Friday, May 21, 2010

When Hip-Hop Boarded the Soul Train

When I was watching VH1 late Wednesday night, the station aired one of their Rock Docs on "Soul Train" during their "Black to the Future" marathon called "Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America."

"Soul Train" was a television show started in 1970 by Don Cornelius, and was aimed at the general audience to show positive images of the Black community. Essentially, it was a recorded club party! They played the latest music and had different musicians perform (i.e. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, just to name a few), gave everyone the latest scoop on fashion and showed off the newest dance moves.

One thing "Soul Train" accomplished was to be the first T.V. show to air breakdancing. They cleared the dance floor and allowed a segment just for the poppers and lockers from Los Angeles to do their routine.

Although the dance element of hip-hop is known for being something from the streets, "Soul Train" broke the mold of hip-hop's being something that is only for the streets because of the glamor and positive reputation the show had on its audience.

Whatever was on Soul Train meant nothing but good things; so, when an element of hip-hop appeared in the show, the audience felt hip-hop was a positive thing to embrace. That segment opened so many doors for other hip-hop artists to grace the stage of "Soul Train." It also was the inspiration behind "Yo! MTV Raps", a show dedicated to exploring the culture of hip-hop and to entertaining the general audience with hip-hop music videos.

Basically, "Soul Train" was a stepping stone in making hip-hop approachable to people outside of the community.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hip-Hop Fashion, Music, and Sports! Thank you, Ice Cube.

An important moment in hip-hop was covered on ESPN. A moment for which I definitely wasn't ready.

In his amazing documentary titled "Straight Outta L.A." for the ESPN 30 for 30 Film Series, Ice Cube explored how the Raiders franchise, while in Los Angeles, was iconic during the Golden Age of Hip-hop, the late 1980s and early 1990s. That was a time when there was a balance in the kinds of hip-hop music surfacing in mainstream media. For example, hot groups during that time included: Public Enemy, a highly political and socially conscious group, NWA, one of the first rugged and raw gangsta rap groups, De La Soul, a free spirited group, and Kid N' Play, the rap group that was all about partying. NWA, which included Ice Cube, was one of the first groups to rock Raiders gear. Not only did it make the group look cool because of its black and grey colors, but it was something everyone could wear to look hard and not to be affiliated with a gang, unlike someone wearing blue or red.

Cube interviewed everyone from the '80s hip-hop era (including Snoop, who he plays catch with in the above video clip), as well as people from the L.A. Raiders franchise of the '80s to explain how the team had a huge impact on the city and how hip-hop put the Raiders on the map. He addressed how the team became a fashion icon for gangsta rap, how the crowds at the games consisted of hip-hop heads and urbanites, and how the movement ultimately became the reason why Al Davis pulled out of L.A. and moved to its current location Oakland.

I don't want to reveal too much about the documentary, so enjoy the clip and tune in to ESPN for its re-airing of the film. Check the
schedule for its next showing!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hip-Hop Pit Stop: Washington, D.C.

Although the birthplace of hip-hop is Bronx, New York, its development can be traced all over the East Coast, which includes the nation's capital.

Washington, D.C. is one of the places where hip-hop got its funky and rhythmic beat through the influence of Go-Go music. Go-Go was a style of funk music with a twist percussionists lived for because of its heavy reliance on drums and congas. Basically, Go-Go was a funkier and more rhythmic version of disco music. It was groovy and raw at the same time!

Dating to 1976, Go-Go blasted the D.C. music scene with bands like Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited (also known as E.U.) and Trouble Funk. Chuck Brown, who was credited as "The Godfather of Go-Go," used the improvisational type of music as a transition to the next song when he performed live with his band, The Soul Searchers. It was his way to respond to the cheapness and popularity of the disco D.J.s who had the advantage of spinning into the next song without missing a beat when they D.J.ed at local clubs. Brown allowed his drummers and percussionists to keep playing how ever they wanted to as he spoke to the crowd with call-and-response lyrics. That kept the crowd hype, plus it was a very innovative way to move into the next song.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, everybody was traveling to D.C. to witness Go-Go. In the early 1980s, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell took interest in the sound and wanted to sign bands to the label to make it almost like a Go-Go label. Unfortunately, due to heavy competition amongst the bands, none of them wanted to be on the same label. So, for the most part, Go-Go bands continued playing music unsigned and with their only exposure coming from their live shows. In 1988, Spike Lee featured the band E.U. in his movie "Skool Daze" and their hip-hop classic "Da Butt" on its soundtrack.

After "Da Butt" grew popular, hip-hop musicians took note of it and wanted to incorporate Go-Go on their records. Artists like Salt-N-Pepa, Kid N' Play, and DJ Kool had Go-Go influence on their hit songs like "Shake Your Thang" (Salt N' Pepa), "Rollin with Kid N' Play" (Kid N' Play) and "Let Me Clear My Throat" (DJ Kool). Those artists added more energy and an impeccable rhyme flow to their records that had not been touched by the founders of Go-Go.

Even artists nowadays use Go-Go in their music. Wale is one of the biggest hip-hop artists to come out of D.C., and he often uses Go-Go on his records. Examples include his major hit with Lady Gaga, "Chillin' (Looking at Me)," and "Rising Up," his breakthrough single as a featured artist with hip-hop legends The Roots and Chrisette Michele, which was a direct tribute to Go-Go music. He even won best breakthrough artist in 93.9 WKYS's Go-Go Music Awards.

Go-Go is still around in the D.C. area as artists like CCB, Familiar Faces, and UCB perform live throughout the metro just like those before them had in the '80s.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spiritual Strain of Hiphop Part 2 - Christianity

Although I recently wrote about hip-hop's spirituality and "religion" the Universal Zulu Nation, that doesn't mean people from other religions don't use hip-hop as an expressive tool. Other religions use hip-hop music, dance and graffiti within the contexts of worshiping their god or higher being.

Christianity is one of the religions that use hip-hop as that form of tool. Also known as "Holy Hip Hop," hip-hop art in Christian culture has been known as the new and hip way to rally a younger audience into the church. People from the Christian faith that believe hip-hop, although it is "created by man," is used for God's purpose to reach out to the youth. Those who accept Holy Hip-Hop hold similar beliefs as the Universal Zulu Nation, but believe it is the principles of Christianity that need to be pushed in the lyrics and that the Christ figure should be added into songs. Even some famous hip-hop artists are now apart of the Holy Hip-Hop community, including Christopher "Play" Martin (from the hip-hop rap group Kid N' Play) and Kurtis Blow.

Below is the video "Hip Hop Church" that was aired on Current TV covering hip-hop in the church. It features Kurtis Blow as well as other emcees who rap in the name of Jesus.

The connection between hip-hop and the Christian church is nothing new. Actually, Black music today, as well as any music genre, has origins laced in the Black church. For starters, oration in hip-hop culture is a derivative of the call-and-response style of preaching. Think about it: how many times have you been to a hip-hop concert and the artist will say "if you in the place to be, make some noise!"? It's the same in the Black church. Typically, a preacher will ask his congregation, "if you hear me, say amen?" And then the church will respond saying, "amen." That particular style in both the church and in concert is used to pull energy from the crowd and bring them together. And this is used in all kinds of concerts, but it is also a style used in Black Christian churches.