Hip-Hop in Transition (1980-1988)

As much as hip hop was a new genre of music, it was also a cultural phenomenon that broke out in the United States around the 70s. It had originated in the Bronx of New York City and was pioneered by the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and Grand Master Flash. Most musicians from the inception of the genre cite the ppression of African-American communities, and general social inequality, as a catalyst for the genre. This unique cultural movement involved DJ-ing, MC-ing, breakdancing, the art of graffiti, and block parties; and those elements eventually synthesized themselves into a revolutionary mainstream style of popular music.

Many early hip-hop performances were focused on life in the housing projects and had positive messages that were intended to inspire the African-American youth. Though times were changing due to political and social injustice and hip hop artists used rap as a medium to express their concerns. This led to a more chaotic form of rap from artists such as Public Enemy and NWA, of which most songs revolved around violence, drugs, and weapons.

How has hip hop evolved in the context of its popularization? In the 1980s, what tensions can we discern from musical listening, betweenfor example”underground” hip hop values, the “mainstream”? What does it mean to be authentic in a style built on self-referentiality and syntheses of past histories?


Pick two songs from the Early Hip Hop list. Listen carefully and analyze one of them thoroughly and then use the other as a basis for comparison and contrast, focusing on both lyrics and musical features like melody, instrumentation, rhythm and meter, and overall form. Questions to contemplate while listening: what are the contents of the lyrics? What is the artist trying to convey (think on and off-the surface), and how to musical features amplify or complicate those expressions?

In order to complete the assignment, answer the following prompts in your Listening Response:

1. Describe the layers of sound that you hear in one of our recordings (it can be either of the two), making use of course terms for aspects of the accompaniment, rhythm, and approaches to melody and singing. Make reference to at least two aspects of the musical sound that are specific to a point in time or a lyric, or that change within the recording. Then briefly compare those effects to the other song.

2. Making reference to claims within the McLeod or Rose articles, AND to at least one concept or historical force affecting or relating hip-hop music, describe how a contrast in the sound, lyrics, or expressive purpose between your two chosen recordings, reflects: a. the historical “ascendancy” and popularization of hip-hop, b. a “stylistic transformation” that can be observed between the two tracks, or c. a sense of shifting audiences or cultural meanings, toward or away from an authentic sense of hip-hop culture.

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