Hip Hop at 50: A Love Letter

From a Bronx basement to God’s ears and everywhere else on Earth

John Gorman

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Photo by Kaysha on Unsplash

You remember where you were — don’t you? When you first heard it? That unmistakable sound. That boom-bap of the Roland TR-808. That syrupy bass. That MC with something to say, too urgent for song.

I do, anyway.

Picture it: PBS, 1986. Reading Rainbow. Run-DMC drops in on Levar Burton prior to a telling of Abiyoyo — a South African folktale recanted by American folk prophet Pete Seeger. They perform their Raising Hell megahit “My Adidas”.

I gaze in wonder. I listen. I forget about my Honey Nut Cheerios. What on Earth is this?

I was just a preschooler but already a bit of a nuisance with my rhythmic table-pounding and pot-and-pan banging. From that point forward I became a much greater nuisance. I had to keep hearing what discovered me. I became a convert, a beat vessel.

See — you never forget your first love. I found mine early, and never questioned it; while I’d open up my relationship to explore jazz, rock, bossa, reggae, French touch, and others, I stayed committed. Hip-hop was everything; beats and rhymes were life.

Foundation

I was 4 when hip-hop found me, but hip-hop was already 14. While music chronology is far from an exact science, and rap and hip-hop loosely existed as concepts and in practice even further back, historians have coalesced around a symbolic birthdate and origin story for the art form: August 11, 1973, at DJ Kool Herc’s Back to School Jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in The Bronx. This year, Herc’s Jam turns 50.

University of Virginia professor of hip-hop A.D. Carson explains that Hercinvented ‘the break’ [the foundational hip-hop beat] by using two turntables and two copies of the same album to extend a song’s instrumental, typically highly percussive, portion.”

According to Carson, Herc would then grab the mic and start signifying in rhyming fashion, or…

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John Gorman

Yarn Spinner + Brand Builder + Renegade. Award-winning storyteller with several million served. For inquiries: johngormanwriter@gmail.com