The Rise of Hip Hop Music in the 1970s

Hip hop music emerged during the ’70s as a means for black youth to escape harsh circumstances they faced in everyday life.

At this point, the Sugar Hill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight”, an immensely successful song that quickly spread through radio waves.

At about the same time, breaking was developed as a dance style to add some zest to block parties.


In the 1970s, an urban dance-party movement marked by turntables and percussion began to blossom in its marginalized areas. Young people experimented with new ways of spinning records and dancing – in addition to creating poetry, visual art, and other forms of self-expression that revealed their feelings – until all its elements coalesced into one culture called hip hop.

Hip hop’s roots lie in early African American block party music in the Bronx. DJs such as Kool Herc invented break beats – an innovative form of DJing whereby DJs isolated percussion parts from funk songs to create an all-night dance party soundtrack – for DJing at block parties in this way. Additionally, MCs or rappers as they became known would talk over these tracks with syncopated spoken accompaniment that often rhymed.

The call-and-response and instrumental breaks provided by MCs encouraged young dancers to improvise a style known as breaking. A form of acrobatic dance, it soon evolved into competitions between artists across boroughs and countries and eventually even world wide competition.

Hip hop lyrics of that time often focused on social issues and neighborhood problems; unlike more conventional rock and pop music of its era, gangsta rap was known for depicting violent environments with frequent gunshots, drug deals, and racial tensions.

Sugarhill Gang’s song, “Rapper’s Delight,” which quickly hit national charts in 1979 was an influential catalyst that catapulted hip hop onto a much wider stage and gave rise to several influential musical artists, such as Run-D.M.C, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Beastie Boys.

Early DJs

The 1970s marked a period of great social and musical change. One significant development occurred when rappers started using beats as the basis of their rapping, leading to hip hop being recognized as a music genre. Artists like Afrika Bambaata, Grandmaster Flash and RUN DMC helped spread this new sound through mainstream culture.

Hip hop’s foundational elements were first established in the Bronx borough during the early 1970s, such as deejaying (record spinning), emceeing (emceeing a scripted speech), breaking (dance element), and graffiti art. All were designed to channel youthful energy away from troublesome areas and toward creative activities that encouraged fun rather than violence.

DJ Kool Herc was instrumental in the formation of hip hop. He revolutionized record playing at parties by selecting only the best parts from each song and layering on percussion breaks from other records; and encouraging dance moves that became the basis of hip hop culture.

Pete DJ Jones and Grandmaster Flowers perfected their skills and devised methods of their own for seamlessly transitioning between records at these dance parties. DJ Jones used a mixer without cueing system; using his stylus needle over record grooves allowed him to “read” their grooves for smooth and steady beats.

Graffiti artists of the ’70s were drawn to the raw energy and freedom of the streets as their canvas; blank walls or subway tunnels often served as canvases of choice for these street artists’ works ranging from simple block lettering to more elaborate, sexually explicit illustrations.


The 1970s witnessed the beginnings of hip hop production techniques and expression. Rapping and DJing would soon become three of the four elements comprising hip hop; graffitiing would round out this formative period in its development.

The Last Poets were an early precursor of rap music. Clive Campbell (better known as DJ Kool Herc) hosted what is regarded as the first hip hop party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx on March 3, and used two turntables to loop percussive sections from songs to create a break beat that allowed MCs to rhyme over. This allowed for rhythm that stood apart from rock music genres.

Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, who had been heavily influenced by Herc’s idea, began experimenting with rapping over record breaks. These MCs delivered serious social messages through exuberant rhymes while drawing inspiration from civil rights movement marches in their rhymes; their musical genre also coincided with the beginnings of Black Arts Movement.

Graffiti artists and break dancers helped pioneer hip hop culture. Graffiti artists and break dancers contributed significantly to its momentum; particularly, the b-boy movement played an instrumental role during this era; breakers would select specific songs to break to and wait until part with powerful beats and energy had the most exciting beats before breaking them.

They dubbed this style the “x factor,” adopting moves inspired by Mambo and contemporary soul. Soon enough, this movement morphed into “rocking,” which involved competing b-boys against one another for power dance competitions known as power dancing contests – eventually becoming known as the b-boy style of breaking.


The 1970s witnessed hip hop’s musical and lyrical development from rhythmic chanting to poetic metaphorical expression, thanks to artists like DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kurtis Blow creating songs with both punchy rhythms and innovative lyrics – these changes helped transform hip hop into an international phenomenon.

Afrika Bambaataa was an ex-gang member who used his people skills, extensive record collection, and sound system to organize the first hip hop dance parties. These leave-your-colors-at-home block parties weren’t for money or control purposes but rather served to dismantle Bronx gang structures while uniting people in peace and unity – these events served as precursors to what would later become massive dance festivals and rap cyphers that came to define hip hop’s famed cultural phenomenon.

Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” released in 1979 and becoming one of the most beloved rap songs at that time. Its upbeat tempo and fun lyrics made it one of the most beloved rap tunes at that time; its popularity allowed young MCs who never imagined they’d make it big to see how following their passion, such as rapping, could lead to big rewards.

Kurtis Blow’s holiday-themed hit, “It’s Christmas,” combined the spirit of Christmas with emerging hip hop rhythms to become an instant classic. This track provided a refreshing update on traditional Yuletide tales while setting hip hop’s rise as an influential genre within America’s ears and hearts.

Public Enemy’s “The Message” demonstrated how hip hop music could address social issues while maintaining its beat and flow. Though they initially disbelieved that anyone would listen to a song that addressed poverty, crime, and inner city living; its popularity proved otherwise and it continues to play on radio stations today.


The 1970s were an era of experimentation, defiance and cultural revolution. Hip hop’s young artists responded to harsh conditions by finding innovative ways to connect with and contribute to society – graffiti writing was just one form of self-expression among others such as rap music and break dancing that came to represent four pillars of hip hop that continue to inspire young people and others to find their creative voices and express ourselves freely in unique ways.

Hip hop’s early practitioners took inspiration from Jamaican reggae’s party-focused beats and rhyme schemes and applied them to New York City neighborhoods plagued with crime, giving voice to black, Puerto Rican and Latino communities living within its urban confines. The result: an emerging art form which provided a platform to share personal experiences among its communities.

DJ Kool Herc pioneered a music playback technique known as breakbeat deejaying, which would become the cornerstone of hip hop. His technique involved isolating breaks from funk and rock songs containing percussion-based sections best suited for dancing–known as breaks – then replaying them to create all-night dance parties. Herc also added announcements and exhortations along with spoken announcements in what came to be known as “rapping.” Dancers responding to Herc’s call-and-response were known as breakdancers or b-boys/girls

Hip hop producers later evolved, producing their own sounds instead of relying on samples of commercially released songs for use. To avoid the high costs associated with clearing sampled material for use in songs, this move led producers to produce their own sounds rather than use samples from commercial releases to save costs in clearing samples for use in songs. While this altered its sound significantly, rappers were forced to write lyrics with greater depth of meaning and thought; Grandmaster Flash, one of hip hop’s premier lyricists, broke free from this limitation with his track “The Message.”