6 Hip Hop

Matthew Mihalka

As of 2021, hip hop is the most popular and influential genre of current popular music, both within the United States and globally. Even songs categorized in other genres, such as pop, rock, and country, display influences from hip hop music, whether it be a backing beat, rap-like vocal approach, or even a guest verse by an established rapper. Hip hop is a globalized musical form that has spread throughout the world. Many of the genres and styles addressed in other chapters in this text display hip hop influences, such as the new version of bhangra, a Punjab Indian folk music and dance tradition, that emerged in the 1980s.  Hip hop has also frequently been combined with indigenous styles to provide a voice for marginalized populations, such as with Hiplife in Ghana and Kwaito in South Africa.

Hip hop music was developed in impoverished areas of the Bronx in New York City during the 1970s, though, as with many musical forms, its roots can be traced back even further. It was initially featured at neighborhood block parties where the emphasis was more on the DJ, who played the songs on      turntables, than on the MC, the Master of Ceremonies.  These block parties built upon the foundation of the Jamaican sound system, which referred to the DJs, MCs and engineers that put on similar types of parties in the mid-1900s playing Jamaican styles such as reggae, ska, and rocksteady. Early versions of rapping could be found during these parties in Jamaica, with toasts or chants made over the recording. Similar uses of ‘toasting’ is found in other African and African-derived genres.

Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc was one of the early pioneers in hip hop. Much of the foundation of hip hop music was built upon funk and soul of the past decade and Herc was credited as being one of the first to isolate and elongate the instrumental break found in those styles using his two turntables. Others furthered the art of turntablism, adding new percussive sounds, such as scratching where the DJ moves the record back and forth on the turntable, in addition to artfully splicing together records.  Eventually the role of the MC, or rapper, increased in prominence.  Early in the history of hip hop the MC would introduce the DJs, encourage dancing, and energize the crowd. During 1980s the role of the rappers became more foregrounded, paralleling a greater emphasis on lyrical innovation as the genre moved beyond its party origins. While the DJ still serves a prominent role in hip hop music, it is the rapper or MC that is more commonly known and celebrated.

Grandmaster Flash

GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE

Formed in 1978 in New York City, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five (Keith Cowboy, Melle Mel, The Kidd Creole, Mr. Ness/Scorpio, Rahiem) were one of the great innovators, both sonically and lyrically, in early hip hop. They are credited with broadening both the sound and lyrical content of hip hop music, as well as coining the name of the genre itself (Keith Cowboy is credited with originating the term hip hop while scat singing syllables to mimic the marching cadence of soldiers). The group was also the first hip hop act inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Born Joseph Saddler in the Barbados, Grandmaster Flash grew up in New York City attending some of the earliest parties that featured hip hop music. Fascinated with electronics and vinyl records at an early age, Grandmaster Flash experimented with DJing techniques, developing new ones such as back-spinning (looping a beat, potentially indefinitely, by switching between two copies of the record) and perfecting others, such as scratching. His approach to the turntable helped elevate its status as an instrument that could provide its own unique sonic contributions. He was able to weave together and manipulate previous records to create a new composition, as demonstrated in his 1981 recording “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.”

“THE MESSAGE”

The 1982 song “The Message,” credited to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, marked a shift away from the more party-oriented music of early hip hop such as The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979), the first hip hop song to chart on the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100.  “The Message,” instead, presented more socially conscious lyrics about the experience of African-Americas in decaying urban centers. This broadening of lyrical subject matter to include more gritty realism and social commentary helped lead to new styles of hip hop music in the 1980s. The song lacks the innovative turntablism of Grandmaster Flash, as only rappers Duke Bootee (who originated the song and was not a member of the group) and Melle Mel are featured on the record.  Regardless, the backing track displays the funk and disco roots of hip hop and, as of 2020, has been sampled in over 270 songs.

Artist Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
Title “The Message”
Year 1982
Nationality American
Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PobrSpMwKk4
0:00 – 0:43

Introduction (Duke Bootee)

Instrumental introduction with an emphasis on high synthesized sounds.  There is also a staccato syncopated guitar sound, hollow sounding drums, and other percussion parts.  Vocals by Duke Bootee enter at 0:24 and are followed by another instrumental section

It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

0:43 – 1:02

Verse 1 (Melle Mel)

Accompanying track continues with largely the same pattern as earlier.

Broken glass everywhere
People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

1:02 – 1:16

Chorus (Melle Mel)

The chorus continues the same music from the verse, but the vocal approach differs as Melle Mel switches to rapping a more syncopated pattern

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

1:16 – 1:40

Verse 2

Standin’ on the front stoop hangin’ out the window
Watchin’ all the cars go by, roarin’ as the breezes blow
Crazy lady, livin’ in a bag
Eatin’ outta garbage pails, used to be a fag hag
Said she’ll dance the tango, skip the light fandango
A Zircon princess seemed to lost her senses
Down at the peep show watchin’ all the creeps
So she can tell her stories to the girls back home
She went to the city and got so so seditty
She had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own
1:40 – 2:00

Chorus

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ underIt’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
2:00 – 2:28

Verse 3 (Duke Bootee)

Switch in rappers to Duke Bootee

My brother’s doin’ bad, stole my mother’s TV
Says she watches too much, it’s just not healthy
All My Children in the daytime, Dallas at night
Can’t even see the game or the Sugar Ray fight
The bill collectors, they ring my phone
And scare my wife when I’m not home
Got a bum education, double-digit inflation
Can’t take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station
Neon King Kong standin’ on my back
Can’t stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac
A mid-range migraine, cancered membrane
Sometimes I think I’m goin’ insane
I swear I might hijack a plane!

2:28 – 2:47

Chorus

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ underIt’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
2:47 – 3:25

Verse 4

My son said, Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school
Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool
And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper
If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper
Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet
Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps
Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny
You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey
They pushed that girl in front of the train
Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again
Stabbed that man right in his heart
Gave him a transplant for a brand new start
I can’t walk through the park cause it’s crazy after dark
Keep my hand on my gun cause they got me on the run
I feel like a outlaw, broke my last glass jaw
Hear them say “You want some more?”
Livin’ on a see-saw
3:25 – 3:44

Chorus

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head, say what
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ underIt’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under
3:44 – 4:51

Verse 5 (Melle Mel)

Melle Mel takes over the vocals to conclude the song

A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smilin’ on you but he’s frownin’ too
Because only God knows what you’ll go through
You’ll grow in the ghetto livin’ second-rate
And your eyes will sing a song called deep hate
The places you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alleyway
You’ll admire all the number-book takers
Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money-makers
Drivin’ big cars, spendin’ twenties and tens
And you’ll wanna grow up to be just like them, huh
Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers
Pickpocket peddlers, even panhandlers
You say I’m cool, huh, I’m no fool
But then you wind up droppin’ outta high school
Now you’re unemployed, all non-void
Walkin’ round like you’re Pretty Boy Floyd
Turned stick-up kid, but look what you done did
Got sent up for a eight-year bid
Now your manhood is took and you’re a Maytag
Spend the next two years as a undercover fag
Bein’ used and abused to serve like hell
Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell
It was plain to see that your life was lost
You was cold and your body swung back and forth
But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song
Of how you lived so fast and died so young so

4:51 – 5:11

Chorus

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ underIt’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

 

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Music in World Cultures by Matthew Mihalka is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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