Monday, July 12, 2010

Hip Hop: The Underground Fad that Conquered American Music

By Gamal Hennessy

No other form of music illustrates the potential impact of nightlife culture more than hip hop. It has gone from humble beginnings in New York housing projects to dominating the popular music charts and influencing other industries and media worldwide. While there are various types of hip hop associated with different geographic regions (West Coast, Dirty South, UK, French, Asian, etc.) the movement began in New York nightlife and flourished into a universal phenomenon.

Rap music began in the Bronx, when the records played at house parties and block parties became individual performances infused with the personality of the people playing and introducing the records, instead of the basic radio practice of simply playing one record after another. The influence of West Indian celebrations, specifically dancehall toasting (chanting or talking over a steady beat) combined with R&B, disco, funk and soul to create a distinct new sound.

In the early 1980s, early pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore and the Furious Five developed the techniques of scratching, cutting and mixing at uptown venues like Disco Fever. Afrika Bambatta and the Zulu Nation brought hip hop out of the Bronx and into mainstream venues like Danceteria and the Roxy. He was followed closely by other local acts including Run DMC and Kurtis Blow.

Music critics labeled hip hop as a passing fad, but DJs began to spin records in venues all over the city. By the late 80s, artists as divergent as Eric B, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys began to create radio ready songs and paved the way for a golden age of hip hop that gave us Public Enemy, De La Soul, a Tribe Called Quest and the Notorious BIG.

Hip hop began to spread across the US and into other countries by the mid 1990s. It was at this point that the genre was fully embraced by the mainstream. Groups like the Wu Tang Clan translated their musical success into clothing brands, video games and films. Moguls like Jay-Z and Diddy used hip hop as a springboard to own record companies, nightclubs, sports franchises, film production studios, clothing lines and real estate ventures.

Today, hip hop is the default musical genre of nightlife. It dominates the Billboard charts and the video play lists. Many mainstream pop songs have guest appearances from major hip hop acts embedded in them. Patrons looking for mainstream hip hop can go anywhere from Santos Party House to Hudson Terrace. People looking for the old school classics can run to bOb Bar or Painkiller. Anyone looking for the next big New York talent can visit the open mic events at Pyramid Club or the Nuyorican Poets Café. You can find hip hop in every borough every night. All you have to do is look.

The irony of hip hop is that instead of being a passing fad, it has grown from its humble roots in New York nightlife to a level of influence that surpasses almost every other genre of modern music. It doesn’t simply impact culture in terms of music, fashion, dance and entertainment. It has become a significant contributor to our speech patterns, language and the image of modern America throughout the world. Figures like Jay-Z and Diddy are symbols of the potential of nightlife to move from a counterculture phenomenon to mainstream dominance.

Have fun.

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