August 11th is a big day for the hip-hop community, especially here in New York City—that's because on August 11, 1973, hip-hop as we know it was born during a basement party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. And now, just like Jane Jacobs, Jim Henson, and, uh, Gumby, the genesis of rap has been commemorated with a delightful Google Doodle.
Featuring graffiti-style block letters and vinyl records, Google's new animation features the legendary Fab 5 Freddy retelling the story of DJ Kool Herc mixing soul and funk records in that now-famous Sedgwick basement and finishes with an interactive set of turntables (complete with crossfader) that lets you chop, scratch, and blend music like the early DJs of hip-hop.
Google explained how the new chopped-and-screwed doodle came to life (complete with early drafts and graffiti sketches) in an extensive post, while YouTube Global Head of Music (and former Def Jam Records executive) Lyor Cohen explained why today is a sacred hip-hop holiday:
Today we acknowledge and celebrate a cultural revolution that's spanned 44 years and counting. It all started in the NYC Bronx... Following the fallout from the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway in 1972 that demolished a lot of the neighborhood, times were particularly tough. The youth needed an outlet - a unifying sound, a beat, a voice to call their own. The Bronx DJ’s and MC’s rose to the task and the city loved them for it.
Hip Hop was accessible. A kid with little means and hard work could transform their turntable into a powerful instrument of expression (also illustrating hip hop’s technical innovation). Starting with folks like DJ Kool Herc, DJ Hollywood, and Grandmaster Flash, the grassroots movement created a new culture of music, art, and dance available to the 5 boroughs of the city and beyond.
Hip Hop was also rebellion against several norms of the time, including the overwhelming popularity of disco, which many in the community felt had unjustly overshadowed the recent groundbreaking works of James Brown and other soul impresarios from the 60’s. Specifically, they felt that the relatable storytelling and emotional truths shared in soul and blues had been lost in the pop-centric sounds of Disco. So Hip Hop recaptured that connection, beginning with the pioneers who brought back the evocative BOOM! BAP! rhythms of James Brown's drummer, Clyde Stubblefield.
It should be noted that early Hip Hop stood against the violence and drug culture that pervaded the time. My dear friend & first client Kurtis Blow once said “On one side of the street, big buildings would be burning down…while kids on the other side would be putting up graffiti messages like, 'Up with Hope. Down with Dope,' 'I Will Survive' and 'Lord, Show Me the Way!’”. The messages of resilience unified a community of people and were the backdrop of hip hop’s beginnings.
You can watch Google's animated hip-hop history lesson below, but you'll need to head over to their homepage if you want to flex on the turntables yourself.