What is Hip Hop?: A Historical Definition of Rap pt2 (Street Hustlers to Revolutionary Poets)

Davey-D-purple-frameThis is part 2 of an article we penned called  The Historical Definition of Rap pt1. In that piece we talked about how the term Rap had been around long before DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell threw that first landmark Back to School party August 11 1973 in the community center at 1520 Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx.

Many are not aware that when Herc and his partners Coke La Rock and later Clark Kent rocked the mic, they used the words ‘rhyming’ and ’emceeing’ to describe their vocal expressions. The word Rap became attached to Hip Hop in 1979 with the release of Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang.

Prior to ’79, the word Rap was attached to a variety of other vocal activities most notably slick, persuasive talk from street hustlers, pimps and players. Rapping was all about mesmerizing and dazzling folks with words with an end goal of convincing one to give up everything from money to property to sexual favors. if you were said to have ‘a good rap’, then it meant you had the gift of gab which in many circles was revered and respected.



With respect to the act of rapping, many seem to think that saying rhymes in a syncopated fashion over music is unique to Hip Hop. That’s a mistake. To not see Rap as something that is rooted in deeper histories, is to short change Hip Hop culture. Simply put Rap is part of a continuum. Every generation within Black America can point to an activity or music style that included rap-like vocal expressions. They range from little girls doing double dutch jump rope to young kids doing engine engine number nine type rhymes to determine who would be it when playing tag.

We’ve seen expressions that we associate with rap today show up in the form of popular artists like Rudy Ray More aka Dolemite who did tons of movies where he did routines like his signature Signified Monkey .

We saw it surface with singer song writer Clarence Reid aka Blowfly who did x rated songs like Sesame Street and Rapp Dirty which was released in 1980 but according to him was written in 1965.

Both More and Reid come from a generation where street talk that encompassed rhyme was not unusual. Sometimes called signifying, testifying or playing the dozens, such expressions are key foundations and precursors to Rap.

We saw Rap expression show up in songs like Here Comes the Judge released in 1968 by comedian Pigmeat Markham. Although not called ‘rap’ it clearly could stand alongside anything we hear today.


We saw rap with Louis Jordan and his group Tympany Five and their landmark cut The Meeting which was released in 1962

In the same vein as Pigmeat is actor Lincoln Perry better known as Stepin Fetchit. The controversial character who many felt kept alive nasty stereotypes of Black people being lazy and shiftless was during his heyday in the 1940s,  the most successful Black actor in all of Hollywood. In this memorable scene from the 1945 musical Big Timers we see Perry hit up the piano and rap, decades before what we know as Hip Hop emerged..


Last Poets

Last Poets

We saw Rap expressions manifest itself in the form of revolutionary acts like the Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron and the Watts Prophets who are considered the grandfathers and godfathers to  modern-day rap. These acts emerged on the scene in the late 60s early 70s with the express purpose of providing sound tracks for the various Black liberation struggles taken place all over the country…Songs like When the Revolution ComesThe Revolution Will Not Be Televised and Tenements respectively exemplified the type of vibe they were kicking on the eve of Hip Hop’s birth.

Over the years not only have many of the songs from these acts have been sampled, but some of these acts have from time to time been featured in songs with popular artists. For example the Last Poets are featured on Common‘s song The Corner and NasYou Can’t Stop Us Now‘ which borrows the baseline from a classic  Temptations cut ‘Message to a Blackman

The Last Poets rap influence is shown on cuts like the White Man’s Got a God Complex which was featured on the ‘This is Madness‘ album (1971). It was remade 20 years later by groups like Public Enemy and Def Jef. Below is the PE version which keeps alot of original cadence in tact.

The Def Jef version of  God Complexx, shows not only the influence of the Last Poets but also Gil Scott-Heron as he uses the beat from Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Ironically groups like NWA who were perceived as having an anti-revolutionary message sampled the Last Poets ‘Die Nigga‘ off their album ‘The Original Last Poets Right On‘ (1970) and made them known to younger generations with songs like ‘Real Niggaz Don’t Die‘ off the ‘Efil4zaggin’ (1991)


GilScottheronGil Scott-Heron is often called the Godfather to Rap. It was a title he shunned, stating he preferred to be known as a bluesologist. Nevertheless, Heron was a towering figure whose signature song Revolution Will Not be Televised was redone by too many Hip Hop artists to name. Cuts like B-Movie and ReRon which were released in 1980 and 1984 respectively demonstrated his Heron’s rapping ability.

He was also one of the first artists from the 60s/ Black Power generation to jump on a song with than modern day rap artists..The anti-Apartheid song Let Me See Your ID  (1985) which features, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and Mele-Mel to name a few was monumental. The content and purpose of the song was incredible, but also although unintended it contrasted the generational differences in rap styles.

Watts Prophets Rapping BlackThe Watts Prophets have not only been heralded as important figures in the emergence of West Coast rap, but  in 1970 they released an album called ‘Rappin’ Black in a White World’. Many consider that to be the first to use the word ‘Rap’ to describe a  recording that featured rhyming, This groundbreaking album proceeds   ‘Rapper’s Delight‘ by almost 10 years.


One artist who is in the same vein as these revolutionary poets but not as well-known is Stax Record recording artist John KaSandra nick named ‘Funky Philosopher‘. He did a bunch of black conscious songs in the early 70s including one that is many ways a head of its time for the emerging Hip Hop rap scene at the time..  ‘(What’s Under) The Natural Do’ (1970) is an incredible song that talks about Black power  and how folks are gonna have to do more than just wear an Afro hairstyle in order to uplift the community.


One can’t talk about the Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron and Watts Prophets and their influence on Rap without talking about the Black Arts Movement which proceeded them and exerted profound influence. BAM  introduced a style of spoken word that was hard-hitting, uncompromising and often recited over Bebop and Jazz. BAM co-founder Amiri Baraka than known as Leroy Jones illustrates that style with his famous piece Black Art.

Baraka’s ‘rap’ along with the spoken word and slang executed by others within the Black Arts Movement were such that it was hard for folks outside the scene to pick up and appreciate.It was for the Bebop crowd who coincidently called themselves ‘Hip’. It was deliberate in challenging the mainstream and being anti-establishment. It’s deliberately uncomfortable Many like to draw parallels to Hip Hop.


BAM member Sonia Sanchez gives a brief history of that time period and how their spoken word paved the way for modern-day raps heard within Hip Hop. Sonia Sanchez: From Black Arts to Hip Hop


Members of BAM

Members of BAM

Just for added understanding, one may wanna peep this brief documentary on bebop which was the precursor to the Black Arts Movement. Again here you will be able to draw some strong parallel to Hip Hop, especially when you consider that Bebopers called themselves coined the term ‘Hip’ which is how they referred to themselves. Peep  Bebop Jazz the Evolution of Culture Through Music.

These are just a few highlights of the many artists and expressions that are akin to rap to be in our midst before the birth of Hip Hop..Look out for pt 3 which deals with the influence of Black Radio deejays on what we know as Rap..

written by Davey D

August 11th 1973 Hip Hop Had its First Party-An Intv w/ kool Herc & His Sister Cindy


Click HERE to listen to pt of our interview w/ Kool Herc

In celebration of the 39th anniversary of Hip Hop’s First party-August 11th 1973 ,we sat down with the father of Hip Hop music and culture the legendary Kool Herc.

He gave us an in-depth run down of Hip Hop in the early days. He speaks about the early party scene and talks about how he and sister Cindy made history when they threw a back to school party at 1520 Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx.

He talks about how he used to be a graffiti artist and how his sister had his back and shielded him from the wrath of his strict father who would’ve whupped that butt if he knew his son was defacing New York City property.

Kool Herc also lets us know that Hip Hop did not start in the South Bronx as is often erroneously reported. Herc never lived in the South Bronx, he lived in the West bronx which is a totally different area.

In this interview Kool Herc talks about his Jamaican background. He talks about how he grew up in the same township as Bob Marley and he explains how and why Jamaican culture is an important root within Hip Hop.

One important aspect of Jamaican culture Herc speaks to us about is the sound system. In this interview he talks about the type of equipment he used and why he named it the Herculords.

What was really fascinating in this sit down, was hearing Herc go into detail about the different clubs and parties he threw. He describes the clientele which ranged from some of New York’s most notorious sharp dressing mob type gangstas to high school kids from the projects around the way.

Herc gives us a run down of his playlist and talks about his approach for keeping the crowd satisfied. He speaks about his early deejay battles most notably with Pete DJ Jones. He also talks about the importance of funk music and bands like the Incredible Bongo Band.

Herc concludes this first segment by talking about Hip Hop’s early emcees including his own crew member Coke La Rock. Herc also talks about his other crew members including Timmy Tim.

He talks about the role DJ Hollywood played in Hip Hop. He also gives major praise to Mele-Mel and his brother Kid Creole for inventing the style of rap we all embrace to this day.


We caught up w/ Cindy Campbell who we consider to be the first lady of Hip Hop. We talked to her about the work she’s done on behalf of her brother Hip Hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc. We talk to her about what took place August 11 1973 at 1520 Sedgwick Ave which was home to the first Hip Hop party.

Cindy explains that the party started out as a fundraiser for her to get some school clothes. She talked about how they actually had Old E 800 and Colt 45 being sold there and how it was a 25 cent for women and 50 cent for guys.. They made 500 bucks

She also explained how she herself brought slow jam records for her brother to spin..

Cindy also talks about other deals she’s done for her brother including how she talked Harry Belafonte into making sure Herc’s character was positive in the movie Beat Street.



Happy Bday Afrika Bambaataa & DJ Kool Herc: A Look back w/ the Founding Fathers of Hip Hop

Today April 19th, we celebrate the birthday of one of Hip Hop’s founding fathers, Afrika Bambaataa. On Monday (April 16th) we celebrated the birthday of the Father of Hip Hop Kool Herc.. Sadly not many radio stations and other media outlets that have greatly benefited from Hip Hop music and culture which Herc and Bam tirelessly helped bring to the forefront have stopped or will stop to take time to give either of them a shout out at the very least.

We’re more likely to hear a birthday shout out to Kim Kardashian then to our pioneers but in today’s microwave society where people are commodities and ultimately disposable, one should not be surprised. Celebrating and even acknowledging the histories and pioneering figures of marginalized and oppressed communities aren’t often done especially if it can lead to folks rising up and questioning the direction and narratives being put forth by those in the mainstream who are in power.

This is not limited to Hip Hop. In 2012 all one has to do is look at the current wave of attacks on ethnic studies programs both in college and in high schools all over the country. We see the banning of ethnic studies and accompanying books in states like Arizona. We see attempts to rewrite and white wash history books in states like Texas, where iconic figures from Cesar Chavez to the Black Panthers are stricken from the pages. It’s our charge in Hip Hop to counter that by at the very least holding up the accomplishments and stories of those who came before us so that we can learn and build upon the legacies they laid down..

There’s so much one can say about Herc and Bam, hence when writing about him, its hard to know where to begin. I guess when writing about Herc we should note he was an athlete who was given the nickname Hercules (Herc for short) because of his height and muscular build. He was also down with a graffiti crew called the Ex Vandals. Most importantly Herc was into music and was always seeking ways to play it.

According to Herc he had a nice little rep for himself and thus had garnered a lot of respect..In August of 1973, he and his sister Cindy Campbell decided to throw a back to school party as away to raise a couple of dollars for school clothes.


The story goes Herc brought down his fathers speakers to the rec center of their building 1520 Sedgwick Ave, they charged 50 cent for fellas to come in and the rest is history.. The music Herc played that night was funk music, that at that time was popular but slowly getting less and less airplay on the radio. Songs like Sex Machine and Give it Up and Turn It Lose by James Brown or Jimmy Castor‘s It’s Just Begun were among the jams Herc highlighted. The success of that party led to Herc doing others jams and it wasn’t too long before folks in the Bronx were seeking out Kool Herc parties.

It was during this time that Herc developed a system of playing records that he dubbed the Merry Go Round. He basically would take the hottest part of a song, usually the percussion break down and extend indefinitely by going from one record to the next by passing everything but the juicy part of the record.

During those early jams, Herc would keep the crowd excited by shouting them out on the mic. He once explained to me that he wanted to make folks feel good and important and one way of doing that was calling out their name on the mic. He also noted that it was a way to keep the peace. So in the beginning one might’ve heard Kool Herc shout out ‘his mellow-ski.. Mark Mark or his boy Kev-ski. Slang terms in the early 70s were phrases like ‘My mellow’ or adding the word ‘ski’ at the end of someone’s name.

At the time it was big deal to get hear your name called out at a party by Kool Herc who was the center of attention and had a huge sound system he dubbed the Herculords. He later turned over the announcing duties to his friend Coke La Rock who became one of Hip Hop’s first emcees. Other members Timmy Tim and Clark Kent got down with the crew and collectively they were known as the Herculoids.


When it comes to talking about Afrika Bambaataa, it should be noted that he was known in the Bronx long before he touched a turntable. Bam started out as a gang leader.. He was a warlord for one of NYC’s largest gangs in the 1970s known as the Black Spades

According to Bam, in spite of his gang affiliations he was always into music and well aware of culture and the Black liberation struggles. Even as a gang leader, some of the tactics he employed for overpowering his rivals were gleaned from military strategies he read about used by African leaders in particular the Zulu Tribe of South Afrika..

Bam really turned his attention to music and Hip Hop’s then emerging culture after one of his best friends Soulski was got shot and killed by police in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx… Bam talks about how at that time NYPD had a division that was targeting NY’s large gang problem and the Spades were ready to go up against them as a result of Soulski being killed. He noted that the resulting death underscored the crackdown that was coming on the gangs who were starting to die down..

Bam soon formed a group called the Organization which later evolved into the Mighty Zulu Nation.. Bam explained that he wanted use Zulu as a way to turn lives around and refocus folks energy from banging to music. Early on Zulu was still seen as entity to be feared and not toyed with. Outlaw ways didn’t die down overnight. Bam explained it took a lot of meetings and conversations to get folks to walk a different path..Eventually many did as Zulu Nation blossomed into an organization with thriving chapters a;ll over the world.

Along with forming Zulu now known as the Universal Zulu Nation, Bam got into music and deejaying, and soon developed a reputation for playing unique and hard to find jams (break beats). He eventually became known as the Master of Records..and till this day prides himself on rocking what he describes as ‘break beats’ of the future..

We cover a lot of this as well as what was going on in the early days of Hip Hop in this interview.. Reflect and Enjoy.. Happy Birthday to my good friend Afrika Bambaataa