I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the birth of Hip Hop, titled The Evolution of Hip Hop. From a cinematographic standpoint, I feel it was well produce and directed. They did a good job of covering the basics, they focused on the music more than anything. It included interviews with key figures, although some were completely excluded. It's perfect for a rap history novice, who may have never been exposed to the culture. If I were teaching a Rap History class to grade school children, I would have them watch this film.
There were a few key points that were excluded, that bothered me as a self proclaimed historian and purist. To me the title was a bit misleading. A more apt title would have been The Evolution of Rap Music. When thinking about Hip Hop as a culture, you have to consider the 4 main elements. Originally Hip Hop included DJing, Graffiti, Breaking and Emceeing. In the film they interviewed the pioneering Bronx DJs who were integral in promoting the movement in the early days. I did notice that although, they interviewed Grandwizard Theodore, there was no mention about him inventing the scratch, and no mention of Disco King Mario, DJ AJ and Mean Gene. They including some stock footage of early Breakdancers, but really did not delve in the importance of Breakers to the movement and the culture. Graffiti was the most grossly underrepresented element in the film. They didn't acknowledge it's pioneers or any of the artists that took the form to the next level. They interviewed Kool Moe Dee, but didn't mention either of his epic battles with Busy Bee and LL Cool J, respectively. I was suprised to see no mention of KRS-ONE or EPMD who were part of the transition from the oldschool to the golden era in the nineties.
Even though I felt that some important points were left out, I did appreciate them showcasing the pioneering years and giving some insight into what happened once upon a time in The Bronx, New York. This inspired to me to share my own hip hop evolution. I discovered Hip Hop in the eighties in a DC suburb in Maryland.
I was born in September of 1979 in Managua, Nicaragua. My mother, brother and I immigrated to Northeast Washington DC in 1981. My family's story was not unlike that of many Latin American immigrants of the time. My father had left because of political persecution and the hope of a better life for his family.
By the time we settled down in DC, my brother, Adolfo was barely a teenager. A scrawny, pimple faced "Mexican" that didn't speak a word of English and had no idea what the future held for us in this strange land. At the time Go Go was ruling the local music scene in the DC. The sounds of early radio Rap were trickling out of New York.
A few years after arriving in DC, we move out of the city into Maryland. We moved into the University Gardens Apartments in Langley Park. A low income apartment complex in a neighborhood that 10 years prior was predominantly White. By the mid eighties the majority of the tenants were African American and Central American. My early musical influences came from that period in my life. In my home I remember hearing everything from The Beatles to the Bee Gee's. Santana to Mongo Santamaria. La Sonora Matancera to El Gran Combo. James Brown to Chuck Brown. It was my brother, Adolfo who brought rap music and Hip Hop culture into my life. In high school he learned to breakdance. He would rock Gazelles and Kangol bucket hats. In his records I remember finding Afrika Bambaataa, Twilight 22 and Newcleus. I was too young to really understand or partake, but those early memories would later influence my journey.
My upbringing was pretty normal. I was the youngest, so you can say I was spoiled. I was always drawn to music and dancing. I would listen to everything on the dial. I was drawn to the oldies stations most. I liked listening to Disco and Funk. It wasn't until we got cable that I really went into my own musical identity. I started watching shows like Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City. The first rap CD I bought on my own was Cypress Hill. My dad would later confiscate it and Black Sunday when he realized what the parental advisory sticker meant. Soon after Method Man and the Wu Tang Clan would change my life forever. Back in those days, my best friend was a Colombian American kid from New Jersey named Ernie. He was new to the neighborhood. He was awkward and nerdy just like me, so we clicked. His dad was a DJ and had an amazing record collection, mainly consisting of Salsa and Colombian music. Ernie had two older cousins that were also DJs. One day he somehow managed to talk his dad into upgrading from his old Technics SL-QD35's to a new pair of SL-1200MKII's.
It was on. Ernie had learned to mix and cut from his cousins, He would pass his knowledge down to me. I would take it and run with it. Between each other we amassed a nice collection that spanned from early rap to all the current (at the time) mid nineties hip hop. We also collected a lot of house music. We experimented a lot in the booth, taking cues from old DMC championship videos. I practiced almost everyday, even thought the setup was at his house. After graduating high school we both attended The Catholic University of America. Freshmen year, I finagled my way into a Friday night 8-10 time slot on WCUA. We would have the first Hip Hop radio show in the station's history. The show was called The Beat Down. The opening theme was Punk Jump Up To Get Beat Down by Brand Nubian. It was basically us and a handful of friends getting high, playing records, freestyling and cracking jokes on air.
Ever since I discovered Hip Hop, I became a student of the culture. I studied all styles and elements. I did graffiti under the name Phantom. I tried to breakdance, but I was always heavy and stocky, so I was never as fluid as I wanted to be. I never wrote rhymes but was known to drop a freestyle on occasion. I seemed to flow better under the influence. I learned everything I could, related to Hip Hop. I watched every documentary and read every book and article. It was the mid nineties and it was a great time to be alive in Hip Hop. I even wrote my college papers about DJing and hip hop culture. I was never more enthralled with anything in my life.
Hip Hop made me who I am and I owe it my life.
(This post was powered by The Robert Glasper Experiment)