The Foundations of Hip Hop
Accompanying the musical and political changes in Soul music that took place as the 1960s moved forward into the 1970s was a profound shift in African-American identity. Whereas Motown artists had been groomed for mass consumption by white audiences in the mid-1960s, Soul artists increasingly embraced a style much more in sync with their African roots (and in many cases reflecting a more militant political view). These developments paralleled musical changes in which melody was to varying degrees made secondary to an emphasis on rhythm and groove, as it often was in traditional African musical forms. Together, these shifts were emblematic of the growing Black Pride movement, with its characteristic slogan, “black is beautiful.”
The early 1970s were an unsettling time in America. The nation was divided about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and Americans were still reeling from the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Race riots in cities like Watts, Newark, and Detroit indicated a high level of tension and frustration. During the Civil Rights movement, African Americans had fought hard for equal rights, but in the early 1970s, many of those rights were still unrealized. Not surprisingly, the Soul music of this era, according to Hip Hop pioneer Chuck D, was “darker,” reflecting national tensions.
Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye addressed some of these realities with his albumWhat’s Going On, speaking directly about Vietnam and the political upheaval of the time. Meanwhile, Curtis Mayfield, who with his group The Impressions had recorded the hopeful Civil Rights-era anthem “People Get Ready,” began producing new songs that captured the raw facts of ghetto life. When Mayfield released the soundtrack album for the movie Super Fly in 1972, it seemed to epitomize the direction in which music was moving. The age of Funk was coming. “The groove was so thick you had to get with it,” recalls Chuck D. Though Hip Hop would not enter the picture until the late 1970s, this period of “Social Soul” in the early 1970s was planting the seeds for Hip Hop’s deep groove and social awareness.
Today’s Listening Assignments
- Roberta Flack – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
- James Brown – Man to Man
- Interview with Harry Belafonte