Know Your History Episode 1 – Hip Hop is a Culture

This is the transcript of my new segment for DOPEfm radio. It aired last weekend and is available for you to download as a free podcast. I hope that you enjoy this segment. I plan on producing a new episode monthly and would really like to get your feedback on it.

Know Your History – Episode 1 – Hip Hop is a Culture

“Welcome to Know Your History. This is Chase March and my goal here with you is to share some of my hip-hop knowledge so we can celebrate the rich cultural history that is hip-hop.

Of course, with any history we need to start somewhere. I wasn’t there for the start of hip-hop. I wasn’t there when it was born, when it started to develop, but I was there as soon as it got popular and it made its way to my neck of the woods, and I’ve been there ever since. I write blog posts. I write my own songs, produce my own music, tried to get a music career popping when I was younger, didn’t quite happen, and now I’m happy to be a member of DOPEfm radio crew. So this segment, I’m hoping you’ll find educational and entertaining as we will be playing some music and we’ll be discussing the rich cultural history that we all share.

So where do we start?

I think the best place to start is with some definitions. Yeah, I know, boring. Definitions. But, we need to start somewhere so let’s start with the term rap. Where did rap come from?

Well, rap originally was slang for conversation. You could sit down and chat with someone or you could sit down and rap with them. Simple as that. And when rap music first came out, people called it rap music because obviously it was a lot like conversating – people were just talking over a beat. I don’t think anyone’s actually coined the term rap music per se. We can’t just say that one person came up with that term. But that term stuck and it stuck for quite a while.

Then, a little bit later the term hip-hop came into existence, and this is the term I want to focus on because there is quite a difference between rap and hip-hop. Krs-One said it best, He said, rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live. And I live hip-hop. I think we all do here at DOPEfm and a lot of you listeners out there do as well. So we need to go back to the roots and see how the term hip-hop even evolved.

Now there’s a couple people who want to claim status for creating the term hip-hop but it’s a little bit up in the air. Some say it was Afrika Bambaataa who first used the term hip-hop and that could be. He’s definitely one of the pioneers of the form we’ll be getting to do some in-depth podcasts for him a little bit later. But there is also an interesting story that Keith Cowboy from Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five might have coined the term. The story goes, he was teasing a friend who joined the army by singing hip, hop, hip, hop – imitating the cadence of military marches. And then he worked that term and the cadence into his raps. Soon everybody did and you can actually hear it at the start of Rapper’s Delight which was one of the first rap records ever released and that was done by the Sugarhill Gang. Now at the start of that you hear, “a hip-hop, a hippy, a hippy to the hip-hip hop ya don’t stop, a rocking to the…” So that kind of sing songy style using the term hip-hop.

By 1984 the word started to appear in print. It was first used in The Village Voice by Steven Hagar in an article entitled “Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip Hop.” So, take that as you may. Africka Bambaattaa – Keith Cowboy – Who knows who created that term but the term stuck.

For a while those two terms were interchangeable. People who say rap music and hip-hop to mean the same thing, but the do not mean the same thing. Rap is the music and hip-hop is the culture. I think Krs-One said it best, rap is something that you do, hip-hop is something that you live. Of course, when the term was first created, this wasn’t really how it was. The term hip-hop and the culture has grown with that term.

Well, let’s look at the word culture because how can music be a culture? And this is what’s widely, widely misunderstood when it comes to rap and hip-hop music. So, let’s go back to culture. Culture is defined by the Webster’s Dictionary as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” So I would like to argue that hip-hop is a social group and that it is a way of life with unique rules and customs that are observed. As such, hip-hop is clearly a cultural movement.

So rap and hip-hop are not the same thing. Rap is the music. Hip-hop is the culture based and built around that music. Krs-One said it best, rap is something that you do, hip-hop is something that you live. And that is clearly the definition there. You know, at one point, Krs-One even said, “I am hip-hop,” and that statement caused a lot of controversy. Some thought he was being arrogant. Hip-hop is more than just him, who does he think he is? It’s not one person. Sure he’s a gifted artist, talented emcee but he’s not hip-hop. At least that’s what people said.

But after a while, people started to say, Wait a minute. People say that they’re Protestant or Catholic or Canadian. In fact there are countless labels we apply to ourselves and others. So if we live hip-hop culture, if we listen to the music, if we create it, if we write about it, if we dress ourselves in a style about it, if we breakdance, then why can’t we say we are hip-hop. Why not? It makes sense.

I mean sure Krs-One could’ve said, “I am a hip-hop artist” but he dropped the word artist off of there and he said, I am hip-hop. Makes sense. Just like a rock musician would call himself a rocker or a Start Trek fan would call himself a Trekkie or a Trekker. You know, I am hip-hop just sounds right. It sounds like a label that we can apply to ourselves so that people know what it means and they know where we are coming from.

So hip-hop is a culture and I think as a culture it needs to be defended, because a lot of people don’t understand different cultures unless they are actually in that culture. For instance, even thinking of different racial cultures by going back to the definition of culture, it’s either racial or religious. A lot of people don’t understand different religions or don’t understand different racial customs and beliefs. They write them off. They’ll disrespect them right away just out of that ignorance, and I mean ignorance in the fact that they don’t understand.

I come across this mindstate all the time where people do not understand what hip-hop is all about. I feel like I have to constantly defend what hip-hop is. And it feels like an attack when people start to say things bad about hip-hop because I am hip-hop. Right?

It’s like somebody dissing your family or your mama, ya know? You’re not gonna take it. You’re gonna stand up and say, “Wait a second. Hold on, hold on, hold on.” That’s what Know Your History is gonna be about. It’s about celebrating this hip-hop culture that we have, about letting us know exactly what hip-hop is all about.

So I think there is no better way to start this than to start with the first rap recorded. Now the first rap song recorded, I don’t know if you could call this song hip-hop. It’s by the Fatback Band and it’s featuring an emcee called King Tim III. Now this is clearly a funk band but the guy is rapping over it and what we can hear from the emcee is some of the old rapping style, old school as it will be called that was very popular.

Alright, so rap was making its way through the Bronx and through New York City. Rap music was done a lot in neighbourhoods and it was kind of restricted to New York and the five boroughs of New York. But one rap hit the records, and once it was out there and playable and you could ship it anywhere and people could hear it outside of New York, that’s when hip-hop really took off.

So let’s play the first two rap records ever released. The first one as I told you is the Fatback Band, a funk band featuring an emcee on this track called King Tim III. So we’re going to drop that track for you right now and we’ll be back.

Alright that was “Personality Jock” by the Fatback Band featuring King Tim III as emcee. That track was released July 25, 1979, several weeks before this more famous one that I’m sure you’ve heard before. This is “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang.

Yeah, there’s a feel good song for you. And that song there, you don’t even have to know your history for that one. That song is just well known. It’s like one of the top songs ever. It gets played in dance clubs and high school dances and pretty much everyone, even outside of hip-hop culture is familiar with that song. And for good reason, it’s a good song that captured what hip-hop was all about in those old days. It was about having fun and rapping over some music.

DJs would take turntables and they would just extend a break. So they’d take a song, a well-known song, in this case Le Chic’s “Good Times” and they would play the breakdown part of it over and over again and kind of loop it up using the two turntables. And that’s basically what this one is. If you listen to Chic’s original record and you listen to Rapper’s Delight, you don’t really hear much of a difference in the way of the music behind the rapping. It sounds exactly the same.

Another interesting thing about that record is that it went gold. It was the first commercially successful rap release ever, and it started this whole hip-hop thing that we’re proud to be a par of today. Also it was put out on 12 inch record which was kind of unusual. Before that most singles were put out on 45 or 7 inch and this one was put out on 12 inch, which coincidentally became the standard for hip-hop releases after that.

So, that’s our first look at Know Your History. We’ve covered a lot. We’ve talked about how hip-hop is a culture and how that culture needs to be respected. We’ve talked about the rich history behind all of this, and we’ve talked about how in 1979 rap started to be recorded. I hope you’re going to join us for the rest of this series because there’s a lot more history to know. We’ve only scratched the surface here with this segment. I hope you’ll be back to hear more about the birth of hip-hop culture, about how it grew and developed to become this rich, vibrant culture that we know today.

Thanks for tuning in. This is Chase March and you better Know Your History!”

Download this podcast for free. Know Your History: Episode 1 – Hip Hop is a Culture.