Jun 29, 2023 - Things to Do

Essence Fest is honoring 50 years of hip-hop: Here's how the genre was shaped

Photo shows DJ Kool Herc, the father of hip-hop, sitting on a leather couch and holding a sign that says "Hip Hop Blvd."

DJ Kool Herc, the father of hip-hop, attends The Source Magazine's 360 Icons Awards Dinner at the Red Rooster on Aug. 16, 2019, in Harlem, New York. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

The Essence Festival of Culture is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, with thematic art installations and fashion, beauty and food events, plus nightly headline performances inside the Caesars Superdome.

Why it matters: Hip-hop started at a party in the Bronx and has evolved into one of the most popular mainstream music genres.

  • "Hip-hop is the whole music industry right now. … Hip-hop influenced the whole world,” Grammy-winning artist Timbaland told Axios' Hope King.

State of play: Jonathan Abrams recently captured the genre's story in his book, "The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-hop," writes Axios' Delano Massey.

Zoom out: The book leaves you debating about the true titans of hip-hop, who belong in the halls of history and which contributions really moved the needle. But it also acknowledges the role that racism, poverty and even gangs played in shaping the culture that is hip-hop,

  • East Coast: "The Come Up" dives headfirst into the birthplace of hip-hop, leading with Clive “Kool Herc” Campbell who is seen as the father of hip-hop. His street parties, equipped with breakdancers and the latest hits, were legendary and necessary as the Bronx was essentially mired in poverty and the Black and Brown community needed an outlet.
  • West Coast: Hip-hop made its way across the rest of the country during the 1980s, landing in Los Angeles and making its way to radio airwaves, skating rinks and clubs. DJ Alonzo Williams, who found his passion and some inspiration in Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin'” and The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” started the World Class Wreckin’ Cru featuring DJ Yella and Dr. Dre.
  • The South: By the 1990s, the South began curating its own talent, especially in Atlanta. The 1995 Source Awards largely focused on the East Coast/West Coast beef brewing with Puff Daddy and the Notorious B.I.G. and Dre, Snoop, Tupac and Suge Knight. But Andre 3000 of Outkast reminded folks that “the South got something to say.” It did, and Houston, Louisiana and Florida soon came onto the scene.
  • The Midwest: The flyover states felt neglected around this same time, and developed their own sound in places like Chicago, where Kanye West and Common held court, Eminem was making noise in Detroit and Nelly was cranking out hits while putting St. Louis on the hip-hop map.

Go deeper: The history of hip-hop.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about Essence Fest in New Orleans.


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