"Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World" was made possible in part by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
I watched a White officer assassinate a Black man, and I know that tore your heart out.
And I know it's crippling.
And I have nothing positive to say in this moment, 'cause I don't want to be here.
But I'm responsible to be here because it wasn't just Dr. King and people dressed nicely who marched and protested to progress this city and so many other cities.
It was people like my grandmother, people like my aunt and uncles.
So I'm duty-bound to be here to simply say now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize.
Singer: ♪ I feel so blue ♪ [Applause] ♪ And I feel... ♪ Man: 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for hip-hop.
Singer: ♪ What am I living for?
♪ Man: The culture informed and brought together generations of people from different backgrounds for this moment.
Singer: ♪ My baby, baby, baby... ♪ Man: Rappers have tried to highlight injustice in their art since day one.
[Crowd shouting] Singer: ♪ Yeah, yeah... ♪ Man 2: 2020 is very much a reflection of hip-hop, because hip-hop had been that CNN.
These are the issues, these are the problems.
Singer: ♪ Yeah, yeah, come on, baby... ♪ Woman: Hip-hop is a part of a movement of Black music that started in slavery.
Singer: ♪ Yeah, yeah... ♪ There's always been some kind of protest music.
Singer: ♪ Baby, I have... ♪ It's music, it's culture.
It would not look, sound, taste, smell like it does today were it not for history.
Singer: ♪ My darling, darling... ♪ Man 3: Hip-hop was created by the oppression because it was our art that defended us against the oppression.
Man 4: It has been a broadcast culture for us to speak truth to power.
Announcer: There's the president.
Woman 2: Hip-hop has saved lives.
If you think the world is crazy now, imagine what it would be like if there wasn't no hip-hop.
Singer: ♪ Yeah, yeah, come on, baby... ♪ Man 5: Black Lives Matters is people protesting.
This is all, like, stuff Chuck and Flava was talking about back in the eighties, early nineties, like fight the power.
Director: Play back.
♪ Get it, get it, get it ♪ ♪ Get down ♪ ♪ Come on now, get down ♪ ♪ Get it, get it, get it ♪ ♪ Get down ♪ ♪ Come on now, get down ♪ ♪ Get it, get it, get it ♪ ♪ Get down ♪ ♪ Come on now, get down ♪ ♪ Get it, get it, get it ♪ ♪ Get down ♪ ♪ Come on now, get down ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ It's this, y'all ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ It's this, y'all ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ It's this, y'all ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ It's this, y'all ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ It's this, y'all ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ It's this, y'all ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ It's this, y'all ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ We've got to fight the powers that be ♪ [Sirens] [Indistinct chatter] [Film projector whirs] [Hip-hop playing on film] Man: 1520 Sedgewick Avenue is where Kool DJ Herc is asked by his sister Cindy to come out and play music for her jam, for her party.
Some say it was a back-to-school jam, some say it was a birthday party.
Cindy says it was a back-to-school jam.
This is the beginning of hip-hop.
♪ The beginning of hip-hop is a back-to-school jam.
♪ Man: The ingenuity of DJ Kool Herc was the spark that ignited this beautiful art form called hip-hop.
[Indistinct hip-hop playing] When I say "hip-hop," I'm talking about the deejay, the emcee, the graffiti artist, and the beat boy.
[Song stops] [Wings flap] To understand how this movement emerged from the poorest, most depressed borough in New York City, you need to go back to the beginning.
The spirit of hip-hop was born in the 1960s.
That was the decade I was born in.
The era of resistance and turbulence helped create hip-hop.
If a negro baby is born, and this is true also of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in some of our cities, he has about one half as much chance to get through high school as a White baby.
I think we can do better.
I don't want the talents of any American to go to waste.
Chuck D: I was raised to be an artist from ground zero, 1960.
Your existence around you grooms you, trains you, teaches you.
[Crowd cheering] Man: My earliest memory growing up is when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I remember laying underneath the ironing board when my mother used to be ironing clothes, and it just stuck in my head, the funeral, the whole procession.
A few years later, his brother Robert Kennedy was shot and killed.
Malcolm X was shot and killed.
And then Martin Luther King was shot and killed.
I can remember Dr. Martin Luther King had got assassinated, and that was the first time that I seen my father, he actually cried.
That was the beginning of me just understanding Black people's role in society.
[Explosion] [Planes whirring] Chuck D.: The assassinations, the Vietnam War, knowing family members that were going off to the Vietnam War, being drafted in front of our own eyes.
My mother would say at an early age, you know, this war's going on, so I think, you know, you should be a conscientious objector.
Can you tell us, Champ, why in your view you deserve to be exempted from military service?
No, I have nothing to say.
Everything that's been said is in the newspapers.
[Indistinct chants] Chuck D.: I was privy to all those things that we're going on in the 1960s, and they had a profound effect not only on me, but our community that we lived in.
[Sirens, protestors chanting] Reporter: Poverty, unemployment, and frustration led to 4 days of rioting, burning, looting, and killing that had never been seen before in America.
Man: There were riots almost every single summer in the sixties.
And it was because the social injustice system was just as bad then as it is now.
And we were trying to get our rights.
We were trying to live in spite of all the madness that was taking place within our communities.
We're just getting tired of being pushed around, that's all.
[Sirens] ♪ Watts: What happened is just a prologue, because Whites still don't believe that Black people mean it when they say that we want power.
We want Black power.
♪ Oyewole: The Civil Rights Movement was over when they killed Dr. King.
The only movement now that was available was the Black Power movement.
This country has never cared about Black people.
They don't give two damns about us, and all of us always turn around worrying about what's good for America, what's good later for America.
What's good for Black people?
That's what we want to know.
That's what we want to know.
Singer: ♪ It's time to make a change ♪ ♪ Time to make a new beginning... ♪ The whole thing was before we can talk about making a change in the outer world, we've got to clean up our world.
So that was the mission.
Singer: ♪ It's time to make a change... ♪ Chuck D.: I remember the Black Panther Party.
They go to Manhattan just serving lunches to kids in the summertime.
Singer: ♪ It can't go on like this anymore... ♪ Chuck D.: Later on, the Nation of Islam was having their movements in Harlem and around the New York City area.
Singer: ♪ The men make the power ♪ ♪ A dreary chosen few... ♪ KRS-One: You had the Nation of Islam back then.
You had Minister Louis Farrakhan teaching you about yourself.
[No audio] You had real Christian ministers had you believe Jesus was a Black man, all the Bible characters were African.
Singer: ♪ What do we become?
♪ The roles of our Black political leaders and religious leaders played a role in the consciousness of hip-hop.
That knowledge of self, pro-Black message.
Singer: ♪ What are we waiting for?
♪ ♪ It's time to make a change ♪ ♪ Time to make a new... ♪ Oyewole: This was a period where we were working out of that shell that we were coming for, and we were seeking power, and we really felt that we had the system on its heels.
Violence is a part of America's culture.
[Cheers and applause] The Last Poets: When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes... As that consciousness was raised with people saying, well, we asking questions and ain't getting answers by the society, at least we need the music to say something.
The Last Poets: When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes... Chuck D.: So it was a snowball effect.
Black snowball effect in our neighborhood, especially.
So obviously it bled to the music, and it reciprocated back and forth.
The Last Poets: And blood will run through the streets of Harlem, drowning anything without substance when the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes... Oyewole: One of my most famous poems is "When the Revolution Comes."
I didn't make that line up.
That was a line that a lot of folks was using as a preface to something that we were hoping was gonna come.
So I took that line and blew it up and just talked about a bunch of things that should take place when the revolution comes.
The Last Poets: Speak not of revolution until y'all willing to eat rats to survive.
When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes.
When the revolution comes, guns and rifles will be taking the place of poems and essays... Oyewole: I noticed that when you hit people with thoughts that they've already had, they will gravitate to you that much more.
The Last Poets: When the revolution comes.
I hope pearly white teeth... Chuck D.: The Last Poets were like your uncles who definitely laid out the groundwork.
Poets are always going to give you the dirty, dirty on everything.
That's very important not only for--in the realm of hip-hop, but in the realm of artistry.
The Last Poets: When the revolution comes, Jesus Christ is gonna be standing on the corner of Lenox Avenue and 125th Street... Man: The whole environment in Black music, '69--'68, maybe to '74, is amazing.
And all these things are connected to social commentary.
Got kids out there that can't eat, and they're robbing and stealing and doing what they have to do to make it.
And if you don't do something about it, we gonna lose the country.
There's a new survey out today.
We don't want the survey.
The survey's out there in the street.
In which-- [Applause] African Americans are able to turn on a radio or put on a record and listen to Marvin Gaye, listen to Stevie Wonder talking about living in the city and what is it like and deal with these issues of a new kind of discrimination and decay.
The Isley Brothers: ♪ Time is truly wasting ♪ ♪ There's no guarantee ♪ ♪ Smile's in the makin' ♪ ♪ You got to fight the powers that be... ♪ For those artists-- Marvin, Stevie, you know, people like that, it's like we can party and we can sing and dance and hoop it up, you know what I mean, but we have to address what the ... is going on around us at some point if you have any consciousness inside you.
The Isley Brothers: ♪ When I rolled with the punches ♪ ♪ I got knocked on the ground ♪ ♪ I try to play my music ♪ ♪ They say my music's too loud... ♪ Chuck D.: The Isley Brothers make a record called "Fight the Power."
That record as a growing teenager, me looking around, reading around, seeing around, whatever coming up, that stuck with me.
Not only stuck with me, it stuck with everybody.
The Isley Brothers: ♪ Fight it ♪ ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ Ah!
Fight ♪ ♪ Fight it, baby, baby... ♪ Chuck D.: Fight the Power is already, it's in--it's in our skin, it's in our psyche.
The Isley Brothers: ♪ Fight the power ♪ ♪ Yee... ♪ KRS-One: We're all being influenced by the music of the time.
It's the turning point for you to voice your struggle, for you to voice your oppression, to voice what's not right.
[The Isley Brothers vocalizing] Man: For me, soul music was cool, R&B was cool, but rock music was like the Incredible Hulk.
[Imitates guitar] It had this powerful attraction, and as a kid, I was looking for anything that can make me feel stronger than my environment.
Woman: During this period, there is a real tide of rising Black consciousness.
So you got to look at stuff like the Black is Beautiful movement.
It's incredibly effective at highlighting the beauty of blackness, all of these things that had been seen as negative before.
The 5th Dimension: ♪ Let the sunshine ♪ ♪ Let the sunshine... ♪ Chuck D.: At that particular time, The 5th Dimension made a song, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In."
We were all asking for it.
The 5th Dimension: ♪ Let the sunshine ♪ ♪ Let the sunshine... ♪ Chuck D.: Black is Beautiful and afro picks and dashikis and stuff came up out of, it seemed like, nowhere.
The 5th Dimension: ♪ Let the sunshine ♪ ♪ Ohh, let it shine ♪ ♪ Let the sunshine... ♪ Chuck D.: Having parents who were both from Harlem, I was becoming conscious of things like, what are we?
Are we negro or are we colored?
I remember us seeing Black people on TV, and my family would say, "Well, there's some colored people on TV."
So all the sudden, we were colored.
The 5th Dimension: ♪ Hey, let it shine ♪ ♪ Let the sunshine in ♪ ♪ You gotta open up your heart ♪ ♪ And let it shine on in... ♪ George: I remember having a summer school class, and this teacher, like it was a very cool brother.
Come on in.
Come on, young blood."
And he would give us books on Africa.
That's not something that was normally given to kids in American schools.
The 5th Dimension: ♪ Let the sunshine ♪ ♪ You've got to feel it... ♪ George: There was something that was very empowering about that period.
The Fifth Dimension: ♪ Let it shine on in ♪ ♪ Now let me tell you one thing ♪ ♪ Let the sunshine ♪ Muhammad Ali: I'm representing the freedom of Black people in America.
If I win, we're free.
Reporter: I'm not Foreman, you know that.
I don't see a Black man, I see you.
I see the White House.
I'm not the White House, either.
I see the--I see something white.
[Laughter] [Applause] I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States of America.
[Applause] George: Shirley Chisholm was my congresswoman.
I'm from Brownsville and her office was on Eastern Parkway.
She was very inspirational in the sense that she became an embodiment of this Black consciousness mood.
It was very palpable.
No one thought she could win, but the fact that she was able to be on a platform and articulate for Black people in that space was very powerful.
Join me in an effort to reshape our society and regain control of our destiny.
George: The attention that she generated was extraordinary.
I remember thinking, you don't really see Black women on TV who aren't singing.
She's also representative of the fact that in New York in the seventies, there was a huge influx of Caribbean folks.
♪ [Train horn blows] Reporter: In the past 15 years, two million middle class have fled New York and set up home in the suburbs.
Two million poor have flooded in.
Grandmaster Caz: During the seventies, the financial woes of the city led to people leaving.
So with that exodus came the influx of Black, Hispanic, and other ethnicities to the city.
George: We'd have Trinis, Basians, Jamaicans all coming in as a wave, really.
Reporter: They came in search of the prizes promised in the American dream.
Instead, they and their families inherited this devastated piece of the earth.
Man: All the tenements were stacked and packed with so many people coming through, coexistence was a little difficult because of the way we were fed all these, like, negative attitudes.
I was 160 pounds of curious, anxious Puerto Rican.
So going out into the streets was real tough.
♪ Reporter: There is a crime of violence committed in New York City every 4 minutes.
Last year alone, there were more than 1,500 murders.
[Siren] Man: It was the time when the violence and gangs in New York was at its zenith.
You had thousands of gangs, and they fought over territory, and it was violent, and it was destructive.
♪ I remember a time visiting New York in '74 and seeing these gangs very much dressed like-- almost like "The Warriors" gear, but "The Warriors" was kind of silly.
It was a goofy thing.
These are the real warriors.
And it was intimidating.
It was frightening.
Singer: ♪ Dollars in my pocket ♪ ♪ Up all night... ♪ Man: There's an expression they say, "It's a terrible blow, but that's how it go."
So you see somebody get hurt and you go, "Man, that's a terrible blow, but that's how it go."
You didn't have a fear of death because death was always around you.
♪ Melle Mel: Growing up in the Bronx, mid-seventies, it was like in the middle of the heroin epidemic.
See a lot of empty hypodermic needles and, you know, people nodding all over the place.
They knock on your door and want to get some water so that they can mix up their little dope.
Singer: ♪ But I'm feeling all right... ♪ Melle Mel: Not really good for kids to be raised up in.
As I talked to the people from New York State, I realized the need for money to deal with this problem.
I am glad that in this administration, we have increased the amount of money for handling the problem of dangerous drugs sevenfold.
The policies that come out of the Nixon Administration, particularly those policies that are focused on the War on Drugs, on crime, are actually designed to punish Black people.
We have an accounting of this.
♪ Grandmaster Caz: The War on Drugs was some bull...
But the knowledge of how we were being manipulated through these different things, we learn later on.
Back then, I was an ignorant kid.
♪ Wright Rigueur: There's a philosophy by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who ultimately ends up being New York's senator.
In this memo, he says, "I think these Black communities would benefit from a period of benign neglect."
It accurately captures the attitude that administrations have towards these areas that are disproportionately Black.
[Indistinct] Reporter: In the city where there are 4 murders a day, they're now thinking of the unthinkable-- laying off policemen.
We knew that the situation was dire and stressed.
We saw the heroin addicts.
We saw the institutions around us crumbling.
We saw this at 10 years old.
It was obvious.
But we didn't see our environment for what mainstream may have seen the Bronx as.
We saw the Bronx not according to the environment, but according to who we were in it.
[Barks] George: Growing up in that New York, the police were not as attentive.
There was a lot of sense of like, I can--I can get away with a lot.
If no one--if no one stops me, I can get away with a lot.
Jimmy Castor Bunch: ♪ Watch me now ♪ ♪ Feel the groove ♪ ♪ Into something ♪ ♪ Gonna make you move... ♪ George: I remember at one point there was two guys stopping graffiti in New York.
Two guys in the seventies.
These are about the best cans of paint on the market, and this is what they invariable will go out and steal.
They never pay for their paint.
They'll steal it.
George: You'd be in a subway, and you wouldn't know what stop you were-- I mean, 'cause everything was painted, all the windows were covered with graffiti.
And the inside of the trains as well.
Jimmy Castor Bunch: ♪ You gotta do your thing ♪ ♪ You gotta do your thing... ♪ George: So it was free rein.
KRS-One: The most amazing thing in the hood is to go to the train yards and put your name up on the side of a train, and then watch the train go by the next day.
Man: This is it.
There we go.
This is it!
This is what we was doing in the hood.
We was having fun.
Jimmy Castor Bunch: ♪ It's just begun... ♪ Quinones: Those trains were going from the outreaches of East New York, burnt to the ground, crisp to the ground, and ending up in the Bronx.
But in between, going through the heartland of Manhattan.
You reached, at that point, 4.5 million people in one day.
That's more than some people can do today with social media.
Graffiti art is probably the biggest revolutionary tool we have.
It's the propaganda of the movement.
It's the visual of it.
Ha ha ha.
Quinones: I understood how cars move in and out of sight.
That kinetic motion creates for a very mysterious boom.
Flash of colors.
It's like exciting.
It's like rebellious.
It's like, "Ahh!"
It was agitation, frustration in the system that was totally in disarray, in pieces.
Jimmy Castor Bunch: ♪ It's just begun ♪ ♪ It's just begun ♪ ♪ It's just begun ♪ ♪ It's just begun... ♪ George: People will use the data all day.
But in a sense, the creativity that made graffiti is possible because the city itself is not being taken care of in a certain way.
There's a certain kind of like, let them do what they want to do.
We don't give a... Jimmy Castor Bunch: ♪ It's just begun ♪ ♪ It's just begun... ♪ Woman: In the Bronx, all you did was go to house party or basement parties.
So my cousins would take me, and we did everything together.
We were like a large group.
Jimmy Castor Bunch: ♪ It's just begun... ♪ Clemente: None of what people say the Bronx is is what I experienced.
I mean, I just played outside with my cousins, you know, and it was family.
You know, I think they just saw and continued to see the entire narrative.
Jimmy Castor Bunch: ♪ It's just begun, begun, begun ♪ Wright Rigueur: The Bronx doesn't have to be chaotic.
It doesn't have to be bombed out, poverty-ridden.
The Bronx is the Bronx because of very conscious and calculated decisions.
Reporter: For nearly half a century, this man has pushed people around New York.
George: Robert Moses managed to establish himself as a force in the state, where he controlled the Parks Department and the bridge and tunnels.
He was very interested in developing the suburbs and wasn't that interested in protecting the city.
Reporter: Our city, under the urgent direction of our able planner of chaos, Mr. Robert Moses, has not merely permitted, but encouraged municipal mayhem.
One of the most destructive things he did was build the Cross Bronx Expressway.
It goes right across the middle of the Bronx.
It tore through 5 or 6 different neighborhoods, and the chaos that created and the flight that created is one of the major reasons why the Bronx suffered so much subsequently in the seventies.
♪ Out of all the boroughs in New York City, the Bronx is probably the poorest borough.
And the city itself was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Reporter: As inner-city areas become progressively less pleasant to live in, those that can afford to move out to live in the suburbs.
A lot of local taxation revenue moves out with them, and the city has therefore fewer and fewer resources to deal with an increasingly poor population.
New York is struggling through this massive budget crisis, and they reach out to the federal government.
They're like, look, we need help.
I do not think it's a healthy thing for the federal government to bail out a city.
Wright Rigueur: The city has to layoff and stop hiring a number of employees, and so they get rid of a bunch of fire departments.
New York is working to move out of this crisis by sacrificing its residents.
[People shouting] [Distant sirens] ♪ Wright Rigueur: When slumlords and landlords start burning down their buildings in order to collect insurance money, one of the things that we see is that there are no social protective services that can shut these fires down.
The building just has to burn out.
Policies shape what is happening in African-American lives and communities at this time.
[Children playing] Grandmaster Caz: The system started cracking at the school level because the resources that normally would go into schools were stripped, were taken away.
The city didn't have it in the budget.
Our music programs in schools went by the wayside.
We didn't have instruments to practice in schools anymore.
So to quote Lord Jamar from Brand Nubian, we took the only thing in our house that made music-- a turntable.
♪ The soundtrack to the city of New York in the late seventies when I first game here to live was still held over from what was going on in the mid-seventies, which was, like, disco.
Grandmaster Caz: Disco led to hip-hop, because hip-hop is like the bastard child of disco.
Our version of a disco.
McDaniels: Every time you looked in the media, they were talking about this place called Studio 54.
It was women and money and the rich people and the athletes and the CEOs and all the movie stars.
Singer: ♪ Everybody dance... ♪ McDaniels: Everybody's perception was New York City is epic.
Singer: ♪ Everybody dance ♪ ♪ Doo doo doo, clap your hands ♪ ♪ Clap your hands ♪ The Bronx was burning.
Bed-Stuy, do or die, was a war zone.
Harlem was Harlem.
Hell up in Harlem.
So when we saw disco, we did disco in the streets of New York.
Play music, come dance.
We doing our self.
We ain't got money, but this is--and for those 3 or 4 hours, it was beautiful.
Grandmaster Caz: We couldn't get into a disco.
We didn't want to wear the pointy shoes and the suits and dance like this.
So we created our version of a disco and danced the way we want to the music that we want and dressed the way we want.
Singer: ♪ Everybody dance... ♪ Colon: You have people who were abused at home.
Parents abusing alcohol and drugs, and that was their escape to get away from that.
Come to this place which is sort of like a safe haven to just express yourself with dance and put everything behind you.
That was a way of expressing pain.
Singer: ♪ Dancing helps relieve the pain ♪ ♪ Soothes your mind, makes you happy again... ♪ Quinones: As much as many people actually discounted, the disco era was a beautiful moment because it brought people out of the woodwork to want to dance.
Singer: ♪ Everybody dance ♪ ♪ Doo doo doo, clap your hands... ♪ Quinones: That led to a lot of, like, proudness on that dancefloor, and it was basically the humble beginnings of breakdancing as we know it.
Singer: ♪ Everybody dance ♪ ♪ Doo doo doo, clap your hands ♪ ♪ Clap your hands ♪ Chuck D.: DJ Kool Herc was an innovator.
A Caribbean immigrant like so many of the communities in the Bronx at that time.
He revolutionized how the music was played.
And, uh, that inventiveness comes out of being able to have that sound system and play that for the people.
♪ Herc had the sound system because his father was in a Jamaican band.
He used his system.
Herc would take this music, and when he called it, he says, "I go to the best part of the record to give it to you."
He called it, "I go to the yolk of the egg.
"I go to the yolk.
I get the yolk out.
That's all you really want."
Grandmaster Caz: DJ Kool Herc, he didn't just play the whole record, he played the section, the section of the record that really got the energy in it, the drum beat, the drum breakdowns.
And those breaks eventually led to the dance.
♪ When Kool Herc was bringing this album to the park, me and my little brother Kenny was there.
I was 8 years old.
So I grew up listening to the break beats in the park from about 8 years old.
We were b-boys and b-girls.
♪ Chuck D.: The records that I heard on the radio were now being manipulated with two turntables.
There was a song I liked, "Galaxy" by the group War.
They had a 15-second intro, and they stretched it to like 4 minutes, and I was just floored.
♪ Quinones: I thought that we were saving ourselves through that beat.
In other words, extend the beat on the turntable and make it longer than 3, 4, 5, 6 seconds, make it into a minute.
A minute is a long time in the ghetto.
And a minute of that beat, it makes you feel uplifted, giving yourself therapeutic power.
You want to extend that because you want to live through that movement of that music.
[Indistinct chatter] Holman: The first tracks are old funk and soul classics.
Babe Ruth does a song called "The Mexican" that for some odd reason appeals directly to b-boys.
Just has just the right energy.
I call it like this galloping like William Tell's Overture or Wagner's, you know, "Ride of the Valkyries."
It's the kind of music that screams, get up, move, do something.
And the first thing you think of doing is to dance.
♪ Colon: Herc didn't allow any gang activity, nobody with colors in there, so you didn't have to worry about being a Spade or a Savage Skulls.
And now the battle was on the dancefloor.
It was no longer, knuckle up, let me see what you go.
♪ You keep to that circle.
It was sort of like gladiators.
You know, two people go in, one person comes out.
♪ Like, it wasn't one style.
It was just putting all the different styles together.
You could take anything and put it into your dance.
Chuck D.: This is the beginning that intrigued people, because it didn't seem to have any constraints on it.
It was all like a pot of cultural getdown.
[Indistinct chatter] Quinones: You have poverty alongside ready-made tools.
Those ready-made tools where those turntables, those records.
We made something happen with nothing, and that's the beauty of it.
Holman: You had entrepreneurial deejays putting on parties in the summer in the parks, and they knew that there was this whole audience in the Bronx who couldn't go to the discos downtown because "a," they were too young, they didn't have the money, they didn't have the right gear.
So it was a built-in audience.
Grandmaster Caz: The block party scene, it was like it was supposed to happen because all of the things that would stop it from happening didn't happen.
I'll give you a perfect example.
There's a--there's a park jam.
There's over 500, 600 kids out there.
And the police drive by.
[Police radio chatter] You know what the police saw when they saw that?
They saw 500 kids in one place that we know where they are.
They're not running around streets, they're not in the shopping districts where we gotta look for people robbing.
So it worked for the police and it worked for us.
Deejays initially are like bandleaders, right?
They were like Count Basie.
And then the same way in bebop that people started singing to those riffs, how the vocalists became the front and center and how Count Basie moved a little bit to the background, that's kind of the same thing that happened with the deejays and the emcees.
You know, history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.
Melle Mel: Kool Herc had a tight squad.
Coke-La-Rock was the first guy guy to actually rock the mic, and that was who everybody, you know, wanted to emulate.
Who am I?
Who are you?
Who am I?
Who are you?
Who am I?
All: So what, what do that mean?
♪ I'm the baddest emcee lover on the hip-hop scene ♪ Early rap and rhyming was about yourself.
It was braggadocious.
I'm this, I'm that.
I could do this and that.
I got this many this, this girl love me.
You might write some rhymes and make people dance.
Of course, you had crowd response, throw your hands in the air, wave them like you just don't care, you know, just to get the people motivated.
♪ Everybody, everybody say hey ♪ Crowd: ♪ Hey ♪ ♪ Hey, hey, hey, hey ♪ ♪ Well, I'm the master arrival ♪ ♪ With the face of my force, I'll talk to your girl ♪ ♪ Until your body get moist ♪ ♪ It's just me on the mic, I'm doing my job ♪ ♪ Like Pretty Boy, you know I'm down with the mob ♪ ♪ I'm pretty now, they call me... ♪ Chuck D.: Rhyming in the beginning, they could have easily rapped about the real things that's right in front of them-- guns, drugs infiltrating New York City in '78, '79.
♪ We only came here to settle the score ♪ ♪ So let's give everybody, let's give everybody... ♪ Chuck D.: And they said, you know what, there's no way that's gonna be popular.
We want to keep the party going.
♪ Here's a little story that must be told ♪ ♪ About two cool brothers that were put on hold ♪ ♪ Try to hold us back from fortune and fame ♪ ♪ They destroyed the crew and they killed my name ♪ ♪ They tried to step on my ego and walk on my pride... ♪ Holman: Initially, it's about putting on a performance.
Within that, of course, you're going to inevitably be making political statements because you're engaging with people who are struggling.
And their struggle is inevitably going to come up against the powers that be, the establishment.
[Rap continues indistinctly] Holman: Let's party together.
That's a threat to the establishment, believe it or not.
♪ ...is in the house ♪ ♪ Don't you know Double Trouble gonna turn it out, y'all ♪ Rap, rhythmically rhyming in spoken word, breaking, graffiti art, aerosol art, and deejaying were 4 distinct cultures, 4 distinct communities.
Kool Herc came and brought all that together into one place.
Some years later, Lovebug Starski and Chief Rocker Busy Bee started calling it hip-hop.
Holman: Hip-Hop was a movement created by, populated by, and spoke to working-class kids.
These were the kids that had an attitude about themselves.
Hip-hop is coming from within us.
We were never not hip-hop.
We were always this from the time we were born.
We were always this.
LL Cool J: It was the most important thing in my life.
You know, it was the first time that I heard, you know, Black men sound empowered, express, their imagination, express their creativity in a way that made us all dream more.
It was important.
McDaniels: I was a shy, nerdy, geeky kid, but hip-hop empowered me.
Oh, I can use this to not be afraid to tell the world who I am.
♪ Grandmaster Caz: Hip-hop is the creativity and activity that comes out of a Black neighborhood when everything has been stripped away.
♪ Reporter: Mr. President, did you hear the people yelling, "We need some money" when you passed through?
Reporter: Jimmy Carter came to see urban decay at its worst, and he predicted federal aid to end more than a decade of devastation in the South Bronx.
Wright Rigueur: Couple years after Jimmy Carter shows up at the South Bronx, Ronald Reagan, on his presidential campaign, goes to the exact same spot.
[People shouting] Ronald Reagan wants to take advantage of the fact that his political opponent, President Jimmy Carter, has failed to enact his promises.
Reagan: Today the President blames the mayor of the city and others.
Woman: What are you gonna do?
Here's some-- What are you gonna do for us?
I'm trying to tell you!
[Indistinct shouting] I am trying to tell you.
What I'm trying to tell you is I can't do a damn thing for you if I don't get elected.
[Cheers and applause] George: When Reagan comes in, whatever programs helped working-class people, that stuff was, like, went out the door.
[Applause] Reporter: President Reagan in his televised speech on the economy proposed 83 major program cuts.
It was another blow to the South Bronx.
Wright Rigueur: Reagan creates an atmosphere that exacerbates these pre-existing problems.
♪ Clemente: Under Reagan, as a borough, we're more abandoned, and there were definitely a lot of gangs flooding our community.
Man: 11 homicides... Woman: 10-4.
[Indistinct] Reporter: It's hard to imagine the situation could deteriorate further.
The unemployment rate among Black adults is double the average and climbing.
In many places, desperation has turned to hopelessness.
Jeffries: The nation as a whole goes into a deep recession in the early 1980s.
People across the nation are feeling the pain.
Man: They want two Americas.
They want the rich, and then they want the slaves, and that's us.
We're not going backwards.
[Crowd cheering] Ronald Reagan absolutely taps into racism to explain the economic problem that White Americans are facing in the nation.
It's because of the lawlessness.
It's Black criminality.
It's drugs, eventually.
And that has to be cracked down on.
Retribution must be swift and sure for those who decide to make a career of preying on the innocent.
It's a really twisted way of explaining the economic problems born not of what Black people are doing, but born of what capitalists are doing.
[Woman screams] Chuck D.: From the minute Ronald Reagan was elected, the United States was a bad situation.
[Gunshots] It becomes in its way as turbulent as the 1960s that I was born in.
The Black community was being attacked.
Jeffries: We get this massive escalation and the hyper militarization of the police and the assault on African-American youth in a way that we hadn't seen before.
♪ Growing up, I watched the cops lock up my father when my father was a hard-working man, never been into crime.
As he was talking to the officers, he was like, "No, no, no," and they was like, "English!
My father's from Cuba.
And I watched them put the handcuffs on my father.
And he's not tough.
He started crying in front of me.
I'll never forget that image.
I didn't know systemic racism.
I didn't know everything that was happening to me.
Somebody had really planned this out.
♪ Wright Rigueur: When we talk about African-American frustration with the American political system, they are frustrated because it is a system that at every single turn has neglected them.
And so we see this expressed through an outpouring of various symptoms-- crime, violence, gangs, things like that.
But we also see it expressed in an outpouring of cultural production.
♪ George: I remember I was at "Billboard" magazine when "The Message" came out.
And we had a little room you could play records in.
And, you know, I put it on.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: ♪ It's like a jungle sometimes ♪ ♪ It makes me wonder how I keep from going under... ♪ George: The minute you heard "The Message," you knew it was an important record.
Gil Scott-Heron level stuff, but by hip-hop artists.
It was such a profound record.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: ♪ Broken glass everywhere ♪ ♪ People ... on the stairs, you know they just don't care ♪ ♪ I can't take the smell, can't take the noise ♪ ♪ Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice ♪ ♪ Rats in the front room, roaches in the back ♪ ♪ Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat... ♪ The way it started, "Broken glass everywhere."
You know, "People ... on the staircase, you don't care."
I mean, especially if you lived in the projects, I mean, like, that's what you smelled every day.
Somebody peed on the elevator, you know.
There was broken glass everywhere.
So, you know the song spoke to what we're seeing.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: ♪ Watching all the cars go by ♪ ♪ Roaring as the breezes blow ♪ ♪ Crazy lady living in the bag ♪ ♪ Eating out of garbage pail ♪ ♪ Said she'll dance the tango... ♪ Chuck D.: "The Message" was was really the culmination of the last 25 years that was thrust upon Black folks.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: ♪ The bill collectors ♪ ♪ That ring my phone ♪ ♪ And scare my wife when I'm not home ♪ ♪ Got a bum education, double-digit inflation ♪ ♪ Can't take the train to the job ♪ ♪ There's a strike at the station... ♪ Melle Mel: My group wasn't the Happy Five, it was the Furious Five.
So I've always been a high-strung, angry type of individual.
♪ Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge ♪ ♪ I'm trying not to lose my head, ha ha ha... ♪ When "The Message" came out, that gave hip-hop a voice, and it actually grew up.
That was when it went from the infantile stage to a young adult stage.
♪ 'Cause it's all about money, ain't a damn thing funny ♪ ♪ You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey... ♪ "The Message" actually talked about something.
It had, you know, the same feeling of a Bob Dylan record or a Marvin Gaye record, a record with an actual subject matter that meant something, that people related to, like, in their life.
♪ I feel like an outlaw, broke my last glass jaw ♪ ♪ I hear them say, "You want some more?"
♪ ♪ Living on a see-saw... ♪ The verse is, a child is born with no state of mind, so that was inspired by the Stevie Wonder song "Living for the City."
A boy is born in hard time Mississippi.
So now this is my version.
♪ A child is born with no state of mind ♪ ♪ Blind to the ways of mankind ♪ ♪ God is smiling on you, but he's frowning, too ♪ ♪ Because only God knows what you'll go through ♪ ♪ You'll grow in the ghetto, living second-rate ♪ ♪ And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate... ♪ When I first heard that song, I thought for the first time, wow, here's somebody who's speaking what I feel.
I can't get that on any TV network.
I'm not getting this in the widespread medium where you hearing this voice of somebody talking about our experiences like I was with Melle Mel.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: ♪ Smugglers, scramblers ♪ ♪ Burglars, gamblers, pickpocket peddlers ♪ ♪ Even panhandlers ♪ ♪ You say, "I'm cool, huh, I'm no fool" ♪ ♪ But then you wind up dropping out of high school ♪ ♪ Now you're unemployed, all null and void... ♪ Fat Joe: "The Message" is like going viral now.
So every floor you went down in the projects, it was playing.
Every single floor.
You might get an occasional Spanish [Speaks Spanish], and then you'd get "The Message."
When you went outside, every single car was playing "The Message."
You know, you would go to the party, they would play that record 30, 40 times.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: ♪ I'm trying ♪ ♪ Not to lose my head, heh heh heh... ♪ Fat Joe: It was like a frenzy.
It was just like a snowball effect, coming down and getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
There was nothing like it.
Reporter: "The Message," a hot-edge anthem of the urban ghetto.
Flash and Five proved it just wasn't party music, but could be used to get across a serious message.
Man: "The Message" was the song that took me over the threshold from let's have fun with this to let's challenge ourselves with the artform.
What "The Message" did for me and my experience, it can't be overstated.
Everything that Public Enemy was doing at that time was so important and so vital.
Man: Black people as a nation is asleep.
Public Enemy is an alarm clock rap group.
Ice Cube: The press said it's gangster rap.
OK, gangster rap.
Then I'm the original gangster.
Woman: Two different stories-- police beating Rodney King, Asian-American killing Latasha, but the same outcome-- acquitted.
That's why the city mad.
"Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World" ♪ is available on Amazon Prime Video ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪