When Lauryn Hill’s Debut album, The Miss Education of Lauryn Hill, was announced at the 1999 Grammy Awards as the Album of the Year, Hill looked surprised. She walked to the podium with her trademark dred locs hairstyle and beautiful dark complexion. She had just become the first female to win five Grammys and the first hip-hop artist to win Album of the Year. But it was what Hill said that night more than her appearance or accomplishment that made it special. With astonishment she said: “Wow, this is so amazing. This is crazy because this is hip-hop music.”

The amazement that a hip-hop album claimed five Grammys goes back 20 years before Hill strolled to that podium. It’s when critics many white Americans claimed that hip hop – the culture, the clothing, and the attitude – and rap music was nothing more than a fad. They compared it to the disco craze of the 70s, and boasted that in 10 years there would not be a radio station playing hip-hop music. They were wrong. Not only are radio stations still playing it, some stations are strictly hip-hop stations. Rap is everywhere. It is one of the most popular forms of music in the world, and almost every music award’s show has at least one rap category. Advertisers use it, several rap magazines like Vibe and The Source have emerged, and rap has created jobs for many inner city Americans. Entrepreneurs such as Master P and Russell Simmons have built their fortunes around rap music. Master P’s No Limit record label and his other business endeavors earned him $60 million last year. In 1982 Simmons started Def Jam Records with one rapper (Kurtis Blow) and little money. Today Def Jam is a multi-million dollar label that has produced artist such as LL Cool J and Run-DMC. His HBO Def Comedy Jam has ignited the careers of known comics such as Bill Bellamy, Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence and Bernie Mac. Rappers Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, Will Smith and LL Cool J have extended their rap successes to acting. They now appear in movies and situation comedies. But rap’s most important element as it enters its fourth decade is that it gives young African Americans a powerful voice. It’s a voice that before rap came along and was the big marketing success that it has been, went unheard. Whether it’s gangsta rap, Puff Daddy rapping about how many cars he has or Will Smith rapping about Miami, rappers have the ability to express exactly what’s on their mind every time they pick up a microphone.

djs.jpg – 13647 BytesRap originated in South Bronx, New York and consists of constant rhythmic beats taken from other musical recordings (sampling). Some use original recordings by piecing together electronic drums, keyboards and other musical instruments woven together to make a smooth or thumping sound that uses plenty of bass and treble. Other artist such as Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill sometime use live bands. But rap’s sound originated from DJs (disk jockeys). Credit for scratching and sampling with turntables is given to pioneers Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, and D.J. Hollywood. Herc is the first-known DJ to use two records of the same recording to extend a musical break in a song. By quickly mixing the records back and forth, he extended the short 10-second breaks into 50-second breaks. Herc had a knack for knowing how long to let one recording play, while he mixed the other and vice versa. Today’s rappers point to Bambaataa as the creator of the hip-hop sound. A Jamaican descendant, Bambaataa brought the Jamaican style of mixing and cutting to New York. In the mid 70s He held turntable mixing battles in the city parks and clubs of New York. Soon he began to mix together more than just disco records. Anything from news telecast to famous people’s voices ended up on his turntable. Now just about any recording or voice over may appear in a hip-hop tune. Flash introduced quick mixing, where he let various records play for just one or two seconds before scratching them.

sugarhillgang.jpg – 13246 BytesWhile today’s artist don’t focus on the DJ as much as they did in the early to mid 80s, names like DJ Jazzy Jeff (worked with the Fresh Prince a.k.a. Will Smith) Eric B. (Rakim) and Grandmaster J (Run-DMC) are just as much a part of rap history as their rapping counterparts. After Flash introduced his style of mixing and scratching, his partner Melle Mel put together the first rhyming raps that told a story in 1976. Before him, rap consisted of mostly clever phrases. Mel’s style became the basis of rap music, but it wasn’t until 1979 when the Sugar Hill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight” that rap was introduced to America.

The song reached Billboard’s Top 40, but like most music genres started by African Americans, rap didn’t crossover into mainstream until a white group emerged. Four white men from New York named the Beastie Boys released “You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party,” in 1986 and the song reached Billboard’s Top 10. It was the first to do so. The Beastie Boys stayed true and gave credit to the originators of rap music, unlike white rock-and-roll artist in the 50s and 60s. They’ve, therefore, stayed a favorite in the hip-hop community. Later that year Run-DMC combined with hard-rock group Aerosmith on the rap version of “Walk This Way.” The song too reached the Top 10, and it helped Run-DMC and other black hip-hop artist appeal to a world audience and different cultures.

rap1.jpg – 13743 BytesIn the late 80s more political and self-awareness rap emerged with Public Enemy’s 1988 hit “The Night of the Living Bass Heads,” which chronicled illegal drug use in corporate America and stereotypes. Public Enemy emphasized not all drug dealers are black and wear beepers. Some also belong to white society. In 1989 the group released “Fight the Power,” a tune that encouraged blacks to fight racism that still excists in America. KRS-One’s “You Must Learn” encouraged young African Americans to learn about where they come from because it’s not taught in schools correctly. Also in 1989 a group of five men (Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella) from Compton, Calif., formed a group called NWA (Niggaz With an Attitude), and gangsta rap exploded on to the American scene with controversy and monetary success. Ice Cube, who wrote most of the group’s songs, is considered the pioneer of gangsta rap. Criticized widely by black and white groups for its violent lyrics and harsh words toward women, gangsta rap did bring to light misconduct by policemen and opened many eyes to the epidemic of gang violence in the inner city. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and before his death from the AIDS virus, Eazy-E, went on to have successful solo careers. While those records stayed true to the streets, artist like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, MC Hammer, and more recently Sean “Puffy” Combs began to appeal to white audiences. Their success, however, hasn’t always pleased some African Americans, who dubbed them as sell outs and believe they are adding glitter and glamour to something that originated in the streets. Perhaps the perception is unfair considering rap wasn’t expected to stay any longer than 10 years anyway.

rap2.jpg – 15191 BytesToday rap is a part of a cultural revolution. Performers such as Pete Rock and DJ Honda are more popular in Japan than they are in America. Slain rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. are culture icons. Rap has also enhanced the legacies of James Brown and George Clinton, two artist whose works have probably been used more than any others. Even hard-core rappers like DMX and Nas appeal to worldwide audiences. From rap music birthed the age break dancing and graffiti art, an innovative slang vocabulary like “dissing, busta, Gump and playa hating.” Even top selling pop artist such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson use hip-hop artist on their records. Successful rock stars like The Offspring, Limp Bizkit, Korn and Kid Rock have adopted elements of the rap aesthetic, both musically and visually. Not too bad for something that was supposed to be a short-lived fad.