover then Bambaataa and Flash, all as Deejays spinning in the Bronx. But who were they spinning for? What were they doing in between jams?

The Teacha KRS ONE, points out in a picture he has of himself and his mother while living on Sedgwick Ave, Bronx,NY in the early 1970’s, a Kool Herc tag on the wall in the background, evidence that Herc was also a graffiti writer to some degree. Noted Bronx graf writer Phase 2 points out, that graf writin was coming out of Manhattan as early as 1969 then came into the Bronx to influence him.

Another aspect of Kool Herc galvanizing the atmosphere in an organized manner thru the jams was the concept of what Herc calls the merry-go-round. This element of Deejayin where just the instrumental breaks would be played back to back was used to get the b-boys and b-girls excited. So obviously dancers were already freestyle rockin’ dances before Herc began to deejay for everyone. Here we see evidence of B-Boyin.

In orthodox Hiphop (consciousness) we speak of 9 Elements. The last four elements are specifically influenced by the urban environment; Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge and Street Entrepreneurialism. Each has a distinct impact and characteristic style that Hip Hop has made obvious to the entire international community. In the early 1970’s however, they were just forming into what we call Hip Hop today. Still, some of the more obvious trends and styles that become identifiable to any given culture usually include fashion. The specific kind of clothing choice also identifies one’s peers as they interact. So were there certain Hip Hop fashion trends or slang terminology (language) that influenced the deejay?…Probably. Of course knowledge goes hand in hand with language, so without getting into the specifics of what Hip Hop Street Knowledge is as a cultural element; suffice it to say that it was probably a part of Kool Herc’s mentality as a deejay.

Emceein, Bambaataa says, can be traced to Cab Calloway, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Millie Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, The Last Poets and many others before rappers like Coke La Rock started rappin over the breaks at a jam. It can even be argued that Beatboxin was around in the form of body music like playing the spoons or “hambone” an early version of the thigh/chest slapping of step teams. Plus, babies can beatbox intrinsically almost from birth. Then there are more complex styles like scattin’ where artists like Louie Armstrong imitated the sound of horns or other instruments with their voices.  Is Beatboxin just an extension of an earlier style? Was Beatboxin also around before Deejayin? It seems like all the elements of Hip Hop Kulture were present with the exception of Entrepreneurialism and making money specifically off of hip-hop (products).

Why then do we think of the deejay as the first element? It was because the deejay galvanized the elements together in almost a showcase format. The deejay brought people together so we could communicate and relate to one another. The deejay is like the first organizer of the group, and for that, we can in symbolic gesture, honor that place. So this is why we honor Kool Herc as the first deejay in Hip Hop, although even he is not technically the first organizer. There are two people you can say precede Kool DJ Herc as the first organizers of Hip Hop Kulture. One would be Afrika Bambaataa with the Zulu Nation. The Zulus were a heavy influence on B-Boys and specific aspects of the culture and may not have however, spoken to all the elements at that time. Then there is Cindy aka Pep, Kool Herc’s sister. She was actually the organizer of the first jams and got her brother (Herc) to spin records for them. These are what we consider Kool Herc’s first jams in Cedar Park. Her legacy remains mostly unheard of by even true participants of the culture. For that reason, at the release of the Gospel of Hip Hop in 2009, Queen Pep and Herc sat a place of honor in front of the audience.


Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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