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Family Ties: Reggae and Hip Hop

Most agree that Hip Hop began in New York in the late 70’s. Anyone serious about tracing the roots of Hip Hop will find themselves researching Sir Coxsone, Duke Reid, Daddy U-Roy and Yellowman to name a few.

Musicologists agree that Hip Hop began in New York in the late 70’s.  Most would pinpoint the South Bronx but it was permeating through Afro Caribbean and Afro American poor communities in Brooklyn and Queens as well.

DJ Kool Herc, considered one of the founding father’s of Hip Hop, was born in Jamaica and migrated to the Bronx  at age 12.  Grandmaster Flash, also considered one of the founding father’s of Hip Hop, was born in Barbados.   A documentary entitled Founding Fathers: The Untold Stories of Hip Hop points to Hip Hop culture contributors that may pre date Herc and Flash like King Charles who was born in Jamaica and moved to East Elmhurst Queens.  King Charles brought his experience with Jamaican sound systems and was able to bring that deep heavy bass sound Reggae boasted.  The documentary also mentions Grandmaster Flowers who, although not Caribbean born, grew up in the heavily Caribbean neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn.  Grandmaster Flowers was credited with being the first to play club music during the West Indian Carnival instead of the traditional Caribbean sounds, bridging the communities through music.

These young men and their families were influenced by the sound systems, toasters and Deejays of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in Jamaica.  Sound Systems are giant speakers stacked on each other set up on the street.  They began playing US R&B records while toasters, the MC, would chat rhythmically over the record.   Anyone serious about tracing the roots of Hip Hop will find themselves researching Sir Coxsone, Duke Reid, Daddy U-Roy and Yellowman to name a few.  This phenomenon was born in the ghetto and offered entertainment, escapism from hard life, promoted unity and instilled self confidence.

So while looking for one place or person that “started” this powerful genre one should be mindful not to miss a key point.  Not just the where and who but the why.  It was undoubtedly born through the frustration of the African Diaspora in the Caribbean and spread into America.  Not just for escapism and self confidence but Unity and the development of a community through expression.  The Zulu nation helped to formally declare the 5 elements of Hip Hop as:

  1. Graffiti is the writing of language or the scribe that documents the history.
  2. Emcee is the oral griot, the conveyer of the Message.
  3. DJing is the heart beat, the drum of the art or movement; DJ comes from the Djembe drum.
  4. B-Boy/Girl is the exercise and the human expression through dance or body movement to keep the body in proper health.
  5. Knowledge is the reason why we are who we are where did our roots comes from, what is the beginning of Man and where are we today. How do we take the artistic expression of Hip Hop and find our purpose in LIFE!

Especially in these politically turbulent times we hope that with the Reggae influence all over mainstream music from artists like Drake, Rhianna, Justin Bieber and countless others we will see the spirit it was created in honored and live on….Rebel music unifying the poor.

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