SOCIAL SOUL: THE ROOTS OF HIP HOP

OVERVIEW

Motown Records, home to the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and so many more, dubbed itself "The Sound of Young America." Consistent with this, Smokey Robinson has described the early Motown mission as being in part about making not black music but a music that would cut across the divide of race, just by virtue of being great music. It was an ambition that synced up well with the times. With the Civil Rights movement changing American life in profound ways, here was a black music that was, just as Robinson described, for everyone.

But the Civil Rights movement, its ambitions and its achievements, did not satisfy everyone. Racism in America had deep roots, roots that would not be easily ripped out. As such, there were black men and women who felt keenly the frustrations of what the Civil Rights movement could not do, rather than what it managed in Martin Luther King's time. For this reason and others, the late 1960s and early 1970s registered a change in music, even at Motown: From the all-inclusive celebration that marked early Motown came a new, distinctly black voice, a voice that addressed black life very directly.

Perhaps more than any other artist, James Brown came on the strongest in this moment. From 1968's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" forward, Brown hit hard. It's difficult to imagine Hip Hop being the same powerful genre it became without Brown leading the way. This chapter delves into his career, his effect on Funk, Hip Hop, and everything else. But it also explores the wider changes in Soul music, at Motown, with groups like the Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron, together with the emerging Funk and Hip Hop scenes. The all-for-one 1960s didn't last -- but black music continued to as influential as it ever had been.


Malcolm X, 1964     |     Credit: Marion S. Trikosko

LESSONS

SAY IT LOUD: THE RISE OF BLACK PRIDE
How did Social Soul reflect a new vision of African-American identity in the late 1960s and early 1970s?

TIMELINE