“Hip-hop, it started out in the park…”. Those are the coveted words of MC Shan that have been sampled, spliced, and revered throughout the culture of hip-hop. Just recently, we celebrated the 44th anniversary of the legendary party thrown (by DJ Kool Herc at 1520 Sedgwick, in Bronx, NYC) that introduced the earth to a music and style that would dominate popular culture for years to come.
Celebrating 44 years of hip-hop, we’re going to look at the various eras of the culture. Eleven-year increments usually give us a fair look at the transitions in any culture or subject, and here we’ll be able to see the evolution of emceeing, deejaying, hip-hop dance, and hip-hop art. We’ll give the eras appropriate names.
1973-1984 – Birth of Hip-Hop
1985-1996 – Golden Era of Hip-Hop
1997-2008 – Globalization Era of Hip-Hop
2009-present – Reconstruction Era of Hip-Hop
In this segment, we’ll focus on the “Golden Era” of hip-hop. In these years we take notice that some of the pioneers that molded the artform of rap reach their zenith, with artists like Rakim & LL Cool J releasing iconic albums. We also get to see the emergence of some of hip-hop’s heroes, such as 2Pac, Redman, Outkast, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and a host of others. This is the era where intelligence and lyricism show to be at its best amongst hip-hop artists, without the over-indulgence of mainstream media. The radio still had some level of human input, and therefore we could find a plethora of styles and artists bringing their sound to the world – from NYC, Atlanta, Florida, Detroit, California, and Texas, amongst others.
It’s these reasons that give the “golden era” its distinction. When hip-hop music is placed on display for review, this era is usually the reference. Why? No money phones. (LOL! But really.) Its not fully evident, until 1997 with Puff Daddy & The Family’s release “No Way Out”, that the conquest of money, fame, & power exceeded the need to be lyrically intelligent, and conscious about the conditions of the community.
Deejaying in the “Birth Era” of hip-hop opened the doors for hip-hop production, also known as “beat-making”. While the early examples of hip-hop often give an unrefined, yet fun & lofty sound. The late 70s-early 80s sound was the sound of the party – “Planet Rock”, “Rapper’s Delight”, “The Breaks” – all give an identity to this era’s music. The basis of all of the founders’ tracks were based on the “break beats” of popular songs. The DJs ran the world of hip-hop music. The “Golden Era” is defined by its raw & gritty sound. Still not as refined as the music is today, but there is a certain sound uncharacteristic of any other era that shows the raw talent of the rappers, as well as that of the musicians. When you hear the music of this era, you’re listening to musicians learning to master their version of “new technology” – Beat machines, MIDI keyboards, computer programs. “Keep Ya Head Up”, “It Aint Hard 2 Tell”, “C.R.E.A.M.” – all music production indicative of the new sound brought in the “golden era”.
Hip-hop art, originally confined to the streetcars, dilapidated buildings, and subway walls of NYC, began to make its way into other facets. Original album art, hip-hop clothing, and promotional posters are some of the ways we began to see hip-hop art outside of its usual, prohibited means. In opposition of the past, the street artist was beginning to be lauded in the “golden era”. Cities and urban areas were celebrated as these artists created full-wall murals that served, and still serve in some areas, as landmarks in our neighborhoods
No doubt about it, whether you fancy lyricism, production or artwork, there is plenty of talent & style to be found in this time and space in hip-hop. This is just a snapshot of my experiences and views from perhaps the greatest era in the culture of hip-hop. Feel free to send me your view & thoughts.
– Warnell Jones is from Detroit, MI. He loves to write about music, art, social change, and life.