As I’ve been growing my physical hip hop collection, I’ve learned a lot about the history and culture of the genre – how and why it began, its development, the intricate parts, people. and events that changed it whether in a progressive or degressive way. Rapper’s Delight by The Sugar Hill Gang, is often credited as the first true hip hop record. The 12 inch came out in 1979, but an earlier tune called The Fatback Band’s King Tim III was the first exposure to emceeing, backed with funky production. If we want to really dive into when hip hop started, we could trace it back to gospel groups who often broke out into spoken word that rhymed.
Graffiti art and breakdancing preceded the music thanks to DJ parties held by Kool Herc who would play funk, soul, and a host of other genres. B-boying came into the picture as attendee’s found the breakdown in a song, a voiceless instrumental that made you want to dance. The term derived from b (break/breaking) boys who would dance, spin on their heads, and challenge one another in battles.
The game changer, the most important song in hip hop history, the one that if not created would have changed the entire trajectory of the movement, was The Message by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, released in 1982. Grandmaster Flash invented scratching, and without him nothing would have been possible. He was even featured on a classic hip hop video, Wildstyle.
The Message was a stark departure from Rapper’s Delight both musically, lyrically, and in potency. It starts off with Duke Bootee rhyming:
Then Melle Mel depicts the crack and crime ridden streets of New York:
Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
‘Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car
Before The Message, rap music was silly and meant to sell as many copies as possible through the inclusion of pop, catchy choruses, or messy lyrics and concepts. The Message changed all of this. It is the single most influential record in hip hop history, and you can take that to the bank. I own an original vinyl copy of both Rapper’s Delight and The Message along with Kurtis Blow’s Christmas Rapping and The Breaks because they are all, for better or for worse, an integral part of my favorite genre’s history.