DJ Kool Herc is widely credited with starting the hip-hop genre when he began singling out the percussion breakdown on funk records, looping them, and rhyming over the beat. At Bronx block parties, Herc created these “breakbeats” by manipulating two copies of the same vinyl album on two turntables. His followers were soon imitating his rhythmic speech, called emceeing or rapping, and his method of mixing songs on turntables, called deejaying.

Early hip-hop pioneers of the 1970s and 1980s include DJs like Grandmaster Flash, who invented the crossfader, Grand Wizard Theodore, who inventing “scratching,” and Afrika Bambaataa, who was known for bringing together politically aware emcees, breakdancers, and graffiti artists as the Universal Zulu Nation. Famous early emcees include Kurtis Blow, as well as the Sugarhill Gang, Cold Crush Brothers, and Crash Crew.

In the 1980s, hip-hop exploded in popularity as acts like Run-D.M.C., Salt-n-Pepa, MC Hammer, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Digital Underground, and Busta Rhymes hit the charts. Others, like A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, and De La Soul, resisted commercialization, while groups like Public Enemy were more overtly political.

Then, in the 1990s, “gangsta rap,” led by acts like N.W.A., Ice-T, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G., and 2Pac, hit the scene. The proponents of the subgenre say it reveals truths about life in the ghetto, but critics say it glorifies gangs, violence, explicit drug use, and misogyny.


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