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Hip Hop, which is a style of music featuring rap, originated 45 years ago, on August 11, 1973, at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in South Bronx. It was a simple back to school party thrown by a girl and her brother, Kool Herc, was the DJ for the party. Kool Herc, whose real name was Clive Campbell, was an 18-year old Jamaican-American DJ. He decided to try something new and instead of playing a whole song, he would play only the instrumental sections. This, together with his friend Coke LaRock getting the crowd hyped up with his microphone, made the crowd go wild.
Another person who contributed to hip hop was the DJ known as Grandmaster Flash. He also would host neighborhood block parties that would be become known worldwide. He was the first DJ to ever actually touch the records and move them back and forth, while they were playing on the turn table. He would also write on the records with crayons and grease pencils. This was known as the Quick Mix Theory. This is what laid the groundwork for DJs and what they can do with a record instead of just letting it play.
The conditions in the South Bronx in the summer of 1973 were dismal if not catastrophic. The construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, in the 1960s, literally cut a line going straight through New York, displacing thousands of people from their homes. Property values plummeted to record the worst that the Bronx had seen, unemployment skyrocketed as the city reduced spending and building stood vacate with only squatters, drug addicts and the mentally ill occupying them. Anyone who could afford to leave, sold their homes and left, leaving only the poorest behind. Factories left for the suburbs, taking all the jobs with them. The store owners moved their shops because nobody could afford to buy from them. Landlords weren’t getting any rent from their tenants so they began to burn down the apartment building so that they could collect the insurance money. The police agencies and fire states were overwhelmed and understaffed.
The primary ethnic groups that were living in the South Bronx, prior to World War II, were Jewish, Italians, Irish and Germans. The South Bronx was once called the Jewish Borough and 49% of the people who lived there were Jewish, at the peak in 1930. On the contrary, after World War II, the population it went from being two-thirds non-Hispanic to being two-thirds black or Puerto Rican population in the early 1960s. Racially charged tension also played a part in the middle-class families leaving the South Bronx neighborhood. As a result of a new policy that demanded that children be bused to other school districts, for racial equality, parent worried about their children and relocated to the suburbs.
All of these conditions contributed to the rise of gangs in the South Bronx. The poor economy, together with the high unemployment rate, made for a strong attraction to street gangs which would support themselves by selling drugs on a large scale. The gangs were attractive to the youth too as it was of power and protection for them. But the gangs were not all bad. They began to help within the community such as volunteering at soup kitchens. They also kept their own neighborhoods safer and searching for the need for a voice against the brutal system of oppression.
It was these gangs that helped the birth of hip hop in the South Bronx. The gangs grew large and, of course, starting fighting against each other. They finally reached a point where they asked themselves should we continue fighting or try to make a positive change in the neighborhood. All of these gangs would gather in parks and on street corners and try to speak poetry over sounds and melodies. Hip hop was also break dancing and fashion. The hats, jackets, name brand sneakers and gold chains that were all associated with gangs was the popular style of hip hop.
Hip hop was also a positive influence on youth. At a time when the South Bronx was one of poorest, if not the poorest, cities in America it was also rich in culture. It was a culture that would change lives and the history of music. Leading the movement was Afrika Bambaataa, who following Kool Herc’s lead, began to host parties for youths. He was committed to pulling youth from the streets and giving them something else to do. In the late 70s he created the group Universal Zulu Nation which was a group of rappers, along with other people, involved in the hip hop culture. The Universal Zulu Nation built a movement out of the creativity of the outcast youths. As he continued his deejaying career more DJs, dancers, graffiti writers and artists began to follow. He took them all in and made them members of the Zulu Nation. The Universal Zulu Nation brought together the elements of peace, unity, love and having fun which helped to eliminate gang activity. Zulu Nation went on to become a world movement.
Many others influenced hip hop as well. For example, Mohammad Ali who was an African American boxer, inspired a generation of black youth after he became the heavyweight champion. Jackie Robinson influenced the black youth by becoming the first black major league baseball player. Another great influence, Gil Scott-Heron, or the “Godfather of Rap” influenced hip hop through his poems. Each of these, represented a voice and a strength in black youth, just as hip hop did.
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