What You're Not Listening To

What You're Not Listening To

Really Old School: Early Hip-Hop 79-81

July 07, 2021

Forty-two years ago, the last major music movement of the 1970's, Hip-Hop, started to make its mark with a series of 12-inch singles that were born out of New York City's Black music scene that were originally party and dance records. #oldschool #blackmusic #hiphop

WARNING: There are no ballads in this program. Repeat, no ballads.

Has it really been over four decades now? These are the kinds of questions old folks like myself often ponder when discussing long-running acts or genres. Originally known under the much more broad category of Rap music, due to the vocal talents of MCs, people who would rhyme in a rhythmic cadence instead of singing, Hip-Hop was the last major new music movement of the 1970's.

The Funky 4 + 1, 1980, featuring Sha-Rock, another one of the first wave of female Hip-Hop MC's.

As I am told by those far more in the know than I, Hip-Hop is the culture, and Rap is just one component of it. The five components were, and for the most part still are: the b-boys (break dancers), Graffiti/Aerosol artists, MCs (rappers), DJs, and the beatboxers, individuals who use a type of vocal prowess and hand-slapping against one's body to mimic the sounds of other instruments, similar to drum patterns.

12-inch single A-side label for "Vicious Rap" by Tanya "Sweet T" Winley, 1980. Almost all of the early Hip-Hop Records in NYC were on independent labels.

Originally starting out in New York City n the mid-1970's, specifically in Harlem and The Bronx, Hip-Hop, much like other major Black music movements that became mainstream, such as Jazz, Rock and Roll and Disco, was dance and party music, often played at outdoor social gatherings called block parties. DJs would often spin current Funk or Disco Records, often mixing the instrumental passages live while an MC would rap over the newly mixed track. The DJs would typically use multiple turntables and a small mixing board to achieve this feat. This was the first uses of sampling prior to digital technology that before was relegated to the huge, expensive, often hard to play and constantly breaking down instrument the Mellotron, which used tape loops.

The Fatback Band, 1979, who are credited by historians as the first band to have a Hip-Hop single released on vinyl. Courtesy of Spring/UMG.

This was unique in a way no one in the mainstream saw coming: using technology to reconstruct what typically had to be done with a live band or in expensive multi-track recording studios. It was DIY to the core, and allowed anyone with a little money and some home-grown trial and error tech savvy to create whole new soundscapes that could be created in a basement, your bedroom or as mentioned, live.

Frankie Smith on the Japanese cover of Double Dutch Bus, a multi-platinum hit here in the U.S. and a major worldwide hit for Hip-Hop, 1981.

Of course, the mainstream music industry by 1979, following the Disco Backlash of that year, shied away from Black artists and dance recordings in very large numbers, leaving the initial recordings of this exciting new scene relegated to large inner-cities and for the most part, independent labels. Hip-Hop was considered a fad and not a genre, a "gimmick". It didn't matter, though: Some of the new Hip-Hop records were selling hundreds of thousands of copies in just the New York and New Jersey area alone. And these weren't $1 singles, but $5 dollar 12-inch records, which would be, adjusted for inflation, over $13.50 in 2021.

Kurtis Blow, 1980. Blow holds many firsts in Hip-Hop history, including being the first artist in this genre to land a deal on a major label. Courtesy of Mercury/UMG.

Much of the lyrical content was typical of feel-...