One of the major schemes of society and big business is playing on this generation of young world changers is that they are trying to disconnect them from the knowledge and wisdom of the older generations. A major reason why they do this is so they can more easily manipulate youth into buying into their fantasy definitions about themselves and the world around them. Just like a tree without roots can never truly flourish and produce fruit, so people without knowledge of their histories (knowledge of self) lack the capacity to producing a powerful legacy. This article is about how Hiphop can inform us to sample from the past, remix the present, and set a new groove that can transform the future.
Hip-hop is the first multicultural movement that this country and the world has ever seen. Youth from every color and background were essential in the development of the elements of Hiphop. If you look at the breaking, it draws influences from salsa and meringue, from funk music and borrows moves from Sammy Davis and James Brown, certain footwork can even be linked to the Native American grass dance. I have even been to battles where I have seen folks bust out with some straight Russian dances with their arms crossed, and squatting down and kicking out one foot at time. Other elements have ties to multiculturalism as well. One of the first graffiti writers was a Greek kid, some of the best old school rappers were black, some of the best dancers are Asian and Latin, some of the best Dj’s and turntabilists are white. Hiphop provides the common ground for all races to come together and to share their own flavor and express themselves.
If hip-hop were a baby, it is a baby with umbilical chords connecting it to various mother cultures from around the world. Coming out of the Bronx, Hiphop is born out of struggle. If you think about it, every race that has ever lived at one point was in slavery. We all know that black folks were slaves, but so were natives, Asians, and yes even white folks. Many people don’t realize that there were white slaves in Ireland back in the day. One thing that all people have in common when they come to the cipher of Hip-hop is that they are trying to get free. That is why I say that Hiphop is the modern-day phenomenon of oppressed people seeking liberation through creative and spiritual means. People have been trying to get free for centuries, now instead of doing so in isolation, people are able to bring their ideas, philosophies, and stories and share them with one another. In this respect, Hiphop contains the best knowledge of how to liberate people because it takes all of the ancient ideas and mixes them together.
Early Hip-hop Dj’s had no actual “hip-hop music” so they made their own sound by blending and mixing various types of music together. If you went to a show with Afrika Bambataa back in the day, you would hear some rock, some funk, some disco. If you heard Herc he would have some reggae, they all would be playing some of the breaks (more on this later), Flash and Wizard Theodore would be cutting and scratching, mixing it all together. Since Hip-hop incorporated all genres of music together it inherited certain philosophies or ideas about how to deal with the struggle through the music. If you were to trace all he music that it incorporated there would be three main root systems: Blues, Gospel and Jazz. With these styles of music come different ideas about how to deal with the struggle in creative ways.
Jazz is a form of music that totally redefines the tradition. Jazz greats like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane revolutionized the way people played traditional instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, and piano. Up until this point, these instruments were used primarily in orchestras and symphonies to play classical music. When folks like John Coltrane started to play the sax the way that he did, it blew people away and it totally transformed the way that people saw the instrument and believed how it could be played.
In this same way, people like Herc, Flash, and Theodore revolutionized the way that people today see the turntable. If you go to a music store today that sells instruments, you will most likely find turntables being sold, but this hasn’t always been the case. Back in the day if you told someone you were going to go home and play your turntable as an instrument, people would have looked at you strange. A turntable, up until the last thirty years was seen as an appliance like a toaster or a blender. If you told people it was your instrument, they would have thought you were crazy, it would be like telling people you were going to go make music with the blender by playing it at different speeds. It was the knowledge of Hiphop that transformed the way that the turntable was seen and played.
Herc was the first to really start pushing the limits with the turntable. Coming up as a kid from Jamaica, Herc had always seen the power that music had to bring people together and develop a sense of unity and consciousness. In Jamaica when he was coming up, the radio stations were run by the government, which was acting corruptly and oppressing the people. For this reason they banned playing music that was politically charged and delivering a powerful message to the people to stand up against this power system. Bob Marley, Black Uhuru,Peter Tosh, and Burning Spear are all examples of music that was dealing with the struggle and advising people to fight the power. Seeing this as a young child, Herc took this idea with him when he moved to the Bronx with his family.
Herc saw his opportunity to sample from this consciousness when the gang peace treaty in 1971 (which I will get into later) was sparked off. Also seeing that the radio stations were not playing music that people in the Bronx and surrounding areas wanted to hear, he had the idea to throw a party with his sister to bring folks together. He was a master at playing various styles of music to keep people engaged, and at one party he experimented with extending the “break” or funky instrumental version of the record to see what would happen. By hooking up two turntables and getting two copies of the same record, Herc began a tradition of revolutionizing the way that the turntable was seen and used. By mixing the “break” of the same record, he was able to extend this funky instrumental version of the record, which allowed for a new form or music and dance to emerge (more on this later). DJ’s like Flash, and Theodore perfected this craft and started doing their own experimenting with blending, mixing, and even scratching records to create their own sound. This effort, similar to what Miles Davis, and Coltrane did to Jazz, totally transformed the way people look at the turntable. Now if you go to any music store or music trade show in the world, you will see next to the violin, and Cello’s being sold, there are turntables. You can also look up international turntables competitions on you tube where dj’s compete to see who can scratch, blend, juggle, and mix the best.
The knowledge of Hip-hop again says that we can sample from the past and remix it to represent who and where we are in the present. With that rooting in being authentic, we can get a better vision for where we want to be in the future. Just like DJ’s borrowed from other forms of music and producers sample from old records, we can sample from our histories and remix the best parts to help us be more real and empowered. Big Business doesn’t like this because it means that they can’t manipulate us and tell us to be something that what we really are not. By getting connected to our own roots, and valuing our own histories and experiences we start to tap into the power of Hiphop and take control of our own lives. Connecting with our parents and grandparents can be a powerful connection that can keep us rooted so that we can produce our own unique fruit.