Jessi Brattengeier, US100 Stateside Hip Hop Correspondent, on the evolution of hip hop

Published February 2017

When Jarek discovered an infographic which visually portrayed hip hop’s holistic evolution in a detailed way, he felt an affinity towards the level of geeky devotion to documenting a musical story on display. He since felt compelled to secure the services of the talented artist in question, Jessi Brattengeier, as US100’s Stateside Hip Hop Correspondent and discuss the evolution of hip hop, as explored in Track 8.

JZ: Can you offer a (brief) insight into the very origins of hip hop? Is New York City its definitive home? 
JB: As far as my research and knowledge is concerned, hip hop absolutely comes from NYC. It is a product of the unique, super vibrant, super concentrated urban experience that the city provides. Jumping back to its very origins, you’d start with The Bronx in the 1970s with DJ Kool Herc, and his introduction of the audio mixer which provided him a way to combine two records (percussive fragments from Jamaican records with newer dance records) to break/spin back and forth between the two, revolutionising DJing. These extended beats became opportunities for Herc to inject spoken word and begin MCing. Grandmaster Flash developed needle dropping/scratching, which in turn revolutionised the relationship between MC and beat. Next comes New School!

JZ: I was hoping you’d say that. What is the distinction between the ‘old school’ hip hop of Grandmaster Flash and the ‘new school’ that Run-D.M.C. heralded?
JB: New School combined machine led minimalist hip hop with hard rock. It was a lot more bold and assertive than Old School, and was also defined by its new shortness of song length, making it easier to play on the radio, bringing it to the mainstream and leading to it’s inevitable refinement. Old School, inspired by the disco fever movement in NYC, was more about funky beats – party/dance music based on a funk bass line.

JZ: And yet neither Grandmaster Flash nor Run-D.M.C. seem to invoke any of the negative stereotypes associated with hip hop today – gangsterism, violence, misogyny, homophobia etc. Where or when does this disconnect occur?

JB: I think there has a been a serious divide within the hip hop community about the genre’s intentions. There is no denying misogyny and some of the other elements you mention can be found in mainstream hip hop. This can be traced to many things – the aggressiveness and need to assert power found in gangsta rap [a later development after Run-D.M.C’s ascent], the commercialisation and capitalisation of hip hop, and the fact that sex always sells, compounded by the introduction of MTV and the branded power of the music video.

But there have always been socially conscious rappers. Common is a great example of that. I think the disconnect is less about when and more about why. Here is a really incredible article about gangs and hip hop. I’d recommend giving that a read – it’s insightful and well researched and will provide a much wider breadth of insight.

US100 Track 8: Run-D.M.C. – It’s Like That