Know Your History: Episode 9 – Breakdancing

What you need to do right now is to clear a spot on your kitchen floor, on your living room floor if you’ve got hardwood, or if you only have carpet, put some cardboard down and get ready because this is the breakdance edition of Know Your History.
I’m just kidding. I can’t dance, and even if I could I don’t think I could teach you how to do it in a blog post or on this radio show. What I can do is give you a brief overview of what breakdancing is all about, how it fits into hip-hop culture, and why it’s important.
Let’s start in 1962. That was the year that James Brown recorded his historic Live at the Apollo. Of course, hip-hop didn’t solidify as a culture unto itself until nearly 10 years later. However, this concert laid the groundwork for breakdancing and what was to become hip-hop.
In 1969 James Brown released two songs that have had a lasting effect on hip-hop culture, Sex Machine and Funky Drummer. To this day, Funky Drummer is one of the most sampled break beats in hip-hop history. That drum pattern is heard on so many rap songs because of the amazing drum solo.
In one section of the song, all of instruments drop out except for the drums. This is what is known as the break. DJs would use two turntables playing the same record to help extend the break. This was well before samplers ever existed.
A DJ would have to cue up his records so that as soon as the break ended on one record, he could immediately have it play on the second record. By going back and forth between the two records, the DJ could make the break play indefinitely so that it sounded like one continuous drum pattern.
DJs realized that people especially liked dancing to the break part of the record so they started extending the break beat longer and longer.
The style of breakdancing that you are probably familiar with today is far removed from that of the early 1960s. Back then the focus was on intricate foot movements. James Brown was amazing at that. One of his moves blows me away every time I see it. He would shift his one foot back and forth to give the illusion that he is gliding across the stage. I think it is an even better move than the moonwalk that Michael Jackson does.
James Brown can be called the godfather of hip-hop. Producers have sampled his music like no other artist in history, and he started a whole movement of dance with “Get on the Good Foot.” Let’s listen to that song now.
That was “Get on the Good Foot” by James Brown and quite possibly the start of breakdancing as we know it. People started doing the good foot and it became a whole style of dance. Those who did this style of dance were called B-boys. Shortly after that the term breakdancing came to be used.