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Underground Hip-Hop Ben Smith

English 102, Sec. 206 McCarroll December 7th, 2010

Smith 2 Ben Smith English 102 Meredith McCarroll December 7, 2010 Underground hip hop is a branch off of the mainstream level of hip hop, which is a genre of music focusing on DJing, rapping, and sampling. The three previously mentioned characteristics are key components of hip hop. The tools of a hip hop artist can vary from turntables, microphones, and his own voice to even more high-tech equipment. The turntable plays samples from the various vinyls, which the DJ may have in his supply, to create pieces of music as a background to the rapper. Likened to be a sort of anti-mainstream alternative, underground hip hop is almost as well known, even garnering followings internationally. Political, societal, and personal messages also characterize underground hip hop, setting it apart from commercial hip hop, which focuses on a more materialistic lifestyle. A surveyed group designated that when they think of hip hop, they generally think of materialism and a sexually promiscuous lifestyle, which combined comprises 60% of the votes. (Smith) The underground uses hip hop as a driving force to convey a variety of problems that they experience first-hand, observe, or notice about the world around them. Until the past decade, there have not been many academic examinations into hip hop as a medium for such movements (i.e. social and political). As mentioned in Derrick P. Alridges articles, an author, D.G. Kelly, created a correlation between hip hop and black history and also located Hip Hop along a continuum of black working-class culture, from which most underground hip hop artists and messages stem from.

Smith 3 First appearing in the South Bronx and northeast United States in the 1970s, hip hop quickly became a lifestyle for the youth. Essentially their outfits, musical choices, and life sought to, as Alridge puts it reflect the sensibilities of a large population of youth born between 1965 and 1984. Hip hop worked as the voice for the youth, allowing them an outlet for the social, political, or economic hardships that they faced head on. (Crossley 501). The creation of hip hop also stems from disco and Jamaican music, as hip hop takes distinct attributes from each. Musicians used percussion-less samples of disco music and took the rap-style vocals from Jamaican music brought in to New York by the large society of Jamaican immigrants, which in 1976 was a total of ten thousand, with five thousand moving into New York City. (Foner 203). The messages conveyed were those of social and political importance, coming from the youth which it affected. As hip hop music became progressively more complex with the use of more samples and gathering the influence of rock music, so did the lyrics fronting the music. The initial messages atop of percussion-less disco samples became more metaphorical layered on top of complicated multi-instrumental backing music, with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Rakim, and Melle Mel being pioneers of lyrically conscious hip hop. In the middle of the 1980s, hip hop found itself as becoming more commercially available and known to the United States. As the rock influences become more apparent, Run-D.M.C. steps up on stage, bringing with them heavy metal samples of the 1980s. This group had more aggressive lyrics and a tougher persona than the hip hop groups of the past. With this tougher demeanor came more popularity, though, as Run-D.M.C. became the first rap act to receive air time on MTV, cross over into the pop mainstream. (Erlewine). This group paved the way for other acts, like N.W.A., to enter the scene with much more aggressive and violent themes, yet at the same time politically charged. The lyrics and profanity within their debut album, Straight Outta Compton, caused much

Smith 4 controversy in regard to the new, more violent form of hip hop it spawned, which also became the most lucrative. The track Fuck tha Police off Straight Outta Compton garnered some of the most attention as it gave the provocation to have this form of angry, violent lyricism labeled as gangsta rap, which gave way to the violent stereotype to be associated with gangsta rap. (Mother Jones.) This branch off of hip hop eventually led to a misogynistic, material branch of hip hop to be formed, which has found more mainstream play than other acts. Underground hip hop, by definition, could be synonymous with hip hop up until the 1980s, where hip hop became nationally acclaimed and more mainstream. As more mainstream acts were born and more material acts appeared, the underground lifestyle of hip hop became more relevant to those wanting to convey important messages. In 1988, straight from the heart of hip hop came The Ultramagnetic MCs debut album, Critical Beatdown, which is considered the beginning of underground rap in the midst of ever-growing popularity of hip hop. The album has the key characteristics that defined hip hop a decade before its release, laces the block-rocking beat with what sounds like a diced Steve Miller sample. (Relic). Essentially, underground hip hop kept to the issues in regards to lyrical content, in contrast to the more material basis of mainstream hip hops lyrics. Two of many notable figures in hip hop history are Grandmaster Flash and Run-D.M.C. Grandmaster Flash, Joseph Saddler, was born in 1958 in Barbados, though he grew up in the Bronx. He pioneered hip hop with his innovative technique of scratching, which is the use of turntables as instruments rather than just for musical playback. This technique, which at first he found distracting to dancers without vocals to support the music, resulted in two of the most influential songs in hip hop history, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel and The Message. The Adventures was one of the first songs created purely by

Smith 5 samples, which demonstrated Flashs mixing prowess. (Toop). Approaching more realistic, serious content in rap lyrics, The Message laid down the framework of lyrical seriousness for future underground hip hop artists. As mentioned earlier, Run-D.M.C., consisting of Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniel, and Jason Mizell, brings the same seriousness that The Message brought but with more aggression and daring vocals behind it. After releasing four albums, two of which hit platinum, the rap game changed on them, and the audience wanted to hear more aggressive, hardcore political rappers like Public Enemy. (Erliwine). After a long hiatus, the group banded together once more to tour with Aerosmith in 2002. Unfortunately, two weeks after the tour, the DJ, Jason Mizell, of Run-D.M.C. was murdered. At the age of thirty-seven, Mizells end only perpetuated the stereotype of super-violence in hip hop that spawned in the late 80s. Two of the more contemporary, underground hip hop artists are the Wu-Tang Clan and Immortal Technique. Originally rooted from the All in Together Now, formed by Rakeem, the Genius, and Ol Dirty Bastard, Wu-Tang Clan has been comprised of ten members, including the three mentioned previously. Initially an independent group, with the release of Protect Ya Neck Wu-Tang Clan gathered the interest of major record labels, which signed on Wu-Tang, including a provision for each member to work as solo artists. (Wu-Tang Clan.) Unlike the characteristic dominating earlier hip hop, Wu-Tang Clan, specifically RZA (Rakeem), used stripped down beats with few samples. In 2004, Ol Dirty Bastard suffered from a heart attack while in studio and passed away. Immortal Technique, Felipe Andres Coronel, is a Peruvian hip hop artist. His lyricism is noted for commentary on class struggle, poverty, religious beliefs, and more. A reviewer has

Smith 6 called his work necessary political and social fodder. (Cepeda 1). He gathered a reputation from battling MCs in New York and selling his own music while on the street, as he was unable to get a job at the time. Hes even done work abroad with a humanitarian group to build an orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. In an underground fashion and to his own ideology, Immortal Technique has no desire to sign to a major record label, as he wants the control over his own work. From the social and political messages of his work and his social activism, Immortal Technique has popularity-wise grown out of the underground, but ideology-wise still remains. In a surprising comparison, similar ties can be drawn from the history and underground rap movement and the punk movement. Major figures of the punk movement, like The Clash, Sex Pistols, and Ramones, held an ideology that captur[ed] a massive following among Britains disenfranchised urban youth. (Punk). Much like Grandmaster Flash did, the Clash laid down the framework from which future punk bands used, one of social, political, and economic movements, very similar to hip hop. Provoking outrage earlier than N.W.A. did, the Sex Pistols swore on live television and kept to their doctrine of social dissidence as featured in their song God Save the Queen. Essentially punk was being used as a voice for the working-class youth to relay messages of societal and political importance.

Smith 7 Bibliography Alridge, Derrick P., James B. Stewart. "Hip Hop in History: Past, Present, and Future." The Journal of African American History. 2005: 190-195. Cepeda, Raquel. " More Articulate, Politically Charged Flame-Throwing from Immortal Technique." The Village Voice. July 29, 2008. <> Crossley, Scott. 'Metaphorical Conceptions in Hip-Hop Music, African American Review, St. Louis University Press, 2005. 501-502 Erlewine, Stephen. "Run-D.M.C." Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. 25 11 2010 <>. Foner, Nancy. New Immigrants in New York. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2001. Mother Jones. "Rap of Ages: A Timeline." Mother Jones. 11/12 2007: 68-70. "Punk." Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed. Ed. Colin Larkin. Oxford Music Online. 1 Dec. 2010 <>. Relic, Peter. "Ultramagnetic MC's: Critical Beatdown." Rolling Stone. 24 6 2004: 183. Smith, Ben. Survey. December 2, 2010. Toop, David. "Grandmaster Flash." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 1 Dec. 2010 <>. United States. Department of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Statistical Abstract of the United States 1976. Washington: GPO. 1976. "Wu-Tang Clan." Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed. Ed. Colin Larkin. Oxford Music Online. 1 Dec. 2010 <>.