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Hip Hop vs Rock and Roll

During Rock and Roll's takeoff years, no one living in the Bronx could have imagined that housing for more than 300,000 people could be abandoned and torched
Hip Hop

Hip Hop vs Rock and Roll

How Hip Hop Differed From Rock and Roll In Its Formative Years

There were significant differences between Hip Hop's emergence as the most popular youth music in the nation and the rise of Rock-and-Roll, though both began as musical forms in Black communities.

First of all, the take off period for Hip Hop, the time it took from its first commercial dissemination till its conquest of the youth market, was longer than that of Rock and Roll. For Hip Hop, the period was approximately ten years (1979-1989); for Rock and Roll only three (1954-1956). Both were maligned and resisted, but it took longer for Hip Hop to conquer youth markets, with the major vehicles for doing so being a single Music Show, MTV, along with music radio stations around the nation, rather than variety shows like Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan, and dance shows like American Bandstand, which helped promote Rock and Roll

Secondly, whereas Rock and Roll was a product of a wave of American Prosperity of unprecedented power and length, elevating the incomes of working class Americans, even those from previously marginalized groups, to the point where they could produce a teenage market for popular music and creating a wave of optimism that affected almost everyone in the nation, Hip Hop was a product of economic stagnation, urban decay, growing inequality, and the decline of post war optimism and Sixties idealism.

The South Bronx of the 70's ("broken glass everywhere, people pissing on the stairs you know they just don't care") would have been - and actually was - unrecognizable to the people who sang doo wop on the corners and in school hallways in Bronx neighborhoods during the 1950's.

During Rock and Roll's takeoff years, no one living in the Bronx could have imagined that housing for more than 300,000 people could be abandoned and torched

During Rock and Roll's takeoff years, no one living in the Bronx could have imagined that housing for more than 300,000 people could be abandoned and torched, or that the great music programs in Bronx schools would be shut down because of budget cuts. But those were the surrounding conditions when the first hip hop parties were held in community centers, parks and school yards, creating a music featuring pounding percussion rather than beautiful harmonies of groups like the Chantels, the Chords, and Dion and the Belmonts.

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Third, the dismal economic and political conditions in which hip hop was created helped create another dynamic radically different from that of Rock and Roll---it was not appropriated, or rebranded by white artists the way Rock and Roll was. There is no equivalent to Elvis Presley in Hip Hop, a white artist so charismatic and successful appropriating a Black art form that he became known as "The King of Rock and Roll," For the first ten years of Hip Hop's history, there was not a single white artist who achieved prominence in Hip Hop to the level that Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, or later the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did in Rock and Roll. The only artist EVER to achieve that status, was Eminem, and he did so 20 years after "Rappers Delight" hit the air waves. The Beastie Boys achieved great popularity fusing hip hop with punk, but they didn't ever pretend to convey a key portion of the hip hop ethos- which was coming from tough urban neighborhoods and triumphing over adversity. Hip Hop credibility in the marketplace become linked to "Blackness" and inner city hardship in a way that had no counterpart in Rock and Roll History. Although most of early hip hop was more party music than political music, its trademark was as the voice of disfranchised youth, left behind in decaying cities. And since cities were not only decaying all over the nation, but all over the world, this trademark actually helped hip hop spread in a time when growing inequality was a global as well as national phenomenon

Gender Issues in Hip Hop

The one area in which Hip Hop resembled Rock and Roll was in the absence of women artists during its formative years. From 1979 to 1987, when Salt and Pepa first produced songs which went platinum, there was not a single woman hip hop artist who left a mark on the growing national and international audience for the music, just as no woman artist achieved popularity in Rock and Roll during its take off period ( 1954-1956) Hip Hop, like Rock and Roll, was aggressively and proudly masculinist in its early years

But unlike Rock and Roll, Hip Hop projected this masculinist ethos at a time when women's labor force participation was growing rapidly, when fewer and fewer women were dependent on male incomes, and when women artists were achieving great prominence in other musical forms, especially pop. As the numbers below indicate, the change in the US from a industrial economy to a service and information economy, which led to a loss of high paying jobs for men, created opportunities for women in entry level jobs in the service sector

"In 1950, the overall participation rate of women was 34 per- cent. The rate rose to 38 percent in 1960, 43 percent in 1970, 52 percent in 1980, and 58 percent in 1990"

By 1990, when Hip Hop was firmly established as the most popular youth music in the nation, the majority of women were working outside the home, nearly doubling the numbers who were doing so in 1950. No song illustrates that reality better than the Donna Summer Classic "She Works Hard for the Money" but women's power and agency could be found represented all over the radio in the 70's and 80's through the music of the Pointer Sisters, Chaka Khan, Cyndee Lauper, Gloria Gaynor, Madonna, and the still incandescent Aretha Franklin.

In the midst of this, however, Hip Hop remained a male bastion, an arena where women had difficulty storming the barricades. Some would even argue that in communities where women were becoming the major breadwinners because high paying industrial jobs were disappearing and the expanding sections of the economy ( fast food, retail, insurance, finance, real estate, health care) hired women more than men in entry level positions, hip hop became an arena where men, especially men of color, could assert their power and pre-eminence even as they became economically redundant- at least in the legal economy.

This difficult issue is one that all lovers of hip hop need to explore-- Why did it take so long for women to crack into hip hop as rappers, dj's and producers and how does the current era- when so many prominent women are making their mark in hip hop- differ from earlier periods?

mark naison

Mark Naison
With a Brooklyn Accent