People have birthdays and anniversaries. But how is it that hip-hop, an art form that has helped influence so much of pop culture in the United States and around the world, can trace its history down to a day?
Whether you’re a “hip-hop head” or someone still learning about the culture, here’s an explanation of how hip-hop got its 50th birthday, why people feel it’s important and some resources to help you celebrate or find out more about it.
On Aug. 11, 1973, a young woman from the Bronx threw a back-to-school party at her apartment complex’s recreation center. To keep costs manageable, she had her 18-year-old brother be the DJ. That woman was Cindy Campbell, and her brother was Clive — better known to hip-hop aficionados as DJ Kool Herc.
Black American music — jazz, blues, rock n’ roll, rhythm & blues, funk — long preceded what would come to be known as hip-hop. Artists such as Kid Capri and Kurtis Blow list influences ranging from the Jubalaires, a gospel group first active in the 1930s, to comedian Pigmeat Markham to soul musician Jimmy Castor. Buckshot, from the group Black Moon, echoes the many who consider James Brown and George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic the foundation. Yet it’s what Kool Herc did at that 1973 party that historians consider the invention of hip-hop. He played the break beats — the funkiest snippets of songs — in a continuous loop on two turntables, so the music, and therefore the dancing, never stopped.
From that point, the DJs became the stars of a party culture held mostly in New York City parks and nightclubs. It wasn’t until the early 1980s when the MCs on the microphone began to command most of the spotlight and the culture spread beyond New York. By the time Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” hit the radio airwaves, hip-hop was on its way.