2007 Wrap Up: The Rebirth of Hip-Hop
By Gentle Jones
In 2007, amidst deaths, arrests, and scandals, Hip-Hop was reborn in the original spirit of the culture. Pioneers and musical forebears continued to impact American society and shape the modern world.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first Hip-Hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Jay-Z on hand to present the award. Melle Mel spoke during the ceremony urging music executives to “make Hip-Hop the culture that it was, instead the culture of violence it is right now.”
In a Hall of Fame graduating class that included R.E.M. and Van Halen, they were the most influential and innovative inductees this year. Grandmaster Flash revolutionized DJ culture when he invented the cut, birthing turntablism in its modern form. Flash told David Sprague that it took several nominations to get in: “Well, the first time we were nominated, I was like, ‘Yaaaay!’ Then it was like, ‘No, you're not going in.’ Then, when we were nominated again, there was less of a ‘Yay.’ This time, I got a call the day before the announcement from someone on the board that we got in.”
Flash thought Hip-Hop didn’t have the respect to stand equally with other American musical forms, “I always thought it was impossible, that all the other organizations had embraced Hip-Hop, but that this particular organization wouldn't. It's bigger than Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, though. Hip-Hop is in there now, and that's what really counts.”
August 11, 1973 is the date of the first party where Kool Herc unveiled the technique that spawned Hip-Hop’s global movement and 1520 Sedgwick Avenue was long considered the location of Hip-Hop’s earliest formative moments. In 2007 the building became officially eligible to be preserved and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The location has recently been threatened by gentrification and tenants of the building were notified that BSR Management, which currently maintains the building, is planning a buy-out in February 2008. The New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation approved an application on July 2 to make the location eligible to be considered a historic landmark. Herc told the New York Times, “This is where it came from,” pointing to the building’s first-floor community room. “This is it. The culture started here and went around the world. But this is where it came from. Not anyplace else.”
Hip-hop pioneers continued to inform American sensibilities. Rev. Run of Run DMC is not only an iconic MC but an accomplished author. In 2007 he signed yet another book deal, this one worth over one million dollars, to write about family issues.
While Hip-Hop culture presently perseveres, it continues to manifest elements from its history. A 10 story limestone building in Soho being converted to luxury condominiums was recently discovered to contain primordial graffiti by Fab 5 Freddy, Futura 2000, and Jean Michel Basquiat which dates back to 1979. The mural is a hodgepodge of scribbled handstyles including a plane, a heart ,and a cake executed in spray paint, glitter, grease pencil, and magic marker. There's also a few references to Quaaludes sprinkled in there too. The entire wall was excavated and is on display at Gallery 151 with "The Wild Style Exhibit" until Feb 15.
The Chief Rocker Busy Bee and Urban Gold Music dropped The History Of Hip Hop Volume One, the first release in a 10-CD compilation series featuring vintage battles and performances from the late 1970's and early 1980's. This first CD also features celebrated MC's like The Cold Crush Brothers, The Jazzy Five, and Grandmaster Flash. Included is Busy Bee’s historic Harlem World battle with Kool Moe Dee. Busy Bee began rapping in 1977 and earned a reputation as one of New York’s top battle rappers. He also won the New Music Seminar's MC World Supremacy Belt in 1986.
Busy Bee was thrust into the national spotlight as one of the main characters in the pioneering Hip-Hop movie Wild Style; Film creator Charlie Ahearn was on hand to accept a Trailblazer Award at the 2007 Hip-hop Odyssey Film Festival, which was a star studded event bringing together the pioneers of the culture, celebrating 30 Years of Crash Crew, 25 Years of Cold Crush, and 20 Years of Public Enemy. Hip-Hop celebrities paid tribute to the Best Hip-Hop Actor, Ice-T; Trailblazers, Ralph McDaniels, Charlie Ahearn, and Ernest Dickerson; and Legend: Grand Wizard Theodore. The presenters and attendees included: Paul Mooney, Ernie Paniccioli, Davey D, Fab 5 Freddy, Pebblee Poo, Immortal Technique, DJ Beverly Bond, Hank Shocklee, Awesome Two, Dana Dane, Roxanne Shante, Chubb Rock, Chip Fu, Lord Yoda X of the Zulu Nation, Harry Allen and Kool Kim.
The elder statesmen of hip-hop were needed more than ever, as Hip-Hop culture became public enemy number one, and anathema to American goodness. Paula Zahn asked the world on Fox News if hip-hop was “Art or Poison”. Al Sharpton also criticized the music after Don Imus ran his mouth and blamed it on hip-hop. While Oprah continued to take shots, Paul Mooney flipped the script and stepped up to made a stand for hip-hop.
Hip-Hop’s Rebirth’s was punctuated by AllHipHop Week 2007, which was part celebration, part education, part commemoration. Hosted by P. Diddy and Russell Simmons the weeklong event was graced by the likes of Slick Rick, Chamillionaire, Mistah Fab, NORE, MOP, Cassidy, Swizz Beats, and dozens of other luminaries. The festivities included a fashion show, an art show, a panel discussion featuring Master P & Dr. Cornell West, and a finale event that sold out the Nokia Theatre in Times Square New York City. For those who missed it, check out Talib Kweli and the rest of the Grand Finale performance for the capacity crowd.
2007 was the year that Hip-Hop matured as a culture. It manifested this maturity on numerous fronts. 50 Cent made a move straight from the Wall Street Journal by investing in a fledgling company called Vitamin Water and subsequently reaped the benefits as it was sold to Coca Cola for $4,000,000,000. Details are sketchy on 50's windfall but it's in the neighborhood of $100,000,000. Jay-z continued to make moves, opening a new 40/40 in Las Vegas, and planning a new business venture, J Hotels. Diddy assumed responsibility as brand manager for Ciroc Vodka and extended his hegemony as Hip-Hop lifestyle maven with a star on the Walk of Fame.
Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, and Will Smith continued to blaze new trails in Hollywood, while rappers like Method Man revealed upcoming roles outside the traditional comedic/hood typecast. Ice-T returned to Law & Order, which also provided a launch pad for another stellar acting performance from Chris "Ludacris" Bridges.
Most important, Hip-Hop didn't run from criticism. Rappers like David banner met the challenge head on by continuing his humanitarian efforts in still battered New Orleans while speaking publicly against criticism by such detractors as Al Sharpton. Hip-Hoppers remained resolute and stuck to their guns regarding the artistic integrity of their music and culture, and the 4th quarter release cycle proved that the music was alive and still evolving.
Whenever power is threatened, it responds in kind. Recent developments in Europe, as well as the tumult it faced in 2007, demonstrate the increasing range of Hip-Hop, and its effect on youth and culture on a global scale. It threatens to rupture old value systems, and boundaries of separation. For a while, Hip-Hop was the golden child, expanding unchecked, soulless and loved by all. That's when you know you're really spaded. When no one protests, there is no change. No evolution. 2007 is dead. Long live 2008 and the rebrith of Hip-Hop as Public Enemy #1.