on 31 July 2010
It can be very easy to take great music for granted, to forget just how important or seminal the emergence of a genre was. To imagine that it has always existed, or was a natural and entirely predictable event. Nearly thirty years ago, the record buying public had the opportunity to hear recorded, for the first time, the capturing of an underground musical experience that had previously only existed in block parties, in local neighbourhoods, in an entirely localised and culturally specific experience. The Sugar Hill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight' and Fatback Band's 'King Tim III' announced, to an unsuspecting world, that something was happening....
As Dean Rudland writes in the liner notes, 'street culture is always difficult to pin down with exact dates'. Arguments continue to rage regarding what the first Hip Hop record was, about the roles of key protagonists, with the scant surviving documentary evidence available providing a fractured and incomplete historical picture, often competing with alternative oral traditions. However, a point of origin has been identified - 1520 Sedggwick Towers in Brooklyn - the home of Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc.
Having moved from Jamaica to New York at the age of 13, Campbell had grown in a culture where the sound system culture was strong, and translating this experience to New York saw Campbell drawing on music drawn from a predominantly black American musical heritage. Significantly, Campbell developed a technique that concentrated on the highly percussive elements of songs that proved particularly popular with dancers attending his parties. By playing the percussive 'breaks' repeatedly from various records Campbell extended the break and was rewarded with a heightened response from the dancefloor. Intentionally or otherwise, Campbell had discovered a means and technique that others soon sought to emmulate and develop. Following on from this example, Afrika Bambaataa (known for his particularly wide ranging musical tastes and penchant for Kraftwerk) and Grandmaster Flash, who recognised an opportunity to technically improve upon the process, provided and mapped out a new musical experience. In the Hip Hop narrative, these men are the Hip Hop trinity, the foundation upon which all else is built, and this collection offers up a selction of key records that were utillised to varying effect during Hip Hop's formative years.
Hip Hop afficianados will be familiar with many of the tracks, having heard them countless times in a myriad of forms and transformations. The Incredible Bongo Band's (1973) cover of The Shadow's 'Apache' has been described as the national anthemn for B-Boys and B-Girls across the world, and each and every record here exists in the DNA of Hip Hop. But this isn't an excercise in musical archeological excavation, as the records stand fully vindicated as separate, valid musical expressions, that have an existance apart from Hip Hop. Listen to the groove of 'The Clapping Song' (1965) by Shirley Ellis and Jimmy Castor's 'It's Just Begun' (1970) and a failure to be moved is impossible. You want to dance. You have to dance.
So. Do you buy?
A cynic might remark that given the material and context it should be impossible to produce a poor compilation from the source material, but that would be churlish. Well mastered, and provided with references to their original release label and catalogue number, this compilation sets the standard against which other similarly themed compilations should be measured. Fans already familar with the material have the opportunity to own a single comprehensive disc, whilst those new to the genre will discover a musical foundation whilst also (hopefully) developing an inclination to explore further the artists featured. Other purchasers will listen and imagine and create new contexts and new meanings, thereby ensuring the continuation of a tradition.
Herc, Bambataa, Flash, and the many others contemporary to them, have long been proven right in their musical choices.
A superlative collection and an ESSENTIAL purchase for 2010.