Hip Hop's Early Influences

Featured Essay

In the music they played and created, early rap DJs and MCs, who started by throwing parties in the Bronx, were part of a long line of music and oratorical traditions that profoundly affected the development of hip hop. The richness of African American and diasporic cultures, the mix of vocal techniques and storytelling traditions from those cultures, and the fluidity and ease with which early rap artists moved among musical styles all combined to launch a new form of expression for young men and women in New York City in the 1970s, which became hip hop as we know it today. All these influences and events together bring to hip hop a diversity not often acknowledged by the music's critics, but well understood by its admirers.

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Photo Essay

Gil Scott-Heron. Photograph by Giacomino Parkinson.

A great number of different people contributed to the birth of hip hop, most especially R&B, funk, soul, jazz, and rock and roll performers and musicians. Outside of music, individuals who significantly influenced the art form include poets and writers like Iceberg Slim, spoken-word pioneers like Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets, and stylistic forebears like Muhammad Ali and Richard Pryor. Using images and text, Jason Miller and Anthony Aiello discuss several key people whose work provided material and direction for the DJs and other artists who invented hip hop.

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Featured Articles

The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn about early influences on the development of hip hop. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

Subject Entries

Biographies