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The Four Elements of Hip-Hop

by BC on December 14, 2009

The MC

As far as I know, there isn’t any one person that can be called the first rapper, although Melle Mel was apparently the first rapper to call himself an MC. You can look back and see the milestones of various rappers and hip-hop songs, but you can’t really trace back to the first rapper ever, as many have made claims to this, including the Last Poets who were around in the late 60’s and 70’s. Hell, my dad was convinced that Robert Goulet was one of the first rappers, due to his almost “talking” version of singing.

By now, everyone knows that the first rap song from a rap group put to wax was Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang. The song’s success paved the way for MC’s, such as Kurtis Blow, who was the first rap (hip-hop) artist to go gold. The early 80’s seemed to be a time of discovery with MC’s. I’m sure many future artists were tinkering with their flows and techniques, as there seemed to be different flows and styles that came about in the mid to late 80’s, that were vastly different than Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel and the Sugarhill Gang.

The so-called golden era of hip-hop was the real emergence of the MC. Rakim, KRS-One and others came along and opened doors to a street style of MC, taking it away from the party rocking MC of the early 80’s. You still had some of those party rockers, but there started to be more acceptance among rap fans for the street-wise MC’s with quick flows. Generally, the older MC’s of the early 80’s tended to have a more friendly, slower type flow, so when cats started spitting lyrics with more ferocity, it made those older styles sound dated.

Personally, there are all different types of MC’s that I like for different reasons. Some have superior content (or lyrics) and some are just so ill that they can talk gibberish and they sound good. Others have been able to combine both and become iconic MC’s, such as Rakim, KRS-One and Chuck D.

Schooly D, who is one of my favorites, hasn’t always been the greatest lyricist, but his flow and voice are what has made him one of my favorites. Rakim and KRS-One had stories to tell and statements to make, but also had a little braggadocio, but Chuck D took it to another level with his politically charged verses. By the 90’s, you had battle rhyme MC’s (Big Daddy Kane), political MC’s (Chuck D, Ice Cube), street MC’s (Rakim, Snoop, 2Pac), conscious MC’s (Common) and various mixtures of these styles and more. Of course, you have MC’s that will straddle multiple styles and subjects, so it’s hard to categorize MC’s as just being one type of MC. 2Pac might talk about pistol whipping someone in one song, and then get political on another, then talk about partying and hoes, then giving respect to women on a different song.

My favorite MC of all time is Masta Ace. When I was in 8th or 9th grade, I got his 1st LP, Take a Look Around, and I was a huge fan, but at the time, there wasn’t really anything that made him stand out to me from others that put out unskippable LP’s. I counted him as one of my favorites, but not my absolute favorite, but that changed for me on Slaughtahouse. First of all, I remember thinking it was forever between his 1st and 2nd albums and was wondering if he would ever put out another one. (When you’re young, time is actually slow and 3 years feels like 10.) What I liked in particular about Ace on the Slaughtahouse LP is that he didn’t cater to the popular themes of 1993, which were guns and weed. He stuck to himself and was one of the few rappers that actually talked about not owning a firearm and not smoking weed, all without being preachy. So, it was his subject matter, which contained a mixture of different topics, including street tales, along with a dope flow and clever lyrics that made Ace my favorite MC, which he still is to this day.

Below this post are some links for a couple mixes I made.

Breaking (The B-Boy)

When I was a kid in the 80’s, break dancing was everywhere. As a white suburban kid that wasn’t quite into the music they called rap yet, I still wanted to break, although I never really took real lessons or anything. To this day, I wish I could break dance, as the ladies appear to love those damn dancing shows and I wouldn’t be able to keep the fine honeys off me if I could pop and lock like my man Boogaloo Shrimp:

As they’re prone to do, movie studios scrambled to capitalize of the new craze and made movies like Breakin’ and, of course, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo .They did the same thing with BMX (Rad) and skateboarding (Gleaming the Cube). There was a great documentary that I saw recently that was about a b-boy competition and it featured a lot of crews from all over the world. If someone knows what that movie was, let us know, because I can’t remember the name and I haven’t had any luck searching online.

Scene from Breakin’ 2 (this is some funny stuff):

Bugaloo Shrimp (aka Turbo from Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2):

Some more old school from Beat Street:

Graffiti (The Graf Artist)

Here’s another thing that I wish I could do. It amazes me how good some people can get at graffiti and other forms of art. Graffitti is extremely creative and artistic if done well. If you don’t know what you’re doing, than don’t try it. Nothing looks dumber than someone just tagging some building because they’re a jack ass. If you have skill, then go for it.

Here’s an example of hip-hop spreading to other nations:

I took that picture in Paris about 3 years ago and it’s a perfect example of how other cultures are embracing hip-hop. You can find hip-hop all around the globe.

A clip from Style Wars:

The DJ

Kool Herc is most often credited as the inventor, for lack of a better word, of rap, or hip-hop as most of us call it now. Along with Grandmaster Flash, he is the archetype for all DJ’s that came after 1980 or so. I think it’s a little harder to say someone is a bad DJ (if they’re known as a DJ and not your cousin or next door neighbor), as opposed to a bad MC.

The DJ seems to be missing from a lot of newer rap artists, which is a shame. Some artists don’t even perform live with a DJ. There really is nothing like seeing a hip-hop show with a live DJ, like the Beasties with Mix Master Mike.

I can’t get enough scratching in my hip-hop and I put a mix at the bottom of some songs that feature some real nice DJ work. Some of them are from well-known DJ’s and some are just real good songs that feature cuts and scratches.

There have been some real good DJ crews as well, such as the X-ecutioners (RIP Roc Raida) and Invisibl Skratch Piklz (w/ Mix Master Mike and Q-Bert). Here are some videos:

Here are a couple videos of Prince Paul at Soundest ‘09. The sound quality is iffy, because I was right next to some giant speakers, but you can get an idea of what it was like. He kicked a lot of old school classics and you can see a laptop, which has also become a staple for modern DJ’s. You can also see the lone female member of the Boo-Yaa Tribe on the right getting her dance on.

This video (below) has the one DJ technique that I don’t like. When they skip the album. I don’t know what it’s called, but I have never cared for it. Paul is doing it to Slick Rick in the beginning and some during the HOP Jump Around remix.

MC Mix

1) Eric B. and Rakim – Microphone Fiend – I couldn’t think of a better way to start a mix focusing on the MC.
2) Big Daddy Kane – Raw (remix) – The title explains exactly what BDK’s flow is on this track. He kicks hardcore battle rhymes over a raw, hardcore beat.
3) Masta Ace – Acknowledge – The diss track has been prevalent throughout hip-hop, and this is one of my favorites from my favorite MC. MA answers Boogieman’s Just You Wait and promises he’s going to make Boogieman his back up dancer.
4) Black Star – Definition – Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s first, and best song, as Black Star. Two top notch MC’s speaking on the state of hip-hop.
5) J-Live – Brooklyn Public, Pt. 1 – One of my favorite underground MC’s from the 00’s. J-Live speaks about characters at a public school, and as a former teacher, he is able to paint a picture of what an inner city public school might be like.
6) Pharoahe Monch – When the Gun Draws – Monch starts the song by rapping from the perspective of a bullet. In the second verse, he speaks on some notable gun deaths.
7) A Tribe Called Quest – Electric Relaxation – Basically, a song about getting freaky. It contains one of my favorite lines of all-time. “I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican and Haitian…”
8) The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy – One of the great MC’s and a song with another of my favorite lines, “Super-Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke man, I couldn’t picture this.” It’s also so hilariously dated.
9) 2Pac feat. Stretch – Pain – This is one of my favorite songs from Pac and it features Stretch, another MC (and producer) that was cut down way too early.
10) Public Enemy – Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos – Chuck D is one of the games most political MC’s ever.
11) Outkast – B.O.B. – A couple of the best MC’s around, and definitely the best to represent the south.
12) Lupe Fiasco – Superstar – Lupe has created some of the best music of any MC over the last couple years.
13) Breez Evahflowin’ – Step This Way – A tight underrated MC, primarily known as a battle rapper.
14) Ghostface Killah feat. Raekwon – Ghost and Raekwon kicking some drug laced rhymes. Of course, everyone from Wu is a dope MC.
15) Jay-Z – Hard Knock Life – Many consider Jay one of the top 10 MC’s of all-time. I’m not sure if I agree with that or not, but he is a great MC.
16) LL Cool J – Bad – This is back when LL could still bring it and this is one of his hardest tracks. I think we’re going to need back-up.
17) Protect Ya Neck – Wu-Tang Clan – Like I said, Wu is full of great MC’s.
18) It Ain’t Hard to Tell – Nas – This is the track that established Nas as one of the greats. He hasn’t always made the best music, and he sometimes struggles with a decent chorus (at least from his 2nd and 3rd LP’s), but he can still bring it from time to time.
19) Jigmastas feat. Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Mr. Complex, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Pharoahe Monch – Lyrical Fluctuation – I threw this track in here because it features Mos, Talib and Monch, along with a few other good MC’s.
20) Atmosphere – Sunshine – Slug is one of the best at just painting a picture, and this is a track that a lot of people outside of the Twin Cities might not have heard. He has one of the dopest flows out there right now as well.
21) Exile feat. Blu – Fly (Song of Liberation) – Blu is definitely one of the best up-and-coming MC’s in the game right now.
22) Ice Cube – Steady Mobbin’ – Cube talking about a day in the hood and taking a dump at his mom’s house.
23) Perceptionists – Black Dialogue – Two dope MC’s that formed a group that will hopefully put out another LP.
24) Xzibit feat. Ras Kass and Saafir – 3 Card Molly – A group that never really happened. There was a time when Ras Kass was considered an MC with a bright future. He was talked about in the same breath as guys like Pac and Biggie, but he had some legal troubles and lost any buzz that he had. Saafir has always had a unique flow and this song is great (much better than bouillon cubes).
25) De La Soul feat DOOM – Rock Co. Kane Flow – Pos and Dave are 2 greats and they’re joined by another dope MC on this track.
26) Beastie Boys feat. Q-Tip – Get It Together – The Beasties with Tip. 4 greats on one track.
27) KRS-One/Marley Marl – Hip-Hop Lives – KRS is still
bringing it and he shows that on this song from his LP with Marley Marl.
28) House of Pain – Back From the Dead – Everlast comes hard on the first track from HOP’s second LP. Reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

DJ/Scratch Mix

1) They Call us Run DMC – Run DMC – RIP JMJ, one of the greats.
2) The Definition – DJ Jazzy Jeff feat. Kel Spencer – A dope track from Jeff’s Return of the Magnificent.
3) Three MC’s and One DJ – Beastie Boys – Mix Master Mike is a phenom on the turntables.
4) Tame Az It Ever Wuz – Tame One – I just love the angry cuts on this song.
5) Run – Schooly D – Schooly was one of those MC’s that used his DJ (DJ Code Money) to great effect. This track is full of cuts.
6) Gold Digger – EPMD – DJ Scratch cutting up one of the greatest groups in hip-hop history.
7) I Got a Love – Pete Rock and CL Smooth – A nice track from the duo’s last album.
8) Brand New Sound – Low Budget – One of the current groups out there that still uses a DJ on pretty much every track. If you don’t know them, check out this duo from Australia.
9) Live On Stage – Dilated Peoples – Dilated always stressed the importance of their DJ, Babu.
10) Get ‘Er Done – Jake One w/ DOOM – Vitamin D on the cuts from Jake One’s solo LP on Rhymesayers.
11) Nas is Like – Nas – This is what to do if you can’t write a chorus. DJ Premier produced, and I imagine, cut up this track as well.
12) Nostalgia – Marco Polo w/ Masta Ace
13) Turn It Out – Wee Bee Foolish
14) On the Road Again – Audio Two
15) What’s the Altitude – Cut Chemist w/ Hymnal – One of Jurassic 5’s DJ’s coming with a great track from his first solo LP.
16) Deathbed Doctrine – Jedi Mind Tricks – JMT always has a few songs with some great DJ work.
17) HalfAnimal – CunninLynguists – One of my favorite groups out there featuring some nice scratching and an Eminem sample.
18) Einstein’s On Stage – Ugly Duckling – Say what you will about UD, but they make some fun tracks and have an old school mentality regarding emceeing and deejaying.
19) Full Clip – Gang Starr – One of those classic groups that almost always used Premo cutting up the 1’s and 2’s.
20) A Glimpse At the Struggle – Mr. Lif – You have to wait, but the last 20-30 seconds feature DJ Fakts One ripping it up.
21) The Mission – Special Ed – I wasn’t a big fan when Ed was on top of the game, and I wasn’t able to find out who his DJ was, but his music featured a lot of DJ work.
22) Mary, Mary – Run DMC – I had to put Run DMC on here once more. JMJ was a beast.
23) UFC Remix – The Mighty Underdogs – This track has some real nice cutting.
24) Three MC’s and One DJ (Live Video Version) – Beastie Boys – this is the live version from the Beasties video and I actually think this is a little better.
25) Reintroducing – Eyedea & Abilities – I haven’t found myself getting into their music that much, but they’re one of those groups right now that actually have a DJ.
26) Travellin’ Man – DJ Honda w/ Mos Def – From DJ Honda’s 2nd LP. Not a whole lot of scratching on this track, but I wanted to get some more DJ-centric songs on here and this is a great song.

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TribeCalledQuest December 14, 2009 at 7:57 am

Rap today is crap. Hip Hop is dead. Sure stuff is out there in the underground, but who has time to search it out. We are continually fed non stop whored out cRap music that has nothing near the original feeling of what made rap and hip hop so great to begin with. The other thing that pisses me off is that every new song has 50 guest artists appearing on it. Look, if you can't make anything on your own, then you got no talent, you shouldn't have a record or be on the radio. All these new rappers ride the coat tails of more prominent rappers cuz on there own they SUCK! Production sucks, lyrics are a pathetic waste of spew. gaa.. I wish we had another Tim Dog to come out and diss all these whored out useless no talent acts. I'm pissed, since I love and grew up with urban music only to watch it become nothing but pure shit.

Tokyo Cigar December 15, 2009 at 3:26 am

YOOOOOOOO!!!!!! You wilding for the Breakin 2 hospital scene joint. Word you crazy for speaking bout "Gleaming the Cube" too. That damn movie almost made me break my damn neck swearing i could skateboard. Dope post

BC December 16, 2009 at 4:05 am

Gleaming the Cube, an underrated classic!

jrrider December 25, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Good work with gleaming the cube. The Bones Brigade was the shit. Great post here I just wanted to add on my favorite DJ solo track that came before the DJ supergroups of now. Just an emcee and the deejay doing their thing. Classic!! Enjoy and Merry Christmas to the whole WYDU Family.

Rodney O & Joe Cooley – Down Goes Another (1989)

BC December 28, 2009 at 4:32 am

Merry (late) Christmas to you as well, JR.

Thanks for the dope track!

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