The Big Guide To Hip Hop Genres Through Time: Part One

Hip Hop is a young genre but its influences go back far. Here’s Part One of our guide to hip hop genres and important movements in the history of hip hop.

Jamaican Dancehall

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One of the earliest movements that hip hop took influences from is Jamaican Dancehall. Between DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Drake, Dancehall has seen a mainstream resurgence in recent years. A lot of elements of hip hop culture saw their earliest iterations in Dancehall. DJ battles, Sound Clashes, were happening in Jamaica as early as the 1950s. The sound was a lot different to what would crop up in New York more than twenty years later but the culture was the same.

Dancehall DJs who began producing their own records were the first to make music dedicated to bassy beats that would please crowds.

Sound Systems are Dancehall’s biggest gift to all future hip hop genres. Sound Systems began as the physical equipment DJs used to play records. Purpose built speaker systems tailored to get the best sound from records. The term eventually came to refer to different groups of DJs and emcees who would perform together. Each Sound System with its own members and individually built equipment.

The Roots of Rap

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The use of spoken word, rhythmic storytelling can be traced back to centuries old techniques of Griots in West Africa. Griots are storyteller who relay history, beliefs and music to people and still exist today. The style influenced work songs used by slaves in the United States which then influenced the development of soul music and eventually, rap.

Coke La Rock, generally thought of as the first MC, has argued in the past that rapping can be found in blues records as early as the twenties.

In Jamaica, Dancehall DJs would recruit Emcees to talk over track. It was always secondary to the music but Emcees like Count Matchuki became celebrities in Jamaica for their renowned jive talking over tracks to pump the crowd up.

Before we could have rap, the world had to move beyond just singing. Jive talking on tracks was used early on by more traditional musicians and this helped it fit into the mainstream better. Sammy Davis Jr used it in some of his tracks after hearing artists like Pigmeat Markham use it. A name like Sammy Davis Jr brought attention to the style.


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When James Brown’s Get On The Good Foot came out, his accompanying dance moves spread like wildfire. People tried to copy him, incorporating splits into their dance moves. Very soon fans wanted to take it further. The gauntlet had been thrown down and a generation of breakdancers, B-Boys and Girls, came up to meet it.

Modern hip hop wouldn’t exist without Breaking culture. B-Boys and Girls were the main audience of artists like Grandmaster Flash and Dj Kool Herc. The DJs who came up in New York in the 70s tailored their sound to make the best tracks for break dancers to get down to. Much like Dancehall in Jamaica, DJs had to innovate how they played records to keep break beats in songs going as long as possible.

This is part one of our guide to the the history of hip hop genres. Stay tuned for part two.