Know Your History: Episode 2 – The Elements

Know Your History is a monthly segment I do for DOPEfm.

This is the transcript for Episode 2. Please go and download the show for free.

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“Hey Everybody, this is Chase March and thanks for tuning in to Know Your History. This is your monthly dose of hip-hop knowledge, where we get to celebrate all that is hip-hop. Last episode we talked about how hip-hop is indeed a culture. This episode I would like to talk about the four elements that comprise this culture. I know you probably know them. Some of you might say that there are more than four, but, indeed, this culture was based around these four elements.

I’d like to start off with a track. This track is by Murs. It’s off his album Murs for President and it’s totally fitting for a history show because he goes through hundreds of years of history in here. I don’t know if I agree with everything that he is saying on this track, but it’s really interesting when he gets to the part about the birth of hip-hop culture. So listen to it, and we’ll talk about it when we come back. This is Murs “The Science.”

“Yeah! That was “The Science” by Murs. Really dope track right there. I gotta give it up for him. I really like how he talks about the whole origin of rap and it’s pretty interesting. He says, “It was us making the best out of a bad situation,” and just taking what we had, which was really not a lot and making a whole art form and a whole culture out of that. So that’s what he’s talking about there.

I like how he really touches on the history behind these four elements. He says, “there was a mic but emcees weren’t ruling. It was more about what the DJ was doing.” So, yeah, the DJ is the first element of hip-hop. He even talks about how DJs did their craft, by extending the break. He says, “the break is the part where the record broke down, where it was just a drum and a couple of sounds.” ‘Cause DJs figured out that was the part that people like dancing to the best.

And since it’s called the break, that’s why we have break dancing. So the first two elements of hip-hop are DJing and break dancing. That leaves the fourth element of hip-hop, which is Graffiti art.  Graffiti art was popular for a little while and then it seemed to fade away from mass media attention. So, it’s probably the least understood of all the elements that comprise hip-hop culture. But it is a major one that can’t, can’t be left out.

There was a group in the early 90s called The Artifacts that talked about graffiti art quite a lot in their rhymes and you can hear some shaking of spray paint cans in the background. So graffiti art is part of hip-hop and it is part of the culture. Now, I know myself that I can DJ a little but, I can emcee pretty good, I can’t dance, and I certainly can’t do graffiti art. So ebing part of the culture doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do all four things.

And like I said before, some people say there are more than four elements of hip-hop. But for today, we’re sticking with these four.  These four are the foundation of hip-hop and let’s focus on the fourth one for a little bit longer, graffiti art. I want to play this song. It’s called “Wrong Side of Da Tracks” by The Artifacts and we’ll be back with more Know Your History after this.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely an anthem for all the graff writers out there. And yeah, they were called writers and some of the terminology you can hear in that song about graffiti art. Tame One, one of the two members of the group starts off saying, “I’m about to bomb like Vietnam under the same name Tame One.” What he’s really saying right there is ‘I’m about to paint a wall with my name, Tame One.’

In his next line he calls himself “an ink flow master. I tags up quick and then I step to the exit.” So tags are quickly writing your name on a wall and obviously you wouldn’t use your government name so Tame One would be his name and he would get well known from having different styles of his name up all over the city. Of course further in the verse he says that, “They know my name from cruising in the Jeeps so yo, grab a can, put your man up and stand up.”

Nice! right? So he basically telling you, ‘You know my name so why don’t you go out there so we can know your name.’ And then he goes along about dissing the people that can’t really do the graffiti art or who are just tagging up wack stuff. Because once again, it is an art. There’s a whole aesthetic vibe to tagging. You can’t just write your name up sloppy. You gotta use colour. You gotta have style. You have to have your own style, and if you don’t have that, you’re called a toy. So they diss toys up there like we diss wack emcees.

It’s interesting because they talk about how they use the spray paint, there’s spray paint sounds in there, and all the terminology. Tame One says “tagging up a train” because that was one of the best ways to get your name known. Not only that, the trains travel out of where you were, and go across the town. Every time I get stuck by a train, I look to see if there’s tags, and there still is. And there’s some great, great art that zooms by you on the train. It’s really nice to see that.

Also, this probably should be a hip-hop anthem because these guys are really living the four elements of hip-hop. Tame One says “breaking was my thing, I used to spin the back. I never thought I’d spin the wax with tracks to make your hands clap.” So, he’s a graffiti artist. This whole song is about the visual artistic process, while he’s rapping it.  So he’s visual arts – graffiti, and he’s talking about break dancing there. So far he’s got the three of them and he says “I’d spin the wax” so I have to check in to that further to see if Tame One actually is a DJ as well. But he is living the culture and he’s familiar with all four elements and he’s talking about it.

So, even if you’re not into graffiti art and you just like the DJing or the rapping or the dancing, I really think you should look at graffiti a little more closely. I love the way writers, that’s what they call themselves, I like the way writers can play with the letters. They can bend them almost so they’re not recognizable anymore. You almost have to look really, really closely to be able to see what’s going on there.

El Da Sensei raps in here too, He says he burns his name up quick and talks about his black book because artists sketch a lot with marker in their black book before they would bomb or tag a wall. Very interesting track that tells us all about hip-hop and the graffiti culture.

So far we have had a song about the history of the culture, how it started with the DJ, how emcees weren’t ruling. We talked about the break of the record and how that sprang forth from DJs playing the part that people liked to dance to, which spawned forth into break dancing and of course, emceeing. And when we talk about emceeing and we talk about great MCs, one of the first names we have to say is Rakim. Eric B and Rakim.”

The transcribed text will be continued in Part 2 tomorrow. If you can’t wait till then, download the podcast (right click and ‘save as’) and listen to it right now. It’s free. Let me know what you think about it as well. I look forward to your feedback. 

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