Historic Alliances Between Hip-Hop and Punk (Lemon Wire, 04/24/2017)

The earliest formation of what could be called a genuine punk movement (as opposed to earlier protopunk groups such as the MC5, New York Dolls, and the Stooges) began in Manhattan around 1974/75, revolving around a venue circuit of run-down bars like the CBGB. It came out of a working class movement of young people who were tired of the pretensions of arena rock and disco, a music culture that put music-making out of the hands of regular folk. So, when the Ramones, arguably the most influential punk band of all time, picked up their instruments and leather jackets in 1975, not a single one of them could really play their instruments.

Around the same time, DJ Kool Herc was spinning records at parties in the Bronx. He had been doing this for a bit already, his parties highly popular for his eclectic and niche taste in music- Herc would play the best dance music of the time, putting down records ranging from live James Brown records to Edgar Winter singles. After he started getting gigs DJ’ing Bronx clubs, he made a discovery that was potentially one of the most important in music history- he could set up the same record on two turntables, and loop the break-beat section of records. This process would be refined by Grandmaster Flash, who invented DJ’ing as we know it today, and by 1977, the Bronx had a holy trinity of DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa spinning records in the underground. This early hip-hop scene mirrored the rebellious spirit and do-it-yourself attitude of the punk culture across the river.

By the late 70’s/early 80’s, after the Sugar Hill Gang had put out “Rapper’s Delight,” hip-hop groups were looking to expand out of the Bronx and into Manhattan, but the disco clubs wouldn’t have them. This was how first contact was made between the two genres- Grandmaster Flash had a friend who booked shows in Manhattan and was able to get Flash booked in the most unlikely of places- the punk bars. As it turned out, the punks were all about any music that was out of the norm and rebellious. Reportedly, Blondie was at this first show, and told Flash that she was going to write a song about him.

Not long after, in 1981, Blondie put out the single Rapture, which had the first video on MTV to ever feature rapping. One can see the influence on Flash and the Furious 5- in the video for “The Message,” released in 1982, Melle Mel can be seen sporting a very punk-esque outfit, complete with studded leather armbands.

This expansion of Hip-Hop into Manhattan led one punk to fall in love with hip-hop- Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam records. Rubin produced several of Hip-Hop’s early records, and signed monolithic artists such as LL Cool J and Public Enemy. He was also responsible for pushing the Beastie Boys away from hardcore punk and into the realm of Hip-Hop.