Music History

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip-hop

It’s exceedingly rare to be able to pin down the birth of a music genre to a specific date. With rock, there was no Big Bang; the music evolved and coalesced over many years as R&B, blues, country, western, hillbilly, and gospel, all intermingled. But if we look at hip-hop, we can get very, very granular.

It was on this day in 1973–August 11–that an 18-year-old Jamaican immigrant named Clive Campbell brought a couple of turntables and some records to a back-to-school party for his younger sister Cindy at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, an 18-story apartment building in The Bronx. The goal was to raise money for some new school clothes for Cindy. Admission was 50 cents for boy, 25 cents for girls.

During the evening in the building’s small community room on the ground floor, he cut records together and beatmixed songs mostly from his two copies of James Brown’s 1970 album, Sex Machine. He extending instrumental breaks that allowed people to dance longer (he called this back-and-forth mixing between records a “merry-go-round” while he and other emcees also started reciting rhymes over these breaks.

Boom. Hip-hop.

Clive Campbell’s DJ name was, of course, Kool Herc and his turntable-and-mic skills were much in demand after that party. His dancers–known as “b-boys” and “b-girls”–performed over these extending musical breaks, hence “breakdancing,” a term that showed up in the very early 80s. Others followed in Herc’s techniques (and to be fair, some were already beatmixing and rhyming at the same time as him), often jacking electricity from power poles and holding DJ sets in the street.

Hip-hop took a while to catch on. As late as the mid-80s, it was still derided as a fad and dismissed as “rap crap.” Today, though, hip-hop is driving culture around the planet. It’s a US$16 billion business in America. Spotify says that almost 73% of Spotify’s 551 monthly listeners listen to at least some hip-hop. The biggest markets for hip-hop streams are Mexico, Brazil, Germany, France, the UK, Spain, India, Canada and Italy.

If you want to be part of the celebrations, there’s a special website that will occupy your time for quite a while. YouTube is also all over this. I’m also looking forward to Questlove’s history on the genre.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38443 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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