Saluting Black Music

Hip Hop changed the landscape of popular music in America and indeed the world. As a new form of expression, Hip Hop spoke initially to a generation of African Americans who were alienated from mainstream America. It is now America’s dominant form of popular music. We conclude our salute to Black Music with a look at Hip Hop.
Rapper’s Delight: The Origins or Hip Hop
The early 1970s saw a new culture developing in the Bronx. In nightclubs and at house parties, DJs and MCs spent countless hours developing hip-hop as an art form. But it took The Sugarhill Gang, and a song called “Rapper’s Delight,” to get it on the radio. Rapper’s Delight is a 1979 single by American hip hop trio The Sugarhill Gang. While it was not the first hip hop single, “Rapper’s Delight” is generally considered to be the song that first popularized hip hop in the United States and around the world.
In terms of the origins of Rapper’s Delight, “Charlie Rock” of the Harlem World Crew suggests that Sylvia Robinson, owner of a record company, got the idea for the rap from a concert she saw at Harlem World. He says “one night at Harlem world, we were having a birthday party for Sylvia Robinson, who was once a recording artist herself. The crew was up on stage rapping and Sylvia Robinson was sitting in a balcony directly in front of the stage taking it all in. A short time later she released “Rapper’s Delight” with the Sugar Hill Gang.
“Rapper’s Delight” is built on the rhythm of an earlier cultural phenomenon: disco. The groove was taken from the tune “Good Times” by Chic. The song was such a big dance hit that a small New Jersey label thought it might be able to capitalize on its popularity. The “Rapper’s Delight” 12-inch was released in September 1979. It was 15 minutes long, and yet black radio started playing it — so much so that Sugarhill Gang recorded a seven-minute version for pop stations and introduced the black neighborhood sound of the 1970s to white listeners. Rapper’s Delight is an important record. Kurtis Blow said it jump-started the careers of several Bronx rappers, including himself. “When it came out, nothing was the same afterwards,” writer Harry Allen says. “It made everything else possible. I was speaking to my good friend Chuck D, of Public Enemy, and when he first heard that there were going to be rap records, his thing was, ‘How are you going to put three hours on a record?’ Because that’s the way MCs used to rhyme. They’d just rhyme and rhyme and rhyme for hours.” The song is ranked #248 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was the first Top 40 song to be available only as a 12-inch extended version in the U.S.

The Message (in the Rap)

The Message, the apotheosis of black Hip Hop music, is the most detailed and devastating report from underclass America since Marvin Gaye took a long look around and wondered what was going on. With The Message Hip Hop heroes Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five pick up the smoldering funk banner fumbled some years back by Sly Stone and wave it anew. They issue no call to sack the cities, nor do they suggest hope in rallying.  Their straight-faced rundown of the current cultural environment must be immediately convincing to any urbanite–of any color–caught up in it: “It’s like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder/How I keep from goin’ under.” And the future looks equally hopeless: young children, crippled by an inept educational system, and bored in schools where “all the kids smoke reefer,” look up to the street dudes “drivin’ big cars, spendin’ twenties and tens.” Thus begins a brutal road that leads ultimately to prison, and death at an early age. Rolling Stone ranked “The Message” #51 in its List of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (the highest placing for any song released in the 1980s, and highest ranking hip-hop song on the list).


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