Hip-Hop's Radical Roots

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
Black History Month

The Jungle Brothers
For more than a decade, artists like the Jungle Brothers have kept hip-hop fresh and inventive by transforming and "derailing" musical convention.
As the electronic sampler became available in the '80s, hip-hop as we now know it began to evolve. The sampler allowed any sound to be electronically reproduced and manipulated. Looped drum-breaks and pieces of old records were cut up, edited, and restructured by hip-hop science. Copyright? Throw it out the window.

"It has been said so often that the Negro is lacking in originality," wrote novelist-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston in 1934, "that it has almost become a gospel." Accusations of black culture being inferior, infantile, or derivative remain commonplace today. Hurston nimbly argues against the cherished originality of Shakespeare, citing the many themes and tropes he sampled from progenitors and contemporaries alike. "It is [Shakespeare's] treatment of the borrowed material [that makes him great]" she elaborates, "...the Negro is a very original human being. While he lives and moves in the midst of a white civilization, everything that he touches is re-interpreted for his own use."

Hip-hop epitomizes this reinterpretation. Not only is music fragmented, flipped, and turned into something completely different, but traditional notions of musicality are renovated as well. You'd like a classical violin to accompany the beat? You don't need to know how to play the instrument; you just need good ears and a good record collection so you can locate the perfect violin snippet to sample. Issues of texture, rhythm, structure and melody are vital to hip-hop, but traditional ideas of Western musical mastery are atomized, democratized, and replaced by accessible technology in the hands of youth.

The Jungle Brothers' 1993 album JBeez Wit The Remedy cracks the sampler wide open: "Arrhythmic, asymmetrical, alinear," they proclaim. "...What we've been doing is intentionally derailing your brain." The major-label release has unprecedented amounts of avant-garde weirdness, amusical loops, disorienting effects, and unorthodox rhythmic programming. From the "scratches" transformation of noise into music, to JBeez Wit The Remedy, to the dense political energy of Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet, true hip-hop thrives on bringing the funk out of dysfunction, and making a positive artistic and political statement ? that you can dance to.

Further Reading Related Links

Black Noise, Tricia Rose

The New Beats, S.H. Fernando

More Brilliant Than The Sun, Kodwu Eshun

Hiphop Corner




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