Whose Idea Was It?
Pioneering hip-hop DJs drew from their parent’s records, disco DJs’ experimental performance techniques, Jamaican sound systems and bass and drum heavy music, and B-girl and B-boys’ passionate dancing. DJs Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, and GrandWizzard Theodore each contributed to the development of some now iconic aspects of hip-hop: Herc’s massive bass-heavy sound system; Bambaataa’s mixing selections of songs and sounds; Flash’s physical manipulation of records, quick-mixing, and peek-a-boo system; and Theodore’s “scratch.” Their innovations created more than music—they defined what was possible for DJs to do, and DJs became mentors, neighborhood celebrities, and sources of inspiration.
Why Here? Why Now?
1970s Bronx was a culturally rich community of African Americans, Europeans, and people from Spanish- and English-speaking Caribbean nations. It was also economically and physically devastated. This circumstance made the Bronx the right environment for the invention of hip-hop. The residents’ diverse musical traditions influenced the sound of hip-hop, while the urban landscape provided the raw materials for its technical innovations. DJs used their family’s sound systems, or parts of them, or mined the Bronx’s abandoned buildings, cars, and streets for components they needed to craft the “best” sound system. Neighborhood spaces like parks, community rooms, and schools became their stage.
How Was It Invented?
The first generation of hip-hop artists were true innovators. “The equipment wasn’t made for what we wanted to do with it,” DJ Baby D of the Mercedes Ladies remembered, “so we urbanized it.” Thanks to their electrical skills and creativity, used, scavenged, and inexpensive turntables, speakers, and components were re-worked, re-imagined, and re-wired in ways never seen before. The transformed equipment was paired with newly created techniques for manipulating records. The result was a system that made—not just played—a new kind of music. The sound system modifications of hip-hop DJs were eventually adopted by manufacturers and became standards for contemporary DJing equipment.