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Station Spotlight: Old School Rap
Old-school hip hop (also spelled old skool) is the earliest commercially recorded hip hop music. It typically refers to music created around 1979 to 1983.
The image, styles and sounds of old-school hip hop were exemplified by figures like Grandmaster Flowers, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Melle Mel, Super-Wolf, West Street Mob, Spoonie Gee, Kool Moe Dee, Busy Bee Starski, Lovebug Starski, The Cold Crush Brothers, Warp 9, T-Ski Valley, Grandmaster Caz, Doug E. Fresh, The Sequence, Jazzy Jay, Rock Steady Crew, and Fab Five Freddy. It is characterized by the simpler rapping techniques of the time and the general focus on the party-related subject matter.
The lyrics were usually not a very important part of old-school rap songs. There were, however, exceptions such as Brother D’s “How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise?” and Kurtis Blow’s “Hard Times” (both released in 1980), which explored socially relevant ideas. The release of The Message in 1982 by Duke Bootee (who did nearly half the rapping and the rest by Melle Mel) and Melle Mel, although released as by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, marked the arrival of hip hop as social commentary, making it possible for future artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A to create an identity based on socially conscious themes in later years. Old-school rappers are widely respected by current hip-hop artists and fans, with many claiming they have contributed to the evolution of hip-hop.
Battle rap was also a part of the old-school hip-hop aesthetic. While discussing battle rapping, Esoteric said, “a lot of my stuff stems from old school hip-hop, braggadocio ethic”. A famous old-school hip hop battle occurred in December 1981, when Kool Moe Dee challenged Busy Bee Starski. Busy Bee Starski’s defeat by the more complex raps of Kool Moe Dee meant that “no longer was an MC just a crowd-pleasing comedian with a slick tongue; he was a commentator and a storyteller”. in the documentary Beef, KRS-One also credits this as creating a shift in rapping.
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