The history of creating and listening to hip-hop music is rich with cultural forms of expression, especially from the perspective of inner-city marginalized African-Americans. As hip-hop grew in popularity and music technology continued to advance beyond the generic transistor radio, listeners found a new and much more powerful way to play and listen to music: the boom box. This device became widespread beginning in the mid 1970s because it allowed people to share music with entire neighborhoods. This was not only to combat the social issues, but also to enjoy music with others.

Multiple members of this group showing off their boom boxes.

Thesis: Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, hip-hop artists like LL Cool J utilized the boom box to appeal to marginalized Black audiences within poverty-stricken urban areas, helping to empower these individuals and create a sense of community.  In reaction to the theme of rebellion that the boombox symbolizes, LL Cool J’s “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” features a declamatory rap style, hard driving beats, and percussion-heavy instrumentation. 

Objectives: Within this website, we will examine the rise of the boom box, its design and implicit mobility. We analyze how the boom box became an outlet for rebellion against the status quo amongst artists and listeners. We argue that the boom box played an integral role in bringing urban communities together during times of economic and political strife.

James Todd Smith, known by his stage name LL Cool J, posing with his boom box.