Now a master in his country, hip-hop has grown rapidly to shake a music industry that initially resisted it, while continuing to embody part of American youth.
His date of birth is August 11, 1973.
That day, on the ground floor of a low-rent building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, in the Bronx, one of the five boroughs of New York, a DJ of Jamaican origin, Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, innovates: by spinning the same record on two turntables, he isolates the rhythm and percussion sequences and makes them last in the speakers, prefiguring the "breakbeat", essential component of hip-hop music.
The HLM building in the Bronx in New York where hip-hop was officially born on August 11, 1973. © Peter Kramer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP
"Celebrating 50 years is extraordinary. Because it was all worthless. When we started, nobody wanted to hire a DJ, an MC (Master of Ceremonies) or breakdancers," hip-hop historian Ralph McDaniels, one of the first to film the New York rap scene, told AFP.
August 11, 1973 "was simply a birthday party, but this party marked the beginning of all this," blows the sexagenarian who has kept decades of archives, thousands of hours of images and sounds that he protects to transmit the memory of an era.
Ralph McDaniels, the hip-hop coordinator at the Queens Borough Library in New York on July 13, 2023 © KENA BETANCUR / AFP
In tribute to this August 11 of 50 years ago, DJ Kool Herc will share next Friday the poster of a mega-concert at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the mythical stadium of the eponymous baseball team: are announced other veterans of rap such as Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, the pioneer Roxanne Shanté, but also Lil Kim, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Run DMC.
To commemorate this anniversary, New York is making a number of cultural initiatives flourish throughout the summer: graffiti or breakdance sessions, block parties, concerts...
© KENA BETANCUR / AFP
Last Friday, one of rap's pioneers, Grandmaster Flash, whose real name is Joseph Saddler, gave himself at 65 years old on a stage in a park in the Bronx.
Violent life in New York
Grandmaster Flash played with two former Furious Five bandmates, Miss Mel (Melvin Glover) and Scorpio (Eddie Morris), to recreate the electric climate of the 1970s and 1980s.
American rapper and hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash performs in a park in the Bronx, New York, on August 4, 2023 to mark the 50th anniversary of the birth of this musical © genre ANGELA WEISS / AFP
While life was harsh and violent in New York, hit by poverty, drugs and crime, the first "block parties", parties, were a breath of fresh air for teens and families looking to escape from a difficult reality, including social and racial discrimination, recalls Jerry Gibbs, who grew up in the Bronx.
"I was a kid when it started but I saw how it brought communities together... how DJs made people dance (...) made them forget all their worries and drop out for a party," the 55-year-old rapper who goes by DJ Cool Gee told AFP.
"A lot of hip-hop's greatest artists have had a tough time," McDaniels said, citing Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G. and Nas, who grew up in impoverished New York City ghettos.
"They knew and they understood the people, the families, the smells and everything that happens in the elevators that smell of urine and everything you go through there every day. And they took all that and put it in their records," the historian said.
Jay-Z, a child of Brooklyn, is a former drug dealer in his housing estate. Shawn Corey Carter, his real name, became in the 1990s and 2000s one of the greatest American rappers, then a billionaire businessman at the head of an entertainment empire, Roc Nation.
The rapper, whose titles are commercial triumphs in the bling-bling style of the 2000s, has surrounded himself with producers like Kanye West. Other singers, such as DMX, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, Cardi B, Drake and Nicki Minaj have also become global stars.
Singer Lauryn Hill on stage on May 15, 2017 (top left), rapper Jay-Z in Los Angeles on October 13, 2021 (top right), rapper Ice Spice in Los Angeles on June 25, 2023 (bottom left), and singer Kendrick Lamar in New York City on June 11, 2023 (bottom right) © STRINGER, Chris DELMAS, Michael TRAN, Yuki IWAMURA / AFP/Archives
But despite its dominance, hip-hop remains entrenched in a counterculture in the United States and the painful experience of racism and inequality, experts say.
The Grammy Awards, Oscars of the American music industry, are accused every year of discrimination against African-American artists.
Still, in the age of streaming, the influence of hip-hop is global. It has become a social movement, more than just a style: from music to fashion, from texts to dance.
"People didn't really accept hip-hop, they thought it was going to fail," recalls Paula Farley, 59, who was a child at the first parties in the Bronx.
"Fifty years later, they were made to lie," she said.
© 2023 AFP