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The History of Hip-Hop: 1925 - Present

1925 - 1978


James Brown At Newport
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1925: Earl Tucker (aka Snake Hips), a performer at the Cotton Club, invents a dance style similar to today’s hip-hop moves. He incorporates floats and slides into his dance. Similar moves would later inspire an element of hip-hop culture known as breakdancing.

1940: Tom the Great (a.k.a. Thomas Wong) uses a booming sound system to delight his audience. Wong also utilizes hip American records to steal music-lovers from competitors and local bands.

1950: The Soundclash contest between Coxsone Dodd’s “Downbeat” and Duke Reid’s “Trojan” gives birth to the concept of DJ battling.

1956: Clive Campbell is born in Kingston, Jamaica. (Campbell would later become the father of what we now know as hip-hop.)

1959: Parks Commissioner Robert Moses starts building an expressway in the Bronx. Consequently, middle class Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jewish, neighborhoods gradually disappear. Businesses relocate away from the borough only to be replaced by impoverished African-American and Hispanic families. Along with the poor came addiction, crime, and unemployment.

1962: James Brown records Live At The Apollo. Brown’s drummer Clayton Fillyau introduces a sound that is now known as the break beat. The break beat would later inspire the b-boy movement, as breakers danced to these beats at block parties.

1965: In a historic boxing bout, Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) defeats Sonny Liston in the 6th round. Before the contest, however, Ali recites one of the earliest known rhymes:

Clay comes out to meet Liston
And Liston starts to retreat
If Liston goes back any further
He'll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings with a left,
Clay swings with a right,
Look at young Cassius
Carry the fight.
Liston keeps backing
But there's not enough room
It's a matter of time...

1967: Clive Campbell migrates to the United States at the age of 11. Because of his imposing size, kids at Alfred E. Smith High School nickname him Hercules. He would later become a graf writer and change his name to Kool Herc.

1968: A gang named Savage Seven would hit the streets of the East Bronx. Savage Seven later changes its name to Black Spades, before eventually becoming an organization known as the Zulu Nation.

1969: James Brown records two songs that would further influence the drum programming in today’s rap music – “Sex Machines” with John Starks playing drums and “Funky Drummer” with Clyde Stubblefield on the drums.

1970: DJ U-Roy invades Jamaican pop charts with three top ten songs using a style known as toasting. The Last Poets release their self-titled debut album on Douglas Records combining jazz instrumentations with heartfelt spoken word. (The Last Poets would later appear on Common’s 2005 rap anthem, “The Corner.")

1971: Aretha Franklin records a well-known b-boy song “Rock Steady." The Rock Steady crew would go on to rule in the world of break-dancing, with members all across the globe.

1972: The Black Messengers (a group that staged performances for The Black Panthers and rallies relating to black power movement) feature on The Gong Show.
However, they are only allowed to perform under the alias "Mechanical Devices," because of their controversial name.

1973: DJ Kool Herc deejays his first block party (his sister's birthday) at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Bronx, NY. Herc would often buy two copies of a record and stretch the break parts by using two turntables and mixing in both records before the break ends.

The Zulu Nation is officially formed by a student of Stevenson High school named Kevin Donovan. Donovan later changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim in honor of an ancient Zulu chief.

1974: After seeing DJ Kool Herc perform at block parties, Grandmaster Caz, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa start playing at parties all over the Bronx neighborhoods. Around this time, DJ/MC/Crowd Pleaser Lovebug Starski starts referring to this culture as "hip-hop."


  • Herc is hired as a DJ at the Hevalo Club.
  • He later gets Coke La Rock to utter crowd-pleasing rhymes at parties (e.g."DJ Riz is in the house and he'll turn it out without a doubt"). Coke La Rock and Clark Kent form the first emcee team known as Kool Herc & The Herculoids.
  • DJ Grand Wizard Theodore accidentally invents 'the scratch.' While trying to hold a spinning record in place in order to listen to his mom, who was yelling at him, Grand Wizard accidentally caused the record to produce the “shigi-shigi” sound that is now known as the scratch. Scratch is the crux of modern deejaying.

1976: DJ Afrika Bambaataa performs at the Bronx River Center. Bambaataa’s first battle against Disco King Mario sparks off the DJ battling that is now embedded in the culture.


  • The Rock Steady Crew (the most respected b-boy crew in history) is formed by the original four members: JoJo, Jimmy Dee, Easy Mike, and P-Body.
  • DJ Kool Herc is nearly stabbed to death at one of his parties. Although the assault placed a permanent dent on Herc's career, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Disco Wiz (the first Latino DJ), and Disco King Mario kept performing around town.
  • Kurtis Blow, who was being managed by Russell Simmons, decides to hire Simmons’ brother Run, as his DJ.
  • Run was so-called because he could cut so fast between two turntables.
  • Kurtis would later become the first rapper to be signed to a major record deal.
  • Music industry coins the term "rap music" and shifts its focus toward emcees.
  • Grandmaster Caz (aka Cassanova Fly) and Bambaataa engage in a battle at the Police Athletic League.


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