The legacy of Hip-Hop… can’t stop, won’t stop. And it hasn’t! Makeshift recording studios and twisted mic cords paved the way for a new mix of funk and soul that traveled from crowded house parties to the Oscar stage and beyond.
Let’s take it back (to the beginning). The August 11, 1973 rec room party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx is undeniably one of the (if not THE) most famous parties in Hip-Hop’s history. Thrown by a father of Hip-Hop, DJ Kool Herc, and his sister Cindy, it was here that Herc experimented with “the breaks” in records, elongating portions of them after noticing that dancers would choose certain points in a record to flock to the floor.
Kurtis Blow at Howard Theatre, July 2013. Photo courtesy PBS.
Hip-Hop, however, was not the discovery of one single person. Dance floors were shaking before that famous night in August. Kurtis Blow, another father of Hip-Hop, DJ’d his first party at the age of thirteen. There were no turntables, only instinct and a unique syle that would secure his place in history. The same breaks that DJ Kool Herc would experiment with on August 11th, Kurtis Blow would also discover by listening to James Brown, who he called: “the number one cat during that time [Motown era] with the funkiest beats that we would dance to…” Kurtis Blow would go on to record the iconic song ‘The Breaks,’ and taught people who had never been to those famous Bronx parties how to navigate a new rhythm. It was clear that a new groove was emerging from the Bronx and would echo out from each borough of New York City...and soon the world.
Hip Hop’s four pillars: MCing, DJing, Breakdancing, and Graffiti Art were born out of the collective spirit of excitement and innovation that describes this moment in Hip-Hop’s history. Commercial recognition wasn’t far ahead; Kurtis Blow became the first rapper signed to a major record label deal in 1979 with his song “Christmas Rappin,” and The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was one of the first Hip-Hop singles to land on the Top 40 Charts in 1979. Hip-Hop has continued to break records and shatter expectations—from Salt-N-Pepa being the first female rap group to win a Grammy to programs like Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City bringing an emerging music and culture to the homes of millions of Americans—it has been 40 years filled with innovation, collaboration and of course, music.
DJ Premier and Pete Rock at Howard Theatre, July 18, 2013.
We caught up with some of the legends who helped Hip-Hop endure for 40 years and asked them about their experiences—like the moment they realized they were part of a time in history much bigger than themselves, and the artists they drew inspiration from. We also caught up with a new generation of artists carrying on the legacy of self-expression and asked them about their inspirations and ideas about where the next 40 years of Hip-Hop would take them. Of all the conversations we had one common theme emerged: Hip-Hop endures because of the artists who live to create, share, and defy expectations, and you: dancers,listeners, show goers.
Through this feature, we hope to create a cross generational dialogue about Hip-Hop and we want you to join in. So tell us: What records or cassettes are still lurking around your rooms? What songs changed or defined your view of Hip-Hop? When did you realize that Hip-Hop was a staple not only in your sound system but in your life?
Check out some of the artists we've been talking to; can you guess who else will appear? Make sure you check back as we continue to celebrate 40 Years of Hip-Hop!
| Pioneers of Hip-Hop
| New School Artists
Stay tuned as we add more artists to our list and celebrate 40 Years of Hip-Hop!
Credit and thanks to PBS Digital Studios and PBS intern Tafisha Edwards for their valuable research and contribution to this special feature.