If you love music, you’ll love Nokia Music‘s hip-hop documentary, Spit Gold Under An Empire—part of the New American Noise series. It tells us that Brooklyn is the true home of underground hip-hop. In fact, hip-hop is the scenery, the energy and the vibe of Brooklyn, quoth one on-screen aficionado. And it’s not just the contemporary underground scene: the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival is now into its ninth year, and the borough is at the heart of hip-hop legacy, with artists like Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Mos Def, Busta Rhymes and MC Lyte all calling it home.
But hip-hop’s not exclusive to Brooklyn, so we thought we’d cast our eyes over the rest of NYC to see what the score is.
The birth of hip hop
Happily, we came up trumps. Heading north to the Bronx, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue is the spot where some say it all began. In August ’73, DJ Kool Herc, aka Clive Campbell, hired the rec room in this high-rise to host his little sister Cindy’s back to school party. While their parents served snacks, Herc took the opportunity to début his new technique—two decks, a mixer and a rapper. Hip-hop was born! Guests at this original gig are rumoured to have included Grandmaster Flash, KRS One, Afrika Bambaataa and Kool DJ Red Alert.
The World’s in Harlem
Scooting over to Harlem, we find the old site of the Harlem World Club, a legendary three storey disco with a hundred-foot bar in the shape of a lightning bolt, officially called the Harlem World Cultural and Entertainment Complex, but known to the hip-hop crew that frequented it simply as ‘The World’. Harlem World opened in ’78, and everyone who was anyone in the burgeoning hip-hop scene hung out there: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The Cold Crush Brothers, L.A. Sunshine and the Treacherous Three and more. In ’81, The World hosted some of the most famous hip-hop MC battles, when Kool Moe Dee took down Busy Bee, and The Fantastic Five beat The Cold Crush Brothers. Check it out!
Lesson in lyrics
While West Coast artists like N.W.A. and Dr. Dre began to catch up on the hip-hop scene in the 1980s and 1990s, NYC never lost its edge: Nas’s Illmatic (1994) was called poetry, hailed as a masterpiece, and credited by the New York Times as ‘a milestone in trying to capture the ‘street ghetto essence”. And lest you think that the ghetto isn’t your bag, think again! Columbia professor Dr Christopher Emdin and Wu Tang Clan member GZA are working right now with hip-hop lyrics website Rap Genius on a pilot project to use hip-hop to teach science to kids in ten NYC public schools. They’re interested not only in the music’s rhymes, but in its social practices and values. GZA told the New York Times that when he was a kid, hip-hop “was always about crafting the best rhyme in the most articulate, witty or smart way. For us, it was always about educating the listener.”
And if you want to be educated, make sure you check out Nokia Music’s NYC hip-hop documentary, New American Noise: Spit Gold Under An Empire, by director Emily Kai Bock—and tune in next week for another instalment of USA musical history!