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Genre Spotlight: Hip-Hop from 1979-1985

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Hip-hop is one of the most impactful genres in music. The charts are full of it right now, making the once-shunned genre the new cultural zeitgeist. But the genre has not always had this presence; early artists struggled to get any radio play or recognition making the music they felt was necessary, especially during the 80s and 90s, where full-fledged protests would be held against rap music.

In a series looking back from its very roots to its stature in 2018, we're chronicling the rise of hip-hop through some of its most impactful and influential artists and tracks in the genre's history. Step one: the birth of hip-hop, from 1979 to 1985.

Sugarhill Gang - Rapper’s Delight (1979)

Widely accredited as the first ever popularised hip-hop track created, 'Rapper's Delight' birthed the genre in a very unsuspecting way. The track itself features a funk-infused beat accompanied by simplistic, basic, near-comical lyrics encapsulated by the iconic hook: “I said a hip hop / Hippie to the hippie / The hip, hip a hop, and you don't stop.” A far cry from modern hip-hop and definitely tardy to the hip-hop community (spearheaded earlier by DJ Kool Herc out of the Bronx, New York) 'Rapper's Delight' managed to accrue such a freakishly large commercial following it started tumbling over its success and gave wiggle room to new faces on the scene. 

Kurtis Blow - The Breaks (1980)

A year after ‘Rapper’s Delight’ Kurtis Blow muscled his way into the hip-hop mix with ‘The Breaks’. Equally as funky, with lyrics and flow just as simplistic as that of the Sugarhill Gang and repetitive end rhymes, the song is just sheer fun. Much like 'Rapper's Delight', it raised some eyebrows from the religious hip-hop forefathers, but succeeded in echoing the role of the MC in the 80s; that being to support the DJ, and not to be the main event. A whole song about breaks “on a car”, “on a bus” and “on a plane”…why not?

Treacherous Three - Feel the Heartbeat (1981)

The Treacherous Three were highly regarded as the first act to introduce a higher tempo rap into hip-hop music. The Harlem trio, spearheaded by legendary MC Kool Moe Dee, deliver on this track with another fairly simple flow. Lyrics delivered faster over the top with its fun and lively Sugarhill-esque beat makes ‘Feel the Heartbeat’ an instant party hit, while also turning the tide on increasing the tempo of MCs and rappers.  

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five - The Message (1982)

Another Sugarhill Records classic, ‘The Message’ is an icon in musical history. Featuring one of the most recognisable rhythms of the 80s, the song has been sampled so many times and made so many cultural cameos it's frankly unfathomable. What is even more unique about 'The Message' is that some regard it as the first ‘conscious’ rap song ever created; the lyrics charter the struggles of poverty in America “it’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under”. A unique beat partnered with intense, powerful lyrics, Flash and his Furious Five took a grand step in defining the cultural conscious of hip-hop.

 

Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force - Planet Rock (1982)

Afrika Bambaataa is a former gang leader turned spiritual leader and an innovator of sound. He's the man who meshed Kraftwerk electronica and funky breakbeats to create a piece of musical genius that is ‘Planet Rock’. The song, like most previous hip-hop music of the era, is fun and energetic. However, it's important to look at how Bambaataa widely experimented within the genre; he was bold in his endeavour to push the boundaries of breakbeat DJing and fuse the rhythms of electronica and funk to spread the history, culture and spirit of hip-hop throughout America and the rest of the world.

Run DMC - It’s Like That (1983)

‘It’s Like That’ marks a change in the sound of hip-hop. Following in the pathway carved by the likes of Bambaataa, the genre swayed towards experimentation with funk, soul and all its quirks in between. Then, in 83, Run DMC enter into the mix. A rap duo from Queen’s who give us 'It's Like That' - a track that is bold in its abrasiveness, percussion-heavy, minimalist beat. There's none of the glitz or glamour that came with infused funk rhythms, rather a brashness, yet equally as fun and lively. 'It's Like That' marked a shift forward in hip-hop culture; the starting point for more street hip-hop, less club hip-hop.

Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown - Unity (1984)

This track is probably one of the most silently impactful records in hip-hop history. It marks the first time that "The King of Soul" James Brown collaborated with a hip-hop artist and charters the beginning of Brown's close relationship with the genre. Since this record has come out, Brown may be one of the most sampled artists ever in hip-hop music, with his soulful voice being so incredibly appealing to producers and artists. The song itself is a thing of magnificence; “Peace, unity, love, and having fun” being the theme, over a gorgeous funky beat with synth flavourings sprinkled throughout, truly a beautiful blend of Bambaataa and Brown and of hip-hop and soul.

Roxanne Shante - Roxanne’s Revenge (1984)

One of the best rap beefs of the 80s, Roxanne Shante vs rap trio U.T.F.O. began with this legendary track by Shante: ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’. The track is a response to a caricature used in a U.T.F.O. song whose name was ‘Roxanne’, with a 14-year-old Shante freestyling for 5 minutes, dissing every member of U.T.F.O. over a boom-bap beat produced by legendary Queensbridge producer Marley Marl. One of hip-hop's first female MCs kicking off the revered tradition of beefing, Roxanne is an icon and even now has a Netflix documentary "Roxanne Roxanne" that chronicles her story.

LL Cool J - I Need a Beat (1984)

The first single released by 16-year-old LL Cool J - who, little did he know, would go on to become one of the faces of 80s music and a hip-hop Hall of Famer. The beat, adopting the more abrasive Run DMC style, with frequent record scratches and scraggy, dissonant effects is accompanied by a young LL rapping aggressively with that typical early 80s flow. The song hit mainstream success and allowed for LL to go on the legendary Raising Hell Tour with Run DMC and the Beastie Boys; a tour that skyrocketed the careers of all three acts, as well as record producer Rick Rubin. 

Doug E Fresh & MC Ricky D (aka Slick Rick) - La Di Da Di (1985)

One of the most sampled, most ground-breaking and iconic songs in hip-hop history. Nearly every single line of Slick Rick’s verse has been sampled on massive hit records: by Notorious B.I.G. on ‘Hypnotize’, Miley Cyrus on ‘We Can’t Stop’, Beyoncé on ‘Party’, as well as the Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg and NWA. Slick Rick’s storytelling here is revolutionary: never before had an MC gone into such detail in painting a picture with his rhymes whilst being funny and engaging. For that dynamic storytelling ability, Slick Rick is a phenomenon in hip-hop's history.

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