WHEN HIP HOP WAS ILLEGAL
Why is it important to know Hip Hop? Most people look at Hip Hop as music where you have some guy rhyming on a stage or something. But why is it important to know Hip Hop or to even be associated with Hip Hop? You will notice that most knowledge in the world tries to either relieve human suffering in a philosophical sense, or it predicts what's going on. Hip Hop is at the heights of that. Not only does knowing Hip Hop relieve human suffering, but knowing it or having the sight and awareness that Hip Hop has, gives you the ability to predict what's going to happen in the inner cities before it happens.
For many years various magazine publications have attempted to document and interpret the forward movement of Hip Hop from a traditionally objective perspective. This objectivity although useful in the field of journalism proves poor as a general method in interpreting the consciousness of Hip Hop for Hip Hoppers. Between the years of 1988 to 1998, rap publications of all styles relied on journalist to be objective when documenting Hip Hop as opposed to being Hip Hop. Such was their academic training. However, Hip Hop as with many popular cultures is unique in the sense that accurately documenting it's culture requires its interpreters to participate in its expression. This is very important. If you can't do it, you can't interpret it. What Hip Hop is going through is that people who have no idea what it is or how to do it are interpreting for the rest of the world. Hip Hop has yet to speak for itself. The journalistic senses toward Hip Hop mirrored the mainstream senses of Black and Latino youth which are; we are violent criminals, helpless, hopeless, untrustworthy, dangerous to be around but nonetheless great entertainment.
What they interpreted as Hip Hop was really emceeing which they later labeled 'rap'. Breaking' was labeled 'break dancing'. Pieces, burning, bombing and tagging' were all lumped together as graffiti art. Early Hip Hop owned no monthly publication, video countdown or Saturday night master mix. In it's early days it could not interpret itself for itself and those with the resources to interpret it did so with no interest in Hip Hop's creative intelligence. In other words, no one asked 'How do you develop the language you're speaking?' All most journalist wanted to know was 'Yo man, how are you getting so much money doing that?'
Keep in mind, in the early days, Hip Hop was illegal. When I started, I started as a graffiti artist and it was illegal. Rap music was illegal. It started off at block parties and became more sophisticated as the years went on, mainly because of the aggression Hip Hop was facing early on. These early parties were done out in places in the Bronx like 123 Park or Cedar Park. These were the early areas where an emcee and deejay dual would come out and plug into the street light. That instantly made it illegal. But more so then that, when we started rhyming and a deejay started 'cutting' (records), this weird and unusual noise out in the parks began to aggravate people. Shockingly enough it didn't aggravate the police, it aggravated our parents. THE FIRST OPPRESSORS OF HIP HOP WERE OUR PARENTS!
Early Hip Hop starts in a small Black and Latino community where the older Black and Latino generations says 'No. That's not the representation of Black people or of Latino people. This is something you kids ain't supposed to be doing and on top of that you can't make a living with that'. They would insist that we go to school, go to army or go to college. But a few Hip Hoppers said 'No we believe in this'. This is why we pay respect to the past. Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash... These are the seminal figures in Hip Hop culture. Not just rap music but in the whole culture of Hip Hop which includes the thinking, the dress, the language-the whole thing. This is why we pay them respect because when they were doing it, it was illegal. They could've said 'Yo man I'm not going to jail for this'. Instead they said 'I believe in this'. Or they said 'We believe in ourselves so much that we're gonna keep doing this'. These people in this society, doing their own things, feeling this vibe started to make the society act a certain way around them.
From 1970 to 1978 Hip Hop was just up in the Bronx. It was only practiced in the Bronx and the only way you could get to hear it was if you got a tape from one of those parties in the Bronx. Somewhere around '78 or '79, Hip Hop left the Bronx and exploded all over New York. And from there you get a guy named Grandmaster Caz who's from the Bronx who wrote a song which turned out to be 'Rapper's Delight'When Sugar Hill Records put out 'Rapper's Delight', Hip Hop wasn't illegal anymore. That's the significance of Rapper's Delight.
In 1979 when Rapper's Delight sold 2 million records, all of a sudden Hip Hop wasn't illegal anymore. As a matter of fact us graffiti artist started getting paid to do graffiti. All of a sudden the bodegas (corner grocery stores) would come to us and say 'Do a mural on the side of our store to advertise our stuff'. We said 'Cool, we love doing this stuff anyway. Plus you're gonna give us two hundred dollars for this? Come on let's make this happen.'
So we get out there and start doing our thing. This was in 1979. Ten years later in 1989 there are graffiti art galleries. I already explained emceeing. But still even though white America was saying 'Yo what's that? ' Or 'Wow did you see that?' Black America was going 'Don't do that!' 'Don't say that'. Don't dress like that' and Don't talk like that'. So we Hip Hoppers were faced with a whole new dilemma. The white man was no longer the enemy. Why?....
. Excerpt from KRS-One's 'Putting The Coat On For Hip Hop..' reprinted with permission from KRS-One..
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