The Golden Era of East Coast Hip-Hop

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The Golden era of east coast hip-hop

This piece will demonstrate an understanding of the golden era of East coast hip-hop, from 1986 to 1993, focusing and analysing the historical roots, influences and inspirational individuals, giving reference to musical examples that shaped East coast hip-hop. Attention will also be centred on the legacy left, concentrating on the music that was influenced as well as the resulting change in fashion and political views.

Historical roots & influence

The East coast was influenced somewhat by the traditions of West African culture, the Griots dating back hundreds of years who travelled as poets and lyricists, contributed greatly to the lyricism of East coast hip-hop; the music of the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron and Jalal Mansur Nurriddin, had great importance to the development of east coast hip hop with their early raps and rhythm. The furthermost direct influence on East coast hip-hop was the Jamaican style of ‘Toasting’, which consisted of chanting over African American R&B records. African American sailors introduced Toasting’ in the 1960s at dances termed ‘Blues dances’, whilst in port.

The advent of Hip-hop culture can be traced back to the ever more widespread block parties of New York City (1973), where a cross cultralization of African Americans and Puerto Ricans began in the South Bronx. These block parties mostly comprised of DJs playing vernacular genres such as soul, funk and disco, DJ Kool Herc amongst them, was credited with the development of East coast hip-hop, his technique of isolating the ‘break’ from a hard hitting funk track and extending it by using two copies of the same record became very popular. He emigrated to America (1967) from Jamaica bringing with him the already popular DJ style of break-beat mixing used in Jamaican Dub music. He encouraged B-boying or break-dancing, which became part of the four elements of hip-hop culture (B-boying, rap, graffiti and Djing), he introduced a generation of sampling, which was extensively used in 80s hip-hop whilst creating a generation of Djs and influencing artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaatta and DJ Premier. 

Gangs had great influence on the evolution of East coast hip-hop culture, from guarding equipment, security for Djs, to collecting money off the doors of parties. Afrika Bambaatta once head of the largest gang in New York, the Black Spades, managed to create one the largest movements in hip-hop culture, the Zulu Nation. This hip-hop awareness group began organizing social events for the youths of New York, merging the main the four elements of hip-hop, B-boying, graffiti, rapping and Dj mixing to create a place of unity and peace, where issues could be settled without violence and where the youth could socialize, as well as promoting black power. Bambaatta had great effect on the growth of hip-hop culture; one very influential piece he produced was Planet rock (1982), which became one of the most ever sampled and remixed tracks in hip-hop. The influence from Kraftwerk is apparent throughout; the melody from the Trans-Europe express (1977) is used as well as their style of synthetic drums and rhythms. Arthur Baker, the producer, set a blueprint for future producers by the use of the Roland TR-808.

Distinctive elements & individuals

In divergence to many early raps, which utilized basic rhyme patterns, East coast can be defined by its emphasis on poetic skill; it may also be characterized by its intricate wordplay, metaphors, polysyllable rhymes and smooth conveyance, production may be perceived as ‘hard hitting’, aggressive and mainly sample driven, as seen in Dj Premier’s iconic production. A major influential duo in East coast rap was Eric B & Rakim, who made sampling James Brown the main basis of hip-hop in the late 80s and early 90s. The duo saw their debut with the single Eric B is president (1986), which consisted of Rakim’s notable laidback vocal style and Eric...
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