Fifty years ago, hip-hop music emerged in the Bronx, New York, in August 1973. Cindy Campbell, a Jamaican immigrant girl, orchestrated a fashionable soirée to generate revenue from ticket sales, enabling her to acquire new attire and enhance her allure before the commencement of the school year. The musical accompaniment for the dance extravaganza was curated by her brother, Cliff. The event took place in the public hall of their residential building, with their parents temporarily assuming the role of custodians.
The so-called DJ or “disc jockey” served as the precursor to the hip-hop rapper. In Jamaica, the homeland of Cindy and Cliff during their formative years, the host of dance scenes would emulate the radio show DJ and engage in discourse with the audience. The more they conversed, the more it evolved into a form of performance intertwined with music. Cliff adopted the moniker DJ Kool Herc. As he played music at dance parties, he fervently exhorted the audience, kindling the atmosphere. Although his exclamations had not yet ventured into the realm of rap, a loquacious acquaintance would soon assume that role—a bona fide rap persona.
The Campbell family’s dance extravaganza incited a sensation among local adolescents due to Cliff’s distinctive approach to music compared to conventional dance hall DJs. Cliff discovered that the most captivating and popular segments of songs were not the vocal portions; rather, it was the instrumental segments that enticed the dancers. Consequently, he extracted the instrumental sections with rhythmic beats from various songs and played them consecutively. Additionally, the funk music he incorporated proved more appealing to black teenagers than the disco tunes commonly played in dance halls. This innovative style garnered widespread acclaim and gradually propagated.
The aforementioned account provides a general historical narrative outlining the ascent of hip-hop music. Although hip-hop subsequently proliferated across diverse regions and spheres, assuming various styles, it retained certain shared characteristics. Notably, it engenders a mode wherein DJs articulate or sing in synchronization with the music, vociferating or addressing specific subjects or individuals. The lyrics of black hip-hop rap frequently brim with references to their own lives, employing a plethora of slang and vernacular expressions, characterized by improvisation and heightened contextual responsiveness. Such musical conversations or orations serve to convey a rebellious attitude, evoke intense emotions, or assert one’s stance and capabilities within the community. In essence, hip-hop serves as a social medium.
The second characteristic entails eschewing the conventional approach of organizing bands for live performances, instead employing machinery such as record turntables, samplers, mixers, synthesizers, and the like to modify and arrange existing musical fragments, thereby generating songs. When Cliff commenced his foray into hip-hop in 1973, he incorporated snippets from the most popular funk music of the time, including excerpts from songs by James Brown and Jimmy Custer. Brown’s backing vocals, in particular, harmonized exceptionally well with hip-hop, cementing his status as perhaps the most extensively sampled artist in hip-hop over the subsequent five decades.
Arguably, in the era of digital social media, hip-hop has evolved into the most pervasive genre of global popular music due to its distinct social media fabric and its status as a technological byproduct of the digital age. However, hip-hop presently remains reliant on the performance and creativity of flesh-and-blood individuals. Yet, might this paradigm be supplanted in the era of AI?
In April of this year, a topic that captivated hip-hop enthusiasts revolved around the sudden release of a song generated by AI. This composition featured the AI-generated voices of renowned singers Drake and The Weeknd, which, at first listen, bore an uncanny resemblance to reality. Moreover, the two singers, who had long been rumored to be at odds, unexpectedly collaborated on this new track. The lyrics even alluded to their past romantic entanglements, thereby fueling ample discussion. Regrettably, the song was swiftly withdrawn from circulation due to copyright infringement disputes.
Hip-hop creation has perpetually relied on the utilization of preexisting music. How should we navigate the realms of AI “sampling” and “generation” in the present era? In this epoch where everything is being transformed into data, the concept of “respect,” frequently espoused by hip-hop artists, undeniably assumes a prominent position on the technological stage.