The Birthplace of Hip Hop
Adenike Gboyega bring us a new specialist series on Hip Hop - starting from origins of the genre in the Bronx New York in the 1970s all the way through to the genre's Golden Era and its impact on culture, language, film, fashion and art.
Before Hip Hop embedded itself into mainstream society it emerged as a response to the dreadful social and economic conditions of America in the early 1970s. While there are various forms of Hip Hop associated with different regions, the birthplace of Hip Hop was in the Bronx New York. During the 1970s the Bronx was a site of despair and poverty. The construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway in 1972 created severe disruption. As a result of the Cross Bronx Expressway as many as 60,000 homes were destroyed and many of the neighbourhoods affected are still regarded as deprived areas due to the lowered property values caused by the expressway.
Through the G.I. Bill in 1944 free college education, low cost mortgages and unemployment compensation was supposed to be offered to all returning World War II veterans in the United States. However, due to the prevailing social climate that existed in the Unites States after World War II, one in which racism was a prominent factor, many African Americans did not benefit from the provisions of the G.I Bill. Although the law did not advocate discrimination, the social climate of America at this time meant that the law would be interpreted differently for African Americans than it would for Whites.
This meant that while many white families would flee to the suburbs to pursue "The American Dream" through assistance from the government, many Black and Latino families were not as fortunate and were left with no other option but to reside in poor inner city areas. This is the main reason why many Black and Latino families found themselves clustered together with few resources in housing projects which would later set the scene for the birth of Hip Hop.
The description of a war zone would fit many New Yorkers when depicting the Bronx during the 1970s. America and the rest of the world saw this "war zone" after a city wide blackout occurred. Looting, vandalism and theft all became central features of the Bronx and later spread across the entire city during the New York City blackout in 1977. Estimates project that as many as 300 gangs existed in the Bronx in the early 1970s. The government had withdrawn most resources from urban communities and this lead many to join gangs as they provided a social outlet, a source of protection and a sense of belonging for many youths residing in the Bronx.
The dire situations in the Bronx in regards to gang culture, poor housing, lack of government assistance and deprived public schools definitely led to the creation of a cultural environment which left many youth feeling frustrated. These frustrations created a fertile ground for youth, who were looking for an outlet to vent their frustrations by creating a community through acts of rebellion and resistance. This became the perfect setting for the birth of a radical artistic youth culture which is now referred to as Hip Hop.