Published Jul 01, 2002Since its birth in the South Bronx neighbourhood in New York in the late 70s, vibrant hip-hop scenes have evolved internationally, infused with their own set of cultural references. Ironically, hip-hop's fiercely territorial streak meant that scenes outside of New York borders weren't given substantial credence until the late 80s. The key to acceptance has been fresh and different approaches and observance of hip-hop's cardinal rule: don't bite. This music is informed by hip-hop's roots but moves forward embodying Rakim's timeless maxim: "It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at."
The urban renewal process in New York's South Bronx contributed to the birth of hip-hop by thrusting low-income blacks and Puerto Ricans from different areas together. A need for a sense of community and an outlet for self-expression were fostered through the practices of b-boying, MCing, DJing and graffiti. As the culture spread through New York, hip-hop culture became a means of self- and community expression, often leading to competition between city blocks and boroughs. As rap music became its most prominent facet, hip-hop culture evolved from being radical merely for existing into often explicitly addressing the realities and concerns of its participants.
Key Recordings: Afrika Bambaataa "Planet Rock" (Tommy Boy, 1982); Run DMC Run DMC (Profile, 1984); Eric B & Rakim Paid In Full (4th & Broadway, 1987) BDP Criminal Minded (B-Boy, 1987); Big Daddy Kane Long Live The Kane (Cold Chillin', 1988); Public Enemy It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988); Ultramagnetic MCs Critical Breakdown (Next Plateau, 1988)
The Bay Area has a long tradition of a DIY approach to music. The mid-80s emergence of teenager Todd "Too Short" Shaw selling thousands of cassettes detailing his freaky tales over slow funky beats from the trunk of his car made him a musically influential pioneer. Even though the music can also range from the Coup and Paris's political stridency to New York-influenced microphone gymnastics, this indie legacy has thrived. The Mystik Journeymen sold tapes locally and abroad, becoming famous in Japan without a record deal; the Hieroglyphics crew (Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Souls of Mischief and others) were pioneers in maintaining their popularity through sales and the internet community when they lost their major label contracts. Today it is the base for important independent entity ABB Records, who brought Dilated Peoples to the forefront, and the Quannum collective (DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, etc).
Key Recordings: Digital Underground Sex Packets (Tommy Boy, 1990); Del Tha Funkee Homosapien I Wish My Brother George Was Here (Elektra, 1991); Souls of Mischief 93 Til Infinity (Jive, 1993); The Coup Steal This Album (Wild Pitch, 1998)
Hip-hop's East/West axis was firmly entrenched by the mid-90s; the Southern states were next to emerge, with Atlanta leading the way. Initially known for hip-pop acts such as Kris Kross, the success of Arrested Development helped the city's credibility. Their emphasis on spirituality and heavy dependence on blues and gospel set the tone for the next wave. Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade and Ray Murray (known as Organized Noise) were producers who also incorporated these elements in their music. The loose collective that hung around them were the Dungeon Family, including members of Outkast and Goodie Mob. The latter group released a single entitled "Dirty South", popularising the term used to describe the unique sound emanating from this region.
Key Recordings: Goodie Mob Soul Food (La Face/BMG, 1995); Arrested Development 3 Years, 5 Months, 2 Days In The Life Of (Chrysalis/EMI); Outkast Atliens (La Face, 1996)
UK hip-hop embodies the tension between American influence and a relevant home-grown interpretation. While hip-hop in Japan and France is bolstered by its native linguistic styles, UK artists have had to compete with the much more popular U.S. artists in English. UK hip-hop acts rhymed in American accents or gained validity through associations with U.S. artists, but groups like the London Posse specifically avoided this and the re-release of their debut album last year coincided with the rise of rap music from London that is original and not afraid to be British. Roots Manuva shares with the London Posse a heavy inspiration drawn from reggae sound systems but acts like Funky DL, the Creators and Ty explore the jazzier side of hip-hop. With veteran and vanguard artists such as Blak Twang and Mark B and Blade also gaining well-deserved recognition, the London hip-hop scene is finding its feet and its voice.
Key Recordings: Hijack "Style Wars" (Music of Life, 1988); London Posse Gangster Chronicle (Mango, 1990/Wordplay, 2001); Roots Manuva Brand New Second Hand (Big Dada/Ninja Tune, 1999); Ty Awkward (Big Dada/Ninja Tune, 2001)