A Brief History Lesson in Hip Hop: What’s in a Name?

Photo credit: Arnes.si


As a cultural movement, Hip Hop has been around since the 1970s but it wasn’t given it’s name until the early 80s. Legend has it that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins originally coined the phrase in 1978 when teasing a friend that had recently joined the army. He told his friend that his days of freedom were finished and began to march on stage, chanting the words “hip/hop/hip/hop”. Needless to say that the bit went down well with the crowd.

It was after this little stunt that Cowboy and DJ Lovebug Starski played with the idea backstage. Starski told the journalist Peter Scholtes, “I’d say the ‘hip,’ he’d say the ‘hop.’ And then he stopped doing it, and I kept doing it.” The two played with variations on the words at gigs until they eventually worked their way into The song “Rappers Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang: “I said a hip, hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop”

It wasn’t until 1981 that the term “Hip Hop” was immortalized in print. Journalist Steven Hager penned an article for The Village Voice on a youth movement that was displacing gang violence through the use of dance, art, style and music. The article followed Afrika Bambaataa, former leader of The Black Spades gang and was titled: “Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip-Hop.”

Years later when asked during a lecture at Cornell University, why he chose “Hip Hop” to define the movement that he had helped to create, Bambaataa said:

“Well, I chose the name ‘hip-hop’ because of the cliches brothers was using in their rhymes- Love Bug Starski and Keith Cowboy from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five,” he said. “And I liked the sound of what they were saying. And when the media come to speak to me- cause we could have called it ‘the go-off’, ‘the boyoyoing,’ the ‘scat rap’ and all that type- but I liked that sound.”

“I said, “This is hip and when you feel that music you gotta hop to it, so that’s when we called it ‘hip-hop.'” 

[Source CuePoint]