No other popular music has reshaped the modern musical landscape as has Hip Hop. If it came out of the Bronx in the 1970s, at a time when New York City was facing tremendous economic and social challenges, it didn't take long for it to make its way to a wide audience and, finally, to a kind of dominance. But, as an ABC 20/20 special included here suggests, in the early 1980s, with the music still in its infancy as a mainstream movement, there was an uncertainty about what this new thing meant. Was it just the next great party music? At that pre-Gangsta Rap moment, there was less fear around Hip Hop but also less clarity. Given the way musical trends seemed to have shorter and shorter lives, no one was thinking that the future of popular music was coming to town, through this portal in the Bronx.
Lessons in this chapter will explore the rise of Hip Hop, its political and social repercussions, its roots, and the divisions within it. As with many of the more potent forces in popular music's history, Hip Hop's was a wide culture — it had a visual presence, a political presence, it had dance and fashion. To study the music requires that all of this be taken into account. Like Punk, Hip Hop was a kind of lifestyle to its early practitioners. But if Punk had a short life, Hip Hop has the capacity to grow. And it continues to do so.
Not surprisingly, Hip Hop has also affected the popular music around it, spreading its influence across genres. Even very early on, there was a spirit of invention in the music that affected groups like the Clash, Blondie, and others. In the years to follow, Hip Hop touched nearly all working musicians in some way or another. It's not the first time black music has inspired and redirected the wider culture of popular music — that has been the recurring motif of this history of Rock and Roll — but it's certainly among the most significant instances. And the story carries on.