For a special edition of the Mixtape this month, we asked Laurell to take us through the history of Hip Hop! Join her as she does so, and find all of the tracks she mentions, as well as a few other gems, in the 50 Years of Hip Hop playlist!
Before starting this journey get in the mood with our specially curated playlist, featuring all the artists mentioned in the article and more!
1960’s - 1970’s
Close your eyes and allow me to transport you to the Bronx in New York, the era is the late 1960’s early 1970’s.
The legend says that rival gangs laid down guns and knives and decided to use words as weapons instead.
Suddenly ‘battles’ involved block DJ pitted against block DJ, breakdance crew vs breakdance crew and cyphers, MC vs MC battles, where no sacred cows existed and every aspect of a rivals life was fair game in a rhyme battle.
DJ Kool Herc , a founding father, became the eventual face and voice of this alternative, spontaneous street culture, early hip hop called B-beats (scratching and needle dropping) became synonymous with summer time and block parties, by the mid-70’s these battles and parties moved into performance venues and clubs and a subculture was born.
In 1979 The Sugarhill Gang dropped an anthem for the ages Rappers Delight - your favourite rappers favourite song!
This era proudly incorporated samples of West African beats, blues, black power/slam poetry, rock elements to the prevalent jazz and soul music sounds of the day to showcase the black culture loudly.
1980’s - 1990’s
By the 80’s street MC’s had evolved into polished rap recordings produced by the most memorable creatives Eric B & Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash amongst others, the era of studio produced rap beats was upon us.
All of the sudden the street sound was replaced by produced/refined synth sounds, 808 drum beats, computer voice manipulation and interpolations of this new sound with older, familiar beats and riffs from other tracks and genres - rap music had officially entered it’s 2nd incarnation
80’s rap is defined by the sounds of A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys and to redress the growing misogyny, voices like Roxanne Shantè, Queen Latifah, Salt-n-Pepa and MC Lyte popularised the dawn of the female MC.
On the topic of strong women, Ms. Lauryn Hill would also go on to create the time-stamp of this moment, the magnum opus that is The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Until the 90’s the sounds of hip hop were quite New York centred, that is until NWA dropped Straight Outta Compton, this in many ways signalled the start of the East Coast/West Coast rap feud that characterised the 90’s
This feud birthed some of the most commercially successful acts in the history of not only rap music but music period - namely Wu-Tang Clan, 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G, Diddy, Fugees, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Dr Dre, Jay Z and Missy Elliot
Gangsta rap became a global phenomenon, emulated by artists from the UK to Japan to Africa, the perils of poverty and life in the ghetto still holds universal appeal.
2000’s - 2010’s
Hip Hop finally made it to the big leagues!
At the turn of the century hip hop music was the leading music genre and its impact wasn’t limited to the dance floor. Rap culture influenced and dominated the fashion runways of Europe. The rap culture dictated the designers of the day, the trends in alcohol and even the political choices of the day (Obama quoted Jay-Z often on the campaign trail and in his Presidential speeches, who can forget what he tried to tell us about Kanye West!)
Hip Hop history is even taught as part of legitimate courses at esteemed universities.
And one of the most validating moments (if external validation is your thing) happened in 2018 when Kendrick Lamar was crowned in laurel and awarded a most distinguished of awards, the Pulitzer prize for his album DAMN. with the awarding committee describing the body of work as ‘capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.’ - I maintain, rap is poetry, pay closer attention!
The 2000’s gave us bops upon bops with the new exploration of hip hop meets pop and pop rock
This new commercialised reincarnation of hip hop music was bolder than ever and unapologetic, no longer asking for a seat at the table but owning the whole room - the impact and effect of hip hop was felt everywhere - this was the golden era
Rappers jumped on all remixes and features and dominated the top 100 charts
Sub-genres were created to suit all tastes, there were still traces of the earliest form of battle rap, a more uptempo dance-friendly sound from the dirty South called Crunk, the iconic Snap beats from the Atlanta rappers, the almost impossible to decipher Southern rap peppered with catchy phrases and the style that still largely dominates today, Trap Rap
Now, if you’re still reading (congrats), here’s the crescendo
This article was really inspired by the fact that 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the inception of rap/hip hop music.
There’s no denying that this movement and the subsequent culture it birthed, provided a much needed cultural reset at various stages over the last five decades
Luckily this is a modern history and many of the icons are still alive to ensure that the history of hip hop is recorded accurately and fairly - kudos to Questlove in particular, he ensures that hip hop music is always on the agenda
It’s been interesting to observe the current wave of hip hop and the cultural impact post 2010, the culture remains unapologetically black, disruptive and groundbreaking while moving towards being more inclusive of gender, age, race and sexual orientation
Artists such as Drake,Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Lil Nas X, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Pusha-T, Young Thug, Wiz Khalifa, Tyler, The Creator, Travis Scott, 2 Chainz, J Cole, Future and Big Sean are the vanguard of the genre
Hip Hop will never not evoke strong opinions and emotions depending on which side of the fence you’re on but there’s no denying that rap and hip hop contributed in large parts to how the social and cultural history of the last century has been recorded, the rappers are the real historians!
“Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop” - "Check the Rhime" Q-Tip
In conclusion, we’d be remiss not to mention one of the most prolific recent losses in the hip hop world:
Trugoy the Dove (De La Soul): February 12 2023
The Hip-Hop world and music lovers in general are still coming to terms with the loss of this founding member of De La Soul.
Trugoy (Yogurt spelled backwards, his favourite snack), born David Jude Jolicoeur had a distinctive flow and wordplay that can be heard on the band’s greatest hits likes the Grammy winning: "Me, myself & I", "Oooh/Ghost Weed Skit", "Eye Know", and the iconic "The magic number", Stakes is high", and "All good".
Find out more about the songs listed in the artist's page
Death never has good timing, but this is a particularly ill-timed passing as de La Soul has concluded long standing legal issues that prevented their albums from reaching streaming services for the three decades since their inception.
2023 provided the breakthrough the fans prayed for when De La Soul dropped The Magic Number on streaming services on January 13 2023 and also announced that their entire catalogue to celebrate the 35th anniversary of 3 Feet High And Rising - this gift also became a bittersweet celebration in March 2023.
Fly High Trugoy!
Quick reminder that all tracks featured in this article, as well as some other special additions, are available to stream via the 50 Years of Hip Hop playlist!