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Hip-Hop’s Forgotten Punk Roots

When looking at the start of hip-hop, some genres you may think of that played a role in its sound are genres like soul, funk, jazz and even disco. However, one genre that played a large role in the start of hip-hop that has been somewhat forgotten is punk rock.

When looking at the start of these two genres merging we must first look to New York at that time. New York during the 70s saw a massive punk rock movement. This took place in places like CBGB’s with bands starting there like The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads. But also around that same time in 1974 DJ Kool Herc had created hip-hop in the Bronx. With the creation of hip-hop one of the things that came along with it (as well as being a massive part of the movement) was graffiti art.

Many of these graffiti artists started to gain some traction and a new young scene of artists was starting to take over. Some members of this movement were artists like Keith Haring, Futura 2000, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab Five Freddy. The most important man for the merging of hip-hop and punk is Fab Five Freddy and he almost deserves an article all for himself.

Fab Five Freddy was a massive hip-hop fan who grew up in Brooklyn and would become a regular of a downtown art scene for graffiti artists. When mingling with this crowd he would introduce artists like Keith Haring to new Hip-Hop DJ’s like Afrika Bambaataa where he would start to DJ parties for Haring. In Bambaataa’s words he stated that the downtown punk scene would be on of the first areas that really embraced hip-hop. More DJ’s would start to DJ downtown like Grandmaster Flash and NYU punk kids started to love it.

Around this time Fab Five Freddy would meet Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie and introduce them to this new genre starting up. After seeing Grandmaster Flash DJ and groups like Funky Four Plus One perform Blondie loved it. They loved it so much they decided to make the song “Rapture” in 1981 where Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash were forever immortalized with the line ” Fab Five Freddy told me everybody’s fly, DJ spinnin’ I said my my, Flash is fast Flash is cool”. Rapture was a massive hit and was actually the first ever song with a rap verse to go number one (The video also had a young Jean-Michel Basquiat act as Grandmaster Flash on turntables). This song was also apart of one of the songs that got me into Hip-Hop “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” when Grandmaster Flash used his shoutout for the intro. Debbie Harry would also host SNL in 1981 and the musical guest she picked to play was Funky Four Plus One (the group they first saw rap) which became the first hip-op act to perform on national television.

Another group that would fall in love with the new genre and embrace it was punk rock group The Clash. The Clash came to New York around this time and started to love hip-hop so when they did a 8-night run of shows in New York they chose Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to open for them. Apparently the fans did not enjoy it and Joe Strummer would have come out and get angry at the crowd. The Clash would also release a Hip-Hop/disco inspired song called “The Magnificent Seven” which gained significant play from Hip-Hop DJ’s at the time and actually predated Blondie’s “Rapture”.

This merge of the two genres would cause many significant artists to start their careers. For example Beastie Boys first started out as a punk group and would then move to hip-hop. Chuck D of Public Enemy stated that The Clash song “Magnificent Seven” heavily inspired him to take a more punk rap approach to Hip-Hop. Groups like Rage Against the Machine would also dawn a punk rap image.

Punk and hip-hop together made perfect sense due to both genres having an underground feel and both having an anti-establishment outlook. Many artists for generations after would take on the punk rap aesthetic and the merge would even remain to this day with many new artists having a very punk rap feel like JPEGMafia, Denzel Curry, Playboi Carti, Death Grips and many more.

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