A love letter to hip hop on its birthday
Happy birthday, hip hop!
Birthdays and anniversaries occur daily and are a dime a dozen, but there are certain days on the calendar that hold significant weight and are cause for celebration. One date that continues to be highlighted and commemorated on an annual basis is August 11, 1973, when hip hop — the culture that has helped define of style, teach, and guide us — came into our lives. Since your arrival on this earth, the world has changed immensely — in some ways for the greater, some for the worse. However, through it all, you’ve always been able to bring us together and put things in perspective for us, letting us know that through hard work and love, there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Conceived by DJ Kool Herc and Cindy Campbell, you were born in the Bronx, New York, during a “Back To School” party in the rec room of an apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. The occasion was a festive one, as family and friends gathered to witness DJ Kool Herc introduce you to the world by using two turntables to extend the instrumental break of popular records. Born out of love and respect, you were easy to adore from the moment you came in this world with droves of people gravitating to you and adopting you as their own soon afterward. Though your beginnings were humble and you came of age amid impoverished conditions, your ability to utilize what little was at your disposal and use it to better yourself, and enrich the lives of others in your vicinity, is nothing short of admirable.
Your formative years introduced the world to the b-boy, the graffiti artist, the DJ, and the breakdancer. However, when your essence inspired us to cultivate what we now know as rap, that moment was a game-changer. Beginning in 1979, rap acts like the Sugar Hill Gang were starting to release records such as “Rapper’s Delight,” the group’s debut single that was a runaway hit. This put hip hop on the national radar. Soon, the rapper would usurp the DJ in terms of popularity and star power, but that didn’t minimize the role of the spinner altogether, as different DJs help revolutionize the craft by inventing new tricks of the trade including Afrika Bambatta, DJ Grandmaster Flash, DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, and others. From the needle-drop to the merry-go-round and other techniques, these sonic architects displayed a certain level of mastery that you’ve become synonymous with.
During the ‘80s, you began to truly blossom and come into your own, while continuing to find your footing and voice within society. Serving as a muse to various titans and aspiring entrepreneurs, you began to spread like wildfire with various indie labels and imprints attempting to cash in on the brewing phenomenon that you inspired. By the middle of the decade, rap was becoming the dominant voice among the youth, and you were the source of their inspiration and education. Stars like Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Whodini and others were evidence of rap’s earning potential, putting in an increased spotlight on the culture. The latter half of the decade saw you begin to make inroads on a mainstream level with programs like “Yo! MTV Raps” helping capture what was going on in New York City and beyond, spreading your tenets and teachings one convert at a time.
That period also saw you grow a consciousness about yourself, as you made it your duty to speak on the societal ills in the world and become a voice for the voiceless — particularly in Black America at a time where the crack epidemic was taking a stronghold on urban communities. Artists like KRS-One, Public Enemy, Ice-T, N.W.A., and others spat the reality of life in the ghetto over dope beats for mass consumption, affording you a certain cache in sociopolitical forums. Topics like apartheid in South Africa, political corruption, police brutality, and discrimination were all prevalent in the music and talked about in a raw, transparent state. Soon, government agencies like the FBI began to take an interest in you, even infamously penning a letter to rap group N.W.A. after hearing their 1988 song “F**k Tha Police,” a testament to the power you fostered within your constituents. Serving as reporters on the frontlines, these rap artists helped keep abreast to injustices going on in our community, country, and globally.
As you began to develop and come of age, there were numerous stumbling blocks along the way, as certain groups of people were unsure of what to make of you and felt that your presence was a detriment to society. They even predicted that you would have a short shelf-life. Their opposition to your success and growth proved to be relentless, as they condemned the perception of what you stood for and promoted as your way of life. Shortsighted, these appraisals proved to be pointless, as you never took stock in what the outsiders and detractors had to say in those moments. Your willingness to allow people to embrace you in their own time has helped bridge the gap between you and the rest of society, an open-door policy that has only given you strength in numbers with the passage of time. From the condemnation of the lyrical content to the vilification of the overarching themes of misogyny and nihilism in some of the music; these pundits, among them Tipper Gore, C. Delores Tucker, and former Vice President Dan Quayle; waged war against the you, but ultimately came up on the losing end, as they were unable to halt or alter your expression.
The ‘90s saw you become larger than life, as you continued to transcend your birthplace to impact various sectors of industry including fashion, athletics, TV/film, politics and lifestyle. By this time, you made multiple millionaires who bet on themselves and became self-made moguls with Russell Simmons, Suge Knight, J. Prince, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Master P and others taking their hustle learned from the concrete and building empires. Outlets like Forbes began noting your buying power and how you had become a cash cow in spite of all of the hurdles surpassed along the journey. The mainstream had no choice but to hop on board and embrace you; as your music, style, and attitude was beginning to inform not only impoverished Black youth; but kids of all races. Having overtaken rock and roll as the dominant musical genre in the country, rap was the little engine that did good, overcoming the odds. Now, you’ve become seemingly inescapable, impacting many facets of life as we know it today. This makes you an essential part of how we view the world around us and how we go about living in it.
With the advent of the internet and social media, you’ve helped further connect people from all over the world and have made it possible to make a name for yourself with just the click of a few buttons. As you continue to age and become bigger and better, there appears to be no limit to where you can take us moving forward with each passing year symbolizing progress along the road traveled. So, with that, we wish you, hip hop, a happy birthday and can’t wait to see what’s in store for you next.
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