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Black History Month – The 1970s

By Perry Timms

The 1970s

 

We move to New York – and all that splendour of districts and areas – for our next look into the music of Black Origin and its links to creativity, unity and a force for good.

 

Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers are rightful inductees to the Dance Music Hall of Fame.

 

The powerhouse behind Chic – a musical ensemble more than a traditional group format – the 1970s is littered with classic Rodgers/Edwards songs like Everybody Dance, Le Freak and Good Times. The discotheque dancefloors of the world were powered by this duo who also wrote and performed for Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and a post-punk Debbie Harry.

 

Yet it was the latter song – Good Times – that heralded an all-new genre around the glitter-balls, lights and tight trousers of the ‘70s.

 

Hip-Hop.

 

Not JUST a musical genre. A total street-based movement. A look, an attitude, new forms of dancing and expression, language and codes, graffiti art, and of course, music.

 

Believed to have originated in the Bronx, NY, the music was different. No bands. DJs. Playing instrumental loops from songs of the past but fused with the new technology of drum machines, and spoken word over the rhythms. This spoken word had a name that is now the denominator of this genre – Rap.

 

Prior to this pioneering artists like Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets took beats and rhymed over them rather than sang in a traditional format. Instead of 3 minutes of a love song, we had 8+ minutes of fast-paced rhymes. The word count was up significantly.

 

The rappers were the MCs – the Master of Ceremonies.

 

And scratching. The act of playing two tracks – of the same record – on each turntable turned this from a music playing device had become its own instrument! A particular loop was scratched by moving the vinyl record back and forth to loop the beat and create a new sound. It become synonymous with hip-hop. DJs and MCs were the new star performers. Not an instrument in sight just a turntable and speakers.

 

Use of technology that we now see us grappling within the AI and automation world removing tasks and work into machines and programmable scripts.

 

Hip-Hop and Rap are now huge in terms of coverage, influence and revenue and has bred its own movie industry, entrepreneurs and millionaires (Dr Dre, Jay-Z being just 2).

 

What’s this got to do with work and anything to do with businesses?

 

Hip Hop was more of a movement than a musical genre so there were codes of belonging. A comradeship (and of course this sometimes went too far and emerged into gang violence) but also created a sense of belonging. To something bigger than your circumstances. To a thing which wanted to give people opportunities no matter their start in life. And escapism – full of dreams, possibilities and a new form of talent that was art-based not just menial labour.

 

Hip-Hop also became a big business. Labels, artists and the fashion industry cottoned onto this and within a few short years, wearing Nike trainers, Fila tracksuits and Kangol hats whilst body-popping and breakdancing in the streets as part of the movement, found their way into mainstream marketing campaigns.

 

And the artists became able to invite big-deal recording contracts, some set up studios and nurtured new talent. Spawning their own fashion labels (Sean Jon and Karl Kani became two iconic labels that spring to mind) Hip-Hop BECAME a business in its own right.

 

Sadly violence, misogyny and homophobia were also found in lyrics and portrayals. Not to mention the use of profanity that spawned the Parental Advisory sticker on vinyl albums and CDs. Hip-Hop is not without some big blemishes and the murders of people involved in the industry (Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G) being two of the most notable, still provide some dark moments in its history.

 

But when we think about changing lives, the portrayal of struggles and memorable moments in musical history we have many that are linked to Hip-Hop.

 

  • The Sugarhill Gang’s sample of Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers’s Good Times bassline. The first real crossover track.

 

  • Public Enemy’s stance on life and struggles. Fight the Power. Rebel Without A Pause. Don’t Believe The Hype. Bring The Noise.

 

  • Eminem’s acceptance into, and rise in standing, in the rap world as a performer of a Caucasian origin.

 

But mostly I remember it for the opening salvos of one song in particular. That owed its being to the vision and creativity and fusion that permeates this genre.

 

Afrika Bambaata and the Soulsonic Force’s Planet Rock. 

 

Owing more to German synth band Kraftwerk than Chic’s basslines. 

 

Symbolising a fantastic departure from musical norms. 

 

Celebrating the birth of a new style of vocalising, dancing and all the associated parts of one of the last big shifts in the musical world.

 

As the lyrics in that burst through the speakers in your minds, it seems fitting to end with this line:

Socialize, get down, let your soul lead the way