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The Birth of Hip Hop and Its Place as the Music of the Youth

On the opposite side of the cultural spectrum from Jazz in the ‘80s, Hip-Hop was one of the newest genres and was seen by many as basic and as a “lower” art form. Hip-Hop, not unlike early jazz, was largely created by poor black kids in New York who had little knowledge of traditional music. It was intended to be played at block parties and was essentially a form of dance music. To the vast majority of music scholars at the time, it was not a genre worthy of study or attention. Though it may not have been musically complex at the time, it was a very important cultural phenomenon. Hip Hop, like jazz had in the early and mid 20thcentury, became a “source of alternate identity formation and social status for youth in a community whose older local support institutions had been all but demolished” (Rose 348). Hip Hop contained a powerful cultural significance, even in its earliest stages, that few genres were able to match.

One of the most unique and defining musical elements in Hip Hop is its use of sampling, rather than traditional instrumentation. Oxford’s Grove Music Dictionary describes sampling as, “A process in which a sound is taken directly from a recorded medium and transposed onto a new recording” (Oxford Music “Sampling”). Today, sampling is mostly done digitally in a DAW like Ableton or Logic Pro and before that, it was mostly done through hardware like the Akai MPC or Roland SP-404. Early Hip Hop producers, however, did not have the luxury of the custom hardware we have had for the last few decades. In the late 70s and 80s when Hip Hop was created, DJs in the Bronx typically used two turntables rigged together with a fader so that they could continuously loop specific sections of songs together. They often searched for the breaks in tracks from Disco and Rock records, where the drums and bass could be the focus and the MC could have room in the instrumental to rhyme (Kajikawa 12). Cassette tapes were popular at the time, so turntables and records, specifically Rock and Disco records that had been popular in the previous decade, were cheap and readily available.

The widespread use of samples from those two genres characterized early Hip Hop and can be observed in the music of groups like Run-DMC and Sugarhill Gang. Run-DMC’s 1986 hit song “It’s Tricky”, gets its main guitar and drum based sample loop from The Knack’s “My Sharona”, a pop-rock song from the 1979 (WhoSampled “It’s Tricky”). “It’s Tricky”, like “My Sharona”, was a party song and was very energetic. The instrumental involves only drums and a fairly simple, but catchy, guitar/bass riff. Similarly, Sugar Hill Gang’s hit “Rapper’s Delight”, sampled the disco songs, “Here Comes That Sound Again” by Again and Again and “Good Times” by Chic (WhoSampled “Rapper’s Delight”). Both of those disco songs were released in 1979, the same year “Rapper’s Delight” was released. Like “It’s Tricky”, “Rapper’s Delight” sampled the catchy central elements from the songs. Both songs use percussion as well as a main bass or bass and guitar riff. This kind of sampling was important in the history of Hip Hop, but was arguably a more simplistic form of sampling than what would follow in the next decade.