This year, on August 11th, hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary – from its hotly contested “birth” by Kool Herc and Melle Mel’s Sedgwick Ave party in the Bronx. Born from a melting pot of multiracial neighbourhoods let down by the backdrop of extreme poverty and political chaos, this anti-drug and anti-violence youth movement created a safe space for personal expression. Built around four pillars – rapping, DJing, breakdance and graffiti, which took the world by storm, spreading inescapably through our cultures and subcultures like a forest fire. To stand here, 50 years on, observing hip-hop's impact on the world is nothing short of astounding.
Hip-hop is everywhere: from the clothes we wear to the art we consume, influencing the artists who make the music we love. The fascinating thing about the genre is that its elements can be applied to every other genre and almost always improves the resulting sound. Digging out the most obscure and unusual gems has long been a sport in beat-making, so it’s no wonder how far-reaching and all-encompassing the canvas DJs lay for MCs still is today. On paper, nobody would expect a glitzy cowboy (although that apple didn’t fall far from the Jonzun Crew and Furious Five tree) hip-hop-country hybrid. Still, Lil Nas X sampling Nine Inch Nails (I know, right?!?!) on ‘Old Town Road’ was a worldwide sensation, challenging the engrained so-called ‘norms’ of the genre. Jay Z and Linkin Park, Run DMC and Aerosmith, DJ Premier and Christina Aguilera or Texas and Method Man (yes, really) – the list goes on. Hip-hop artists worldwide have expanded their fanbases by collaborating outside their comfort zones, joining communities and listeners in an ever-expanding circle of appreciation.
When I joined Cambridge Audio, it was my passion for music – both listening and making my own – that brought me in. When we were talking about the landmark anniversary, I wanted to honour the genre that perhaps gave me the most joy, love and experience as a passenger (which, as a middle-class white guy from a suburban UK town, I have to accept is what I am). Its range, from obscurity to the mainstream, offers something for everyone.
The impact of hip-hop culture in Britain laid the foundation for rave culture – which led to jungle, which led to drum and bass, which led to garage, which led to grime… And the rest is history. Today we are lucky as a nation to have taken what hip-hop taught us and created our own unique world-class artists with a sound that has been accepted on the world stage. It’s a far cry from a past Britain where (again, contentiously) it wasn't really until the emergence of the London Posse that just using a British accent to rap became widely accepted.
"I was a fiend, before I became a teen". I would have been around nine years old when I heard hip-hop music for the first time. A new kid joined my school; I’d gone to his house after school, and he had an older brother who was blasting Gravediggaz and Snoop Dogg. I’d never heard anything like it before, so I was immediately interested but didn’t really understand it, and I wasn’t really exposed to it for a while afterwards. When I joined high school, I’d hear more and more, but it wasn’t until Fugees’ ‘The Score’ that I fell in love with hip-hop.
Who Got Da Props?
This is easy for me. I would have to say MF Doom, and my favourite album of all time would be Madvillainy. His unique take on hip-hop opened the door to many different people, which is a testament to his impact. I was on a Zoom call with a friend during the pandemic when I found out he had died, and I can only really remember feeling like that when Kurt Cobain died.
I think the most important movement in hip-hop in recent years is Griselda. As a collective, annoying as it is to miss out on so many physical records, they’ve produced so much hype on a scale of the internet-first fashion brands, which from a marketing perspective, I find fascinating. I think you can trace the genesis of most of the new wave of New York stuff to Roc Marciano’s success, and I loved the Stove God Cooks album he produced.
Biggie or Tupac: Who is the King?
Biggie. I never liked Tupac, but I appreciate why people do. Unfortunately for the West Coast, having grown up listening to heavier music, the cleaner production never really did it for me. There was always something more menacing about the East Coast sound, which continues to this day.
I reached out to everyone at Cambridge to uncover their love of hip-hop, how they discovered it, and how that love has fuelled a wider passion for music. Check back each week this month for a new instalment and some new music to discover.