The origin and the roots of the Hip Hop culture are located in the South Bronx in New York City (USA).
This borough experienced radical changes during the 60ies because of bad urban construction planning (e.g. building an expressway through the heart of the Bronx, building of huge apartment complexes, ..). The middle class consisting of Italian, German, Irish and Jewish families moved away because of the decreasing quality of life. Instead of them more and more poor Afroamerican and Hispanic families settled down. Because of the augmented poverty the problems caused by crime, drugs and unemployment increased.
In the year ’68 seven teenagers who named themselves the “Savage Seven” started to terrorize their neighbourhood and with their activities they laid the groundwork for something that domineered the Bronx during the next 6 years: Streetgangs. Within shortest time gangs appeared on every street corner and names like “Black Spades” (arised out of the “Savage Seven” because of the increasing number of members), “Savage Skulls”, “Seven Immortals”, “Seven Crowns”, “Savage Nomads”, “Ching Aling”, “Black Skulls”, “Latin Kings”, “Young Lords” and many others could be seen everywhere.
After the gang activities reached their top in ’73, they died out one after the other. The reason for this turn can be found on different levels. On one side gangs got rotten out by other gangs, got involved into the drug misery or got that big that their members didn’t want to be involved anymore. On the other side times were changing in general and people of the 70ies went to (block-) parties and clubs and loved the music and the dance more and more. But the number of gangs mainly also decreased because more and more people (especially also former gang members) got involved in the Hip Hop culture and found there a new activity. Because the basic idea of the Hip Hop culture was (and still is!) to compete with creativity in one of the 4 elements and not with violence.
The driving force of all these activities within the 4 elements was to break out of the anonymity, to get heard and seen and to spread his name. And if somebody wanted to improve his skills he hadn’t any time left for doing bad things but he had to put his whole energy into the Hip Hop culture and with that he helped to bring it further to the next level and to develope its elements more and more and he also inspired again other heads.
Kool Herc is all over known and respected as the “father” of the Hip Hop culture as he contributed a lot to its birth and development. Born in Jamaica he immigrated in ’67 (at the age of 12) from Kingston and he brought his knowledge about the Jamaican soundsystem scene and the “toasting” to the Bronx. Clive Campell, as Kool Herc is really named, was called “Hercules” by his fellow pupils in High School because of his physical appearance. But he didn’t like this nickname and took a shortcut to “Herc”. And then when he started to “write” he used the tagname “Kool Herc”. Around ’73 he attracted more and more attention as a DJ in his neighbourhood. In the beginning he used the sound equipment of his father but soon after he extended his equipment and also his followers continuously. Beside of numberless gigs at blockparties, parties in parcs and schoolyards, soon later he got also gigs in famous clubs like the “Twilight Zone” or the “T-Connection”. The reason for his succes and for making people dance was on the one hand because he followed the soundsystem philosophy of his homeland that the system had to be bigger, heavier and louder than all others. On the other hand (and probably also the more important reason) he created and developed a revolutionary technique to spin the records. He never played the whole (funk-) song but only the part which made people freak out the most: the break – the part where the beat was played in its purest form. But because the breaks of the songs were only some seconds long he expanded them by using 2 turntables with 2 records. With this “break-beats” he layed the foundation for the B-Boys (Break-Boys. Dancers who freaked out on the dancefloor during these breaks) and the MCs (Masters of Ceremony. Entertainer on the microphone who amused the people and made them dance with their rhymes). Comparable to the Jamaican “toasting” from time to time Kool Herc used some phrases to make people dance and to welcome friends. But when the mixing of the beats got more and more complicated and thus more concentration was needed and entertaining the crowd also on the microphone wasn’t possible anymore, he passed the microphone to 2 friends of him who consequently represented the first MC team: Coke La Rock and Clark Kent. Kool Herc and his soundsystem including his 2 friends on the mic were soon after known all over as “Kool Herc and the Herculoids”.
Afrika Bambaataa (aka Kahyan Aasim – born 1957) is all over known and respected as the “godfather” or the “grandfather” of the Hip Hop culture as he brought everything together and laid the groundwork for the culture. He was a member and leader of one of the biggest gangs – the “Black Spades” and he was also an eager record collector. Although he was DJing at parties already since ’70, he got more interested in it after having seen Kool Herc on the turntables in ’73 and thus he was DJing more and more in the Bronx River Community Center where he had also his own soundsystem. Around the same time also his gang started to die out. Soon later he formed a performance group named the “Bronx River Organization” which he shortly after renamed to “The Organization”. Because of his former position in the gang he had soon a faithful audience which consisted also of former gang members. Around ’74 he reorganized “The Organization” and renamed it to the “Zulu Nation”, inspired by his studies about the African history at that time (he was impressed by the Zulus because they fought with full honour and simple weapons against the colonialism power in spite of apparently inferiority). Also 5 dancers joined his organization and he named them the “Shaka Zulu Kings” or short “Zulu Kings” and beside of the “Nigger Twins” they were the very first B-Boying crew ever. The “Zulu Nation” organized parties and meetings at which the members, especially Afrika Bambaataa tried to pass as much knowledge about the Hip Hop culture as possible and to give people an alternative to the gang activities and the drug misery. Because although “Lovebug Starski” was the one who came up with the notion “Hip Hop”, it was mainly Afrika Bambaataa and his Zulu Nation who united the different elements and formed them to a whole culture. Afrika Bambaataa’s idea was to transform the negativity of the gangs into positive energy. Also because he lost his best friend in the gang war during that time he was one of the very few who not only realized that this gang war was senseless but who also tried to do something against it. As people were also more and more engaged in the 4 elements at that time and as they were together to have party and show their skills (DJs mixed the break-beats, MCs rhymed to them, B-Boys danced to them and most of these people were also Writers) Bambaataa used them to spread his message to fight with creativity and not with violence.
With the integration of the 4 elements in the Hip Hop culture a situation of general competition arised that pushed people permanently to get better and more creative. Thereby it was an unwritten law that everybody was creating his own style without copying from others and stealing their ideas (so called “biting”). Also an overall respected guideline was: Peace, unity, love and having fun. The groundwork for the different elements was laid already before but with the integration in the Hip Hop culture their development was speeded up rapidly.
Learn more about the history of the elements of the culture.