Federal housing projects of the 1970s sought to displace South Bronx residents who were largely made up of African American and Puerto Rican families, for the sake of urban renewal. The fires that ravaged buildings in the Bronx destroyed homes and led to devastating fatalities.
Yet, from the ashes of burnt-out apartment blocks came the explosion of Hip Hop, a cultural phenomenon that broke all the rules and would influence the future of music, art, dance and fashion, the world over.
Where it all began
During the era between the 1940s through to the 1960s in the Bronx, the music scene was largely characterized by Latin American sounds. The period was affectionately known as the mambo era as a result, which is no surprise, as the Bronx was home to the largest Puerto Rican population outside of the island by the 1950s.
In socioeconomic terms, the area was predominantly populated by working-class families, which included African American, Puerto Rican, Jewish and Italian immigrants. This happened after World War II when large numbers of the white population migrated into more homogenous suburban regions.
Local events and venues reflected this by adopting the Puerto Rican community’s music and cultural expressions. The kids born in Puerto Rico but raised in the Bronx wanted to forge their own identities away, which gave way to a rise in musical creativity and activity in the area.
By the 1970s, the Bronx as a whole faced some of the worst instances of urban decay. The price of property plummeted, which resulted in many landlords abandoning buildings they owned throughout the Bronx. The decade saw some of the worst fires of arson that caused widespread destruction and further fueled poverty and decay.
Case study on hip hop
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Where it headed
Through the ashes that littered the South Bronx landscape came the cultural revolution that brought about the rise of hip hop, which would later take the world by storm. The phenomena started in the 1970s in the bedroom of the hottest party DJ Kool Herc, who would later go on to invent some of the fundamental techniques of hip hop.
It is widely known that Hip hop found one of its earliest forays into the world of music from the basement of 1520 Sedgwick avenue on August 11, 1973. Inside the apartment block was where DJ Kool Herc presided over his sister’s birthday party, which would become the location for Hip hop’s origin story.
DJ Kool Herc characterized his sound by using two turntables to manipulate songs and popularized the use of the breakbeat. This technique allowed him to play the record on one turntable, while the other was used to isolate a song’s main breakbeat or main rhythm.
Just like most popular musicians starting out, when he wasn’t playing block parties and basement hangouts, he used to practice in his bedroom which is where most of his first DJ techniques first got played.
The one fateful party in the Sedgwick Avenue basement gave rise to an array of cultural modes of expression including b-boying. This aggressive dance style, more commonly known as breakdancing, went hand-hand with the music. Dancers or b-boys displayed elaborate acrobatics through power moves like spinning on their heads, elbows, hands, backs and shoulders.
Art like graffiti, which had already been introduced to the New York scene by the late 1960s, saw a surge as a result of the cultural explosion that was happening around the time. The culmination of music, dance, visual art and fashion of the time resulted in what we now know to be hip hop culture in its entirety.
The tale of hip hop is one of the most original rags to riches stories of a cultural movement. From the ashes of poverty, displacement and grief, hip hop found its way into the hearts and minds of the South Bronx youth. Today, we’ve seen millions of hip hop fans and artists all around the world use this unique art form as a means of self-expression, upliftment and resilience, in the same way as it found its origins.
Vendy Adams works for a technology company in Silicon Valley, where she looks after their digital marketing campaigns and overall brand-building efforts. She’s a very good thesis and dissertation writer as well and works part-time to help students who lack writing skills. Her free time is for Zumba classes, swimming and fishing.