What are the historical roots of Hip Hop?
Hip Hop emerged directly out of the living conditions in America’s inner cities in the 1970s, particularly the South Bronx region of New York City. As a largely white, middle-class population left urban areas for the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s—a phenomenon known as “white flight”—the demographics of communities such as the Bronx shifted rapidly. The Bronx, one of New York City’s five “boroughs,” became populated mainly by Blacks and Hispanics, including large immigrant populations from Caribbean nations including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and others.
Simultaneous with the “white flight,” social and economic disruptions abounded. Construction on the Cross Bronx Expressway, which began in the postwar period and continued into the early 1970s, decimated several of the minority neighborhoods in its path; city infrastructure was allowed to crumble in the wake of budget cuts, hitting the less privileged parts of the city most directly; and strikes organized by disaffected blue-collar workers crippled the entire metropolitan area.
Amidst the higher crime and rising poverty rates that came with urban decay, young people in the South Bronx made use of limited resources to create cultural expressions that encompassed not only music, but also dance, visual art, and fashion. In music, Latin and Caribbean traditions met and mingled with the sounds of sixties and seventies Soul, Disco, and Funk. The venues for the emerging art of Hip Hop were public parks and community recreation centers, sheets of cardboard laid out on city sidewalks became dance floors, and brick walls were transformed into artists’ canvases. Turntables became laboratories for musical experimentation as old sounds were remixed in new ways. The spirit of invention was particularly vibrant against a backdrop of empty lots, boarded-up windows, and burned-out buildings.
In a borough where poverty and an eroded infrastructure meant very limited access to instruments and music education, young music makers created with what they could find. DJs assembled their own sound systems and built extensive record collections by searching secondhand stores for old Soul, Funk, and Rock and Roll albums; they used their collections to provide entertainment within their communities. Sounds taken from these records—from James Brown’s drum breaks to Parliament Funkadelic’s funky bass lines—provided the raw materials for creative work: beats to be mixed and modified. On top of that, MCs (short for Master of Ceremonies) rapped.
While early Hip Hop was often dance music, the genre also picked up where certain 70’s Soul left off, serving as a vehicle for social commentary. Stylistically, MCs drew on a number of influences, including Jamaican “toasting,” a style of lyrical chanting over a beat that was brought to New York by the burgeoning Caribbean immigrant community. The role of the MC expanded over time while the raps themselves blended influences from a variety of marginalized populations, reflecting the circumstances of an evolving urban America.
In this lesson, students will examine raw documentary footage, demographic charts, television news stories, and song lyrics to connect the sounds of early Hip Hop to the substandard living conditions in American inner cities in the late 1970s, particularly the Bronx in New York City. Students will compose their own verses to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” to be followed up with a research-driven writing assignment to further explore the urban environment depicted in the landmark song.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
- Know (knowledge):
- How early Hip Hop reflected the social and economic conditions of America’s inner cities, particularly the Bronx in New York City
- Important events in the history of New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, including the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, high crime rates, and a major transit strike
- The contributions of early Hip Hop artists including DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash
- Key vocabulary relating to the rise of Hip Hop, including such terms as “scratching,” “rapping,” “MC” and “DJ”
- Be able to (skills):
- Make connections between artistic movements and the social and economic conditions from which they emerge
- Connect song lyrics to contemporary events
- Identify musical sources from which early Hip Hop was created
- Students will integrate information from maps and data charts with texts and videos to make thematic connections and create deeper understandings (CCSS Reading 7; CCSS Speaking and Listening 2)
- Students will apply knowledge of language to understand how word choice can evoke meaning and style (CCSS Language 3)
Common Core State Standards
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
- Reading 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
- Writing 2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
- Writing 3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
- Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
- Speaking and Listening 6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12
- Language 3: Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
- Theme 1: Culture
- Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
- Theme 3: People, Places, and Environments
- Theme 7: Production, Distribution, and Consumption
- Theme 8: Science, Technology, and Society
National Standards for Music Education
Core Music Standard: Responding
- Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
- Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
- Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
- Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.