Hip Hop began as an underground movement in New York in the 1970s. People began combining Jamaican and West African traditions with American funk music. Hip hop emerged and people embraced the new music form. Eventually, it broke into the mainstream as high profile rock and pop artists incorporated the style into their music. The key moment occurred during the 1977 blackout when looters raided stores for turntables and other equipment. In the wake, hip hop exploded on New York streets.
Disc jockeys began the early hip hop music at South Bronx house parties. DJ Kool Herc is credited with launching the movement. In short order, others copied his style and hip hop parties popped up all over the Bronx. Herc adapted Jamaican customs to modern music. In particular, reciting poetry over a music bed. West African folk poets, or griots, also inspired early rap. Additionally, Herc isolated song beats for dancing.
By the late seventies, rapped filled the New York streets. MCs battled one another at playgrounds and street corners. Gangs began competing against one another rather than fighting. However, the contests needed speakers, microphones, and turntables. Few participants and fans of the new genre had the money to purchase the equipment. The summer of 1977 changed the dynamic.
On July 13, 1977, lightning struck an electrical substation on the Hudson River. A second strike resulted in the loss of power at the Indian Point nuclear facility. The two strikes overwhelmed New York’s electrical grid, further strikes followed, and most of the city went dark. The blackout lasted about 24 hours and New Yorkers made use of the time. Looters and vandals struck 31 neighborhoods. Electronic stores were specifically targeted. New DJs and MCs appeared on the streets in the weeks and months following the blackout.
The new equipment helped spread Hip Hop’s popularity throughout New York and beyond. The Sugarhill Gang scored a hit with “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. Most Americans associated the tune with disco or as a passing fad. Two years later, the rock group Blondie incorporated a rap into their hit, “Rapture.” The song became the first “rap” song to hit #1. In 1982, Grandmaster Flash released “The Message”, which received airplay on MTV. The genre continued to gain in popularity and evolve before exploding into the mainstream with Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer in the late 1980s.
Hip Hop emerged on the Bronx streets in the 1970s. The genre dominated New York by the end of the decade and emerged into American culture in the 1980s. A number of lightning strikes in 1977 helped the movement along. Without the New York blackout, the genre might have plateaued and faded without breaking into the mainstream. However, looters enjoyed an early Christmas and MCs emerged all over New York to later inspire and influence the culture at large.