Henny Ray Abrams/AP
Russell Simmons, left, co-founder of the Def Jam record label, talks to DJ Kool Herc, right,
before both spoke at a news conference to launch "Hip-Hop Won't Stop: The Beat, The
Rhymes, The Life," a hip-hop exhbit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American
History in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006. (AP)

Playlist: Old Skool Rap

August 25, 2008
by Jen O'Neill
“Old school rap” refers to the original recorded hip-hop music that had a profound impact on the music industry. A synthesis of jazz, rock and various other musical genres, the rhythmic delivery became a cross-cultural phenomenon. While many dismissed hip-hop as a fad they hoped would disappear, its forefathers are responsible for refining it as an art form and setting the stage for their successors to dominate the musical culture.

DJ Kool Herc

The “godfather of hip-hop,” Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, revolutionized turntable techniques, and ultimately “launched the foundation of rap music and hip-hop culture,” according to BN Village. Herc integrated the Jamaican style of cutting and mixing to fashion the prototype for modern-day hip-hop,” blending funk, soul, jazz and reggae. Herc become a household name among the South Bronx music scene while regularly hosting block parties in front of his family’s Sedgwick Avenue high-rise building.

Competing with the disco frenzy of the late ’70s, Herc keyed up crowds by toasting to reggae emcees while calling out lyrics and names of people. His style was to interact with the crowd and pass around the microphone, encouraging audience members to improvise lyrics. Herc’s style morphed into deejaying, giving birth to the “emcee” phenomenon. His innovation didn’t end there; he began the practice of playing the same record on multiple turntables, kicking off the breakbeat trend. Kool Herc’s overriding ethos: “It’s not about keeping it real. It’s about keeping it right.”

Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaataa, or “Bam,” is another “elder” in rap culture. Making his debut in the Black Spades gang, he refused to participate in violent gang-related activities, but instead used them as an audience to spin for. After leaving the gang in the mid-1970s, he formed Zulu Nation, a youth organization devoted to the music scene. Taking over the streets of the South Bronx, he gained a new title: “Master of Records.” Although he struck numerous record deals, he had only one hit, “Planet Rock,” which went from a pop hit to gold, giving birth to “electro-boogie,”—the dance style that mixes funk with robotic movement.

Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and the Furious Five

Building upon DJ Kool Herc’s novelties, Grandmaster Flash tailored his sound to the “modern Hip Hop DJ approach.” After 16-year-old Joseph Saddler came to terms with the fact that he had no future as a break-dancer, he began to play around with the sound of the physical world around him, banging on desktops and tin trashcans. Performing at public venues throughout the Bronx, including hotspots Planet Rock and Disco Fever, Saddler, now known as Grandmaster Flash, collaborated with other rap artists to form the group known as Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and the Furious Five, debuting their record, “Super Rappin.”

Their “party boasting” performances usually opened with the signature song “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels,” with other party anthems to follow. After being approached by a producer to record a song about “life on the streets,” they reluctantly agreed to record their landmark album called “The Message,” a social commentary about the dismal aspects of urban life. A few years later, they continued their aim of spreading social messages through their anti-drug song, “White Lines (Don’t Do It).”  After breaking up, Grandmaster Flash linked up with new members to create the band Grandmaster Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang.

Russell Simmons & Run DMC

Hailing from Hollis, Queens, Joey Simmons linked up with Darryl McDaniels and the two started rapping in the Simmons’ family kitchen to bust out rhymes. After graduating from high school, the two recruited their old basketball buddy to form the group Run-DMC. With the help of Joey’s older brother, Russell Simmons (cofounder of Def Jam Recordings), who had a brilliant mind for business, the group became a phenomenon.

Listeners were awestruck by Run-DMC’s unique lyrical blend of booming voices, off-and-on music, and the finishing of one another’s lines, which, according to Rock on the Net, “Was informed by the fusion of jazz and rock.” The group successfully transformed the underground hip-hop culture into a pop-culture phenomenon. They crossed audience lines to captivate a new and unlikely audience: white suburban males with an avid taste for rock music. Another crossover contribution from the to hip-hop music culture: the trend of wearing thick gold chains, baggy denim coupled with leather, and untied high top sneakers.

De La Soul

Three capricious long-time friends from Long Island formed a musical trio after graduating from high school: De La Soul, and the first item on their agenda was to invent outlandish names for themselves to reflect their musical style, an eclectic multi-genre blend laced with humor.

According to VHI, David Jolicoeur took his favorite food, yogurt, and spelled it backwards to become known as “Trugoy the Dove”; Kevin Mercer used his nickname as a DJ to coin the moniker “Posdnuous.” With Prince Paul producing, the youthful band’s idiosyncratic style was enhanced by mixing sampling sources from The Turtles and Johnny Cash, a sound that has influenced not only other emcees, but helped inspire the entire underground movement in the culture.

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