Hip hop (1979- ) is a form of American music. At the heart of its songs is the beat. On top of that there is a rap – verse that is spoken, not sung, to the beat. Singing might be added, as well as samples – bits of older songs that are played over and over to the beat.
Hip hop music is done by people like Kanye West, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Common, 50 Cent, the Fugees, Tupac Shakur, Lil Kim, Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC, Doug E Fresh and Roxanne Shante.
There are different forms of hip hop: old school, gangsta rap, crunk, Miami Bass, dirty south and so on.
Hip hop started, as they say, with two turntables and a microphone somewhere in the South Bronx part of New York in the 1970s. The first song that was played across the country was “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang in 1979, in the dying days of disco.
In the 1980s hip hop took root and flowered. In the 1990s it married R & B and became the main form of music among blacks in America. By the 2000s it was the main form of music of young people in America, black or white.
To the rest of the world hip hop is as American as Coca-Cola or blue jeans. And like Coca-Cola, it has spread from one end of earth to the other.
A whole new form of black American music seems to arise every 30 years or so. First it was ragtime, then jazz, then R & B or soul, now it is hip hop. In the 2010s it will be something else.
Hip hop is now at its height in terms of chart success. What is striking is how it never became something white. It never had its Elvis Presley or Glenn Miller. Jazz became swing, R & B became rock, pop and disco, but hip hop is still hip hop. Even today, when most listeners are white, almost all the top acts are still black, as are many of its businessmen. In October 2003, for the first time ever, the top ten songs in America were all by black acts.
Hip hop has gone beyond the music to take in dance, fashion, language and even art. For some it is a way of life, a way of looking at the world.
If you watch the videos you might get the idea that hip hop has something to do with cars, half-naked women and a tasteless show of wealth. But hip hop is broader than that. It was broader than that even in the early 1990s when it had both 2 Live Crew (“Me So Horny”) and Digable Planets (“Rebirth of Slick – Cool Like Dat”).
Some say that hip hop is noise, not music, that no respectable person would listen to it, that it is loosening the morals of society. But they once said that about jazz and rock music too.