• September 15, 2016
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To hear most people tell it, the history of rap goes like this:
MCs were originally rapping primarily to showcase their DJs. That is, until Sugar Hill Gang put out "Rapper's Delight" in 1979. It was the second rap record of all time, and an enormous hit, proving there was a market for rapping on wax.
From there, Kool Moe Dee battled Busy Bee and changed how rappers could rap, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel put out "The Message" - changing what rappers could rap about - and Run-DMC released "Sucker MCs (Krush Groove 1)," which changed how rap could sound.
At the start of it all, of course, was DJ Kool Herc's 1973 block party in the Bronx, which effectively birthed hip-hop as we know it.
Those are the bullet points, but they don't answer the question: How did rapping get started in the first place?
And, what gave birth to the music at block parties like Kool Herc's?
There are plenty of awful college music professors who, attempting to shock their students, float the idea that Bob Dylan "invented rap" or was in any way an influence on hip-hop. With all due respect to Jakob Dylan's father, this is not the case at all.
Others primarily credit The Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron. But those theories are flawed too. To get a fuller picture, let's take a few steps back.
There were many examples of proto-rapping on '60s and '70s records. While the influence of James Brown on early b-boys and MCs has been well documented, there were other influences as well. Take the tradition of "toasting," a rhyming speech given at urban parties, most popular in Harlem in the late '60s and early '70s.
Hip-hop was also greatly influenced by party records. Take Blowfly, the comedian and musician whose 1965 track "Rapp Dirty" is considered by some to be the first rap song.
Then there's Rudy Ray Moore, better known as Dolemite, whose dirty rhyme routines over music not only predated Andrew Dice Clay by several decades, but continued the long tradition of rhyming in African culture.
Some stories told in rhyme go back for centuries. Moore's "A Signifying Monkey," for example, is his take on the enduring tale of a trash-talking primate. Another famous rendition was by Oscar Brown Jr., a pre-rap poet and singer who was among the first to take traditional African rhyme routines and poems and set them to music.
At the end of the day, folks like Moore, Blowfly, and Lightning Rod surely had at least as much influence as their more politically-correct contemporaries.
Even if that doesn't sound as safe in a cultural studies thesis.
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