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Kool Herc to Kendrick Lamar: The Roots, Birth, and Evolution of Hip-Hop

By malund
  • World War 1 Ends

    World War 1 Ends
    With the end of World War 1, black American troops returned home. Like their white counterparts, black men came back to the United States with new skills learned in the military. For many, this included musical talents learned and enhanced in the military's many bands.
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    The 1920s: The Jazz Era

    As part of the Great Migration, many black musicians moved from their southern homes to northern cities. These artists carried with them their talents. A thriving Jazz scene developed in New York. Also, Chicago became a mecca for Blues.
  • A Dance with a Track: The Charleston

    A Dance with a Track: The Charleston
    Composed by African American James P. Johnson, The Charleston premiered in October of 1923. Both the track and the dance took the country by storm. This ragtime ballad was among a myriad of other jazz compositions composed by black musicians. The Charleston is unique in that it has stood the test of time and can be easily recognized by those with even a passing interest in American music and history,
  • The Moan from the South: The Blues

    The Moan from the South: The Blues
    Blind Willie Johnson recorded his track Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground sometime in 1927. This track is a heartbreaking one with an incredibly lonesome sound. Along with other blues musicians from the era, Johnson, with his slide guitar method, would inspire artists that pioneered electric blues later. It is also noteworthy to that many of his songs were covered by rock artists later, like Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton.
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    The 1930s: The Dirty Thirties

    While America was in the midst of the Great Depression, many sought to escape everyday problems through music. During this time, African American musicians further devolved jazz into sub-genres such as swing and bepop. Blues also began to move in a new direction with the spread of electric guitars and amplifiers.
  • Breaking New Ground in Classic Style: African American Symphony

    Breaking New Ground in Classic Style: African American Symphony
    Composed in 1930 and performed in 1931, William Grant Still's Symphony No. 1 was the first symphony written by an African American and performed for an American audience. Still's piece included jazz elements and was arguably the first piece symphonic jazz pieces.
  • Its Got That Swing: Duke Ellington

    Its Got That Swing: Duke Ellington
    Duke Ellington records his swing composition "It Don't Mean A Thing". Swing is a form of jazz that is usually played by big bands. While its roots lie in African American communities in the 1920s, swing became popular nationwide in the 1930s and 1940s. Similar to many hip-hop genres that developed later, swing typically had catchy hooks and instrumentals that practically begged listeners to dance.
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    The 1940s: World War 2 and Post-War

    With the world at war, African American musicians also partook in the patriotic fervor and produced wartime music in support of the war effort. After the end of the war, genres such as blues and jazz continued to develop. Also, music was produced that would go on to inspire African American artists to create rock and roll in the next decade.
  • Cooling it Down: Miles Davis

    Cooling it Down: Miles Davis
    MIles Davis releases his cool jazz track "Jeru". Along with other Jazz musicians of his time, Miles Davis helped explore a new sub-genre of jazz known as cool jazz. Cool jazz differes from traditional jazz in its tempo. Cool jazz tracks are often times much slower and smoother sounding than traditional jazz heard earlier.
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    The 1950s: Rock, Roll, and Blues

    Post-WW2 America experienced an economic boom unlike any other previous. For the first time average Americans could afford luxuries, thus consumerism grew rapidly. Capitalizing on this, black artists explored new genres including electric blues and rock and roll. During this time, many African American musicians became widely popular. Like jazz, rock music quickly became the most popular genre in the United States. This is partly due to white artists covering tracks and making it more accessible
  • Delta Sounds Meets Northern Living: Muddy Waters

    Delta Sounds Meets Northern Living: Muddy Waters
    Muddy Waters releases his track "Mannish Boy". A blues standard, this track is the archetype of Chicago blues. Instruments included electric guitars, often with distortion, electric basses, and drum sets. Artists like Muddy Waters bridged the gap between earlier acoustic Delta blues and the rhythm and blues seen in later years.
  • Roll Over!: Chuck Berry

    Roll Over!: Chuck Berry
    Chuck Berry releases the single "Roll Over Beethoven.". A staple of Rock and Roll of the 1950s, Berry helped shape and refine the African American style of rhythm and blues into the more pop friendly Rock and Roll by devolving guitar solos and adding showmanship to his performances. He was a major influence on countless rock musicians to come.
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    The 1960s: Counter-Culture and Civil Rights

    The 1960s were a turbulent decade with the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Counter-Culture Movement. Pop culture, especially music, reflected the changes of the decade. Soul music and rhythm and blues became very popular. Artists like Jimi Hendrix also helped to push the rock genre forward. Fuck also started to develop around the dame time.
  • Feeling Good in the Soul: James Brown

    Feeling Good in the Soul: James Brown
    James Brown releases the hit single "I Got You (I Feel Good)". A soul track about being with someone special, the song placed at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. James Brown's lyrics, style, and music production have been sampled numinous times by a number of hip-hop artists. Artists like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and Jay-Z cite Brown as an influence on their music.
  • Guitar Tablature and Acid Tablets: Jimmy Hendrix

    Guitar Tablature and Acid Tablets: Jimmy Hendrix
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience releases their single "Purple Haze" in the United States. Hendrix, an Army burnout, revolutionized rock music by experimenting with feedback and distortion to create unique and original sounds never heard before in rock. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Hendrix was the best instrumental rocker of all time.
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    New York Dominance

    As the South Bronx was the birthplace of hip-hop, New York remained the undisputed hip-hop capital until the rise of West Coast hip-hop in the late 1980s.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, But it Will Be Heard: Proto-Rap

    The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, But it Will Be Heard: Proto-Rap
    Gil Scott-Heron released his poem/song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Originally a Black Panther slogan, the song's title suggested that media coverage of the African American's struggle will be non-existant. What makes this poem noteworthy is its advanced nature. It can be categorized socially conscious hip-hop due to its rhyme schemes and Afrocentrism. However, this genre would not develop until almost twenty years later.
  • Mercy, Mercy Me: Marvin Gaye

    Mercy, Mercy Me: Marvin Gaye
    Marvin Gaye releases his concept album "What's Going On." Immediately the album receives unanimous praise and is today considered to be one of, if not, the best R&B albums recorded. The album is a single-person narrative from the perspective of a returning Vietnam veteran. Gaye harnesses the power of storytelling, a major component in hip-hop. Countless hip-hop legends have been influenced by Gaye, including 2Pac, Jay-Z, and Kanye West.
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    The 1970s: The Early Malaise Days

    During this era in hip-hop, the four pillars of hip-hop culture developed and solidified. During this era, hip-hop music and culture largely stayed within the black community
    • Breakdancing
    • MCing
    • DJing
    • Graffiti
    Notable artists form this era include:
    DJ Kool Herc
    Grandmaster Flash
    Afrika Bambaataa
    Kool Moe Dee
    Jazzy Jay
  • The Day Hip Hop was Born: The Break is Created

    The Day Hip Hop was Born: The Break is Created
    DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican-born DJ, was acting as a Master of Ceremonies at a back-to-school party. So that guests may dance longer, Kool Herc extended the instrumental break, or "break" for short, of Funk and R&B songs via turntable techniques. The crowd loved it and the style was rapidly adopted by DJs all over the Bronx. Breaks became the blueprint and basic format for hip-hop music.
  • MCing: From Announcements to Verses

    MCing: From Announcements to Verses
    The early rapping of hip-hop developed out of DJ and Master of Ceremonies' announcements made over the microphone at parties, and later into more complex raps. Simple announcements were soon embellished to include simple rhymes and alteration. This later turned into lines and verses which became the core to any hip-hop track. Again, DJ Kool Herc is credited with developing and utilizing these tricks which quickly spread to other MCs in New York City.
  • B-Boying and B-Girling: Breakdancing Breaks Out

    B-Boying and B-Girling: Breakdancing Breaks Out
    During breaks, party goers came up increasingly elaborate dance moves that they would showcase during breaks. This became known as "break-dancing." As break-dancing evolved, it became one of the four cornerstones of hip-hop culture.
    As hip-hop music and culture dispersed throughout the country and the world, regional break-dancing styles and dialects developed. Some of these include the Detroit "jit" and West Coast "C Walk," both with emphasis on footwork and speed.
  • Hip-Hop Breaks into the Mainstream

    Hip-Hop Breaks into the Mainstream
    Rapper's Delight by Sugarhill Gang is released in 1980. This is considered by many to be the first hip-hop track to see wide success. The track's lyrical rhyme scheme was fairly simple as this was incredibly early hip-hop music production. This track sampled a relatively short loop in disco/funk group Chic's track "Good Times."
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    The 1980s: Hip Hop Trickles Down into the Mainstream

    The early 1980s saw hip-hop enter the mainstream. The early 1980s saw hip-hop with basic rhyme schemes and simple production, but quickly matured into more complex production and rhyme schemes by the mid-1980s.
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    Violent Crime and the 1980s and 1990s

    Beginning in the early 1960s, the violent crime rate began to increase, reaching an all-time high in the early 1990s. Hip-hop reflected this with the development of genres like hardcore, gangsta, and horrorcore hip-hop. Artists were producing music about their experiences in the inter-cities, where the crime rates were the highest.
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    Crack Rock and Rhymes: The Height of Gangsta Rap

    As a result of the increasing crime rates nationwide, many DJs and MCs produced tracks about manufacturing and selling drugs, gang related violence, and other criminal activities. Notable artists from this time include:
    Ice T
    Geto Boys
    Compton's Most Wanted
    Ice Cube
    The Nutorious BIG
    Snoop Dogg
    Dr. Dre
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    G-Funk: A Groovy Genre

    G-Funk developed on the West Coast in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Heavily influenced by the funk music of the 1970s, G-funk uses minimally altered funk samples. Lyrical content is similar to gangsta rap, but also incorporates themes like love for family and friends, good times, and positive experiences. An excellent example of G-funk is Ice Cube's track It Was A Good Day.
  • Genre-Bender: Rap Rock

    Genre-Bender: Rap Rock
    In a never before seen collaboration, Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith released a single together. The track consisted of Run-D.M.C covering the popular track "Walk This Way." This release launched Run-D.M.C. into stardom and marked a comeback for Aerosmith. As this track mixed genres, it was played on both hip-hop and rock stations and introduced fans of rock to hip-hop, and vice versa. Many credit this track with solidifying hip-hop's position in pop culture.
  • Three White Guys from Brooklyn: The Beastie Boys

    Three White Guys from Brooklyn: The Beastie Boys
    The rap rock album Licensed to Ill was released to wide critical acclaim. Like Run-D.M.C.'s release, this album contained samples from rock groups from the 1970s. This, in addition to the group being all white, made rap more widely accessible to audiences that had never listened to hip-hop before. More importantly, this was the first hip-hop album to reach number 1 on the Billboard charts.
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    Beef: The East/West Rivalry

    The East Coast vs. West Coast Rivalry existed from the late 1980s until the mid-1990s. With both fans, artists, and record labels partaking, the rivalry was a significant part of hip-hop culture of the 1990s. The beef escalated in intensity until the shootings of 2Pac in 1996 and Biggie Smalls in 1997. While the rivalry exists today, it is not nearly as intense and much more friendly in manner.
  • Horrorcore: A Dark Sub-Genre Comes to Light

    Horrorcore: A Dark Sub-Genre Comes to Light
    Largely considered to be the first horrorcore track, Assassins by Houston group Geto Boys is released. The track's lyrics consist of ultra-graphic depictions of sexual violence against women, a drug-fueled kidnapping, and a revenge killing after a prostitution transaction gone wrong. Horrorcore is a sub-genre of hip-hop. As the name implies, lyrics typically share themes with horror movies: gore, the occult, and human monsters. Notable Artists include:
    Insane Clown Posse
    Ill Bill
  • Straight Outta Compton: Gangsta Rap Explodes

    Straight Outta Compton: Gangsta Rap Explodes
    NWA's seminal album "Straight Outta Compton" is released and becomes the first majorly popular gangsta rap album. The album contains vulgar lyrics criticizing the police and judicial system. This release was met by strong criticism from the law enforcement community with the FBI sending a letter to Ruthless Records informing the label of their displeasure with the track "Fuck tha Police." Nevertheless, the album was widely popular.
  • Fight the Power: Afrocentrism in Hip-Hop

    Fight the Power: Afrocentrism in Hip-Hop
    Public Enemy releases their single Fight the Power. The track's production includes samples from James Brown, black church services, and civil rights exhortations. Lyrics included a call to arms to "fight the powers that be" and criticized the white power structures While Afrocentrism had existed in hip-hop prior to this tracks release, namely from artists like Rakim and KRS-One, this track brought it into the mainstream.
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    The 1990s: The Golden Era of Hip-Hop

  • They Can't Be Stopped: Southern Hip-Hop Gets Put on the Map

    They Can't Be Stopped: Southern Hip-Hop Gets Put on the Map
    Houston-base group Geto Boys release their seminal album "We Can't Be Stopped." This album contained the track "My Mind Playing Tricks on Me" largely considered to be one of the best Hip-Hop tracks of all time. Lyrical content consisted of an un-glamorized look at the affects of drug dealing and abuse has on the group's members. This album was among the first noteworthy and acclaimed release to come from Texas and the South. Other notable artists from Houston in this era:
    DJ Screw
    Bun B
    Pimp C
  • No Justice, No Peace: The L.A. Riots

    No Justice, No Peace: The L.A. Riots
    Following the acquittal of the four officers involved in the Rodney King case, L.A. erupted in violence. Many Los Angeles music artists created tracks about the event. The most notable of these is Ice Cube's We Had To Tear This Motherfucker Up. Incredibly vulgar and violent, tracks similar to this were made by multiple L.A. artists in an attempt to express the frustrations felt.
  • C.R.E.A.M. of the Crop: Wu-Tang Clan and Hardcore Hip-Hop

    C.R.E.A.M. of the Crop: Wu-Tang Clan and Hardcore Hip-Hop
    The release of Wu-Tang Clan's hardcore debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was groundbreaking. With simplistic beats, piano-driven samples, and complex rhyme structures, the album was an instant hit, undoubtedly seen as one of the most influential hip-hop releases of all time. Hardcore hip-hop differentiates itself from gangsta rap by being more socially aware and providing a unflinching realistic look at urban life while retaining an aggressive tone.
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    The Multi-Polar Hip-Hop Community

    While the death of 2Pac and Biggie Smalls did not cause the decentralization of hip-hop, it can be seen as a fulcrum in the hip-hop timeline. Thanks to advancements in media and music distribution, four distinct regions had developed by this time with highly influential coming from all four. These regions include:
    North (New York and the East Coast)
    West (California and the West Coast)
    South (Texas, Georgia, Florida and the southeast)
    Midwest (Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and middle America)
  • It's in the Signs: Outkast, Aquemini, and the South

    It's in the Signs: Outkast, Aquemini, and the South
    Outkast's most complex album, Aquemini, was released to universal critical acclaim. Lyrically, Aquemini explores themes like, addiction, relationships, and human nature. Fantastic samples and production, buttery-smooth lyric delivery, and unique, complex verse structure all helped prove to the hip-hop community that southern states could produce skilled technical MCs and producers. Artists from Atalanta include:
    Killer Mike
  • His Name is Slim Shady: Midwest Hip-Hop

    His Name is Slim Shady: Midwest Hip-Hop
    Detroit artist Eminem releases his second album The Slim Shady LP. Eminem, know for his mind-twistingly layered and complex rhyme patterns, became wildly popular after this release. This album crosses the sub-genres of hardcore and horrorcore hip-hop.
    While Eminem was certainly not the first hip-hop artist to come from Detroit, he is by far the most popular, and some would argue the most skilled. This album showed the hip-hop community that brilliant MCs can come from middle America.
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    The 2000s: Rise, Decline, and Resurgance

    With hip-hop firmly in pop culture and mainstream music production, the genre was played on radio stations alongside pop and rock. While the genre remained popular throughout this time, record labels saw a dip in sales and popularity in the mid 2000s. Firstly, the invention of peer-to-peer sharing networks drove down the sale of records. Also, the over-commercialization and emphasis on quantity-over-quality made many hip-hop fans less enthused about new releases. Nevertheless, hip-hop came back.
  • Bourbon and Bullets: 50 Cent

    Bourbon and Bullets: 50 Cent
    New York rapper 50 Cent releases his debut album "Get Rich or Die Trying." While still firmly in the genre of gangsta rap, a noticeable shift in tone can be observed. 50 Cent, having grown up during the high crime rate era of the United States, write lyrics about gang life. Due to the decreasing rates however, there is a focus on material objects: cars, clubs, and chains. It seems that 50 Cent changed his tone to reflect the changing socio-economic situation.
  • Dropping from Chicago: Kanye West

    Dropping from Chicago: Kanye West
    Kanye West Releases his debut album "The College Dropout." Most notable is West's talented production. Using everything from gospel samples, old R&B records, and classic hip-hop, West was able to create complex and technical instrumentals that changed hip-hop for years to come. This album also solidified Chicago's status as a major hip-hop producing city in the Midwest.
  • Hip-Hop to Party to: Crunk

    Hip-Hop to Party to: Crunk
    Lil Jon's single "Snap Yo Fingers" is released. Crunk is a sub-genre of hip-hop that is characterized by elements from electric dance music. Because of this, it was widely popular in clubs and at parties. Crunk is largely a southern sub-genre with most artists coming from Atlanta. Crunk is considered to be a slang for the past tense of crank. The genre is intended to get listeners "cranked" or "crunk."
  • SoundCloud: Revolutionizing Hip-hop Distribution

    SoundCloud: Revolutionizing Hip-hop Distribution
    Online audio distribution service SoundCloud is created. A free-to-use audio file hosting site, amateur hip-hop artists could post their music for others to listen. Music could be shared among users, thus artists could become popular quickly without the backing of any music label. This is very important as artists could become successful solely based on the quality of their content. Other sites similar to SoundCloud include Youtube and MySpace.
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    The 2010s: Bars, Beats, and Technology

    Thanks to the popularity of social media and increased release platforms, hip-hop has become the most popular music genre for the first time in history. Many, myself included, would argue that hip-hop has entered another golden-era. Passionate artists are producing varied and unique hip-hop, yet they are influenced by the decades of quality hip-hop that came before. Popular sub-genres include trap and lo-fi.
  • Trappin': Chief Keef

    Trappin': Chief Keef
    Chief Keef releases his debut single "I Don't Like.". Trap, like Crunk, is a hip-hop sub-genre that has heavy electronic dance music themes. Simple, repetitive beats and basic rhyme schemes paired with catchy hooks made this genre popular with mainstream tastes. "Trap" comes from the phrase "trap house," a place where drugs are produced or sold. While Chief Keef is from Chicago, most trap artists come from South Florida. This track puts trap in the mainstream.
  • A Pulitzer? Damn!: Kendrick Lamar

    A Pulitzer? Damn!: Kendrick Lamar
    Kendrick Lamar's 2017 album "Damn" is awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Music. The board stated Damn was “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” This is the first piece that isn't classical or jazz to be awarded the prize. This award gives the hip-hop community legitimacy among long-standing genres.