In many ways Hip Hop is quintessentially American music. It was first created in the Bronx, NY, a borough of New York City that at the time was economically depressed, dangerous and mostly forsaken by the local government. The pioneers of Hip Hop, young people of color living in struggling communities and limited in their opportunities, embraced modern music technologies (first turntables, then drum machines and later samplers) but used them creatively, often in ways their manufacturers never intended. Indeed, the origin story of Hip Hop is one of opening doors that seemed tightly shut.
To many listeners, the first commercial rap releases were surprising, something that seemed new, even unexpected. Many of the early rappers who performed at the block parties that spawned the genre had not themselves conceived of Hip Hop as something one could record and sell. For instance, in Soundbreaking Episode 6 Public Enemy’s Chuck D recalls that before the Sugar Hill Gang’s breakthrough release, “we couldn’t even imagine a rap record.” However, as radical as it sounded to the average American listener in 1980, Hip Hop had deep connections to African-American and Afro-Caribbean music traditions in its performance style and in its use of turntables and prerecorded material as the primary “instrument” in the band.
In this lesson students explore the creative concepts and technological practices on which Hip Hop music was constructed, investigating what it means to “sample” from another style, who has used sampling and how. Then, students experience the technology first hand using the Soundbreaking Sampler TechTool. Students will follow patterns of Caribbean immigration and the musical practices that came to New York City as a result of those patterns, finally considering the ways in which Hip Hop reflects them. Moving forward to the late 1980s and early 90s, what some consider Hip Hop’s “Golden Age,” this lesson explores how sampling might demonstrate a powerful creative expression of influence or even a social or political statement. Finally, this lesson encourages students to consider the conceptual hurdle Hip Hop asked listeners to make by presenting new music made from old sounds.