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Study Guide | Literary

Poetry 2016

“Let their secrets remain secrets until we are ready to cherish them as our own. Nurture and adore them. The timeless secrets of creation.”

—Saul Williams

Timelessness. In hip-hop—as well as spoken word—past is present.

Hip-hop culture emerged from the decaying neighborhoods of an economically distressed New York City of the 1970s. It embraced the language and music of the past to define and construct something new and of its time. This idea began with DJ Kool Herc, who changed the form of familiar R&B and funk records by isolating “the break” and, through the manipulation of two turntables, repeating it in an extended loop that created an entirely new musical experience. The verbal form—borrowed from Jamaican “toasting” and then combined with the spoken word movement led by Gil Scott Heron, The Last Poets, and others in the 1960 and 1970’s—has come to be one of the leading vocal forms in the world today. Rap is the form that finds itself in all kinds of music (and even comedy). But to do hip-hop, one must use the form of rap within the tenets defined in hip-hop’s birth.

Looking at the past to define ourselves in the present is a philosophy of hip-hop culture and spoken word. Taking our roots, however diverse they may be, and letting them feed and inform our future is a primary tenet of spoken word poetry. Few artists live as exemplars of spoken word’s timelessness as fully as Jennifer Cendaña Armas and Flaco Navaja. Both performers, steeped in backgrounds that range from Latin America to Southeast Asia, have kept their roots in the forefront of their work, carefully observing the present even as they remix the forms and ideas of their ancestry.


Time Line

1973 Kool Herc deejays his first party in the Bronx, where his blending of breaks is first exhibited. The break dancers in attendance began to discover their style and form.
1975 Grandmaster Flash begins the early forms of Turntabilism by blending and mixing, while Grandwizard Theodore invents what we now know as scratching. The first Emcee crews are formed.
1979 The Sugarhill Gang, under the guidance of record label owner and former vocalist Sylvia Robinson, release Rapper’s Delight, the first commercially recognized rap song. *There is much debate over the first recorded rap song, but it’s widely believed to have been done sometime in 1977 or 1978.
1980 Kurtis Blow releases the first best selling hip-hop album, The Breaks, and becomes the first star in hip-hop music.
1983 Herbie Hancock, in collaboration with pioneer DeeJay GrandMixer DST (now known as GrandMixer DXT), creates the Grammy Award-winning song Rockit, which is the first time the public ever hears a DeeJay scratching on record. Pioneer hip-hop duo Run DMC releases their first single "Sucker Emcee’s".
1988 This year is considered the first golden year in hip-hop music with releases such as Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live The Kane, Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Boogie Down Production’s By All Means Necessary, Eric B And Rakim’s Follow the Leader and the first highly regarded non-New York hip-hop record, N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. 1988 is remembered as an especially productive and creative year in hip-hop music
1993 This is a transitional year, the “end of the golden era” marked by A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers, created a new sound and style that would carry through the 90’s. Salt–N–Pepa’s Very Necessary thrust women into the forefront of hip-hop music.
1994 This was considered by many to be one of the greatest and most diverse years in hip-hop music. Albums such as NaS’s Illmatic and Notorious B.I.G’s Ready To Die are commercial and cultural phenomena, while the “underground” sounds begin to form with albums like Saafir’s Boxar Sessions and Jeru The Damaja’s The Sun Rises In The East.
1997 The independent movement in hip-hop begins with groups like Company Flow and their album Funcrusher Plus. A year later, the hip-hop collective Heiroglyphics released their important independent album 3rd Eye Vision. Hip-hop also became commercially viable and began to dominate the airwaves.
2000 and Beyond Hip-hop is now a global phenomenon. Every year a significant moment happens in hip-hop culture. The branches are now wide and spreading like wildfire as hip-hop shows us it is here to stay.
“BAM Education study guides are supported by the Frederick Loewe Foundation.”