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    The Life and Death of Hiphop Beatdigging

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    Early Hiphop: The Inception

    The place: Bronx, NY. The year: 1973. Gang wars were in full swing, crime was rampant, and a man named Kevin Donovan, member of the Black Spades gang, made somewhat of a mecca to the nation of Africa.

    Months later, Donovan returned to the Bronx a.k.a. ‘Little Vietnam’ as Afrika Bambaataa and began organizing his former gang the Black Spades into a movement called the Zulu Nation. The impact of this group would turn the gang-ridden streets of the Bronx River Houses into a unified neighborhood bleeding of culture.

    As with many scientific breakthroughs, the Hip hop ‘scratch’ was created on accident. It happened when Theodore Livingston, a.k.a. Grand Wizard Theodore, was found blasting music on his record player by his mother. As she stood in the doorway reprimanding him, Theodore held the record with one hand, preventing it from spinning.

    That was when he took notice of a strange and new sound – a rhythmic sound similar to a drum set. After his mother left, Grand Wizard Theodore experimented with it before introducing the scratch at a community party later that week.

    In the early years, Hip hop was largely competition based. DJs would go so far as to cover the labels of their records to prevent others from seeing what they were using.

    The repetitiveness of the single, foundational beat in any given Hip hop song can be credited to DJ Kool Herc. His contribution to Hip hop was to take the most interesting or danceable section of a song and loop it in order to give the breakdancers a chance to perform.

    This idea very well might have been inspired by who is deemed the “Godfather of Hiphop”, James Brown. Records such as “The Funky Drummer” and “Papa’s Gotta Brand New Bag” have given inspiration for the energy that a lot of the early Hip hop fed off of.

    DJing began to gain national exposure with the featuring of Grand Master DXT on Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” performance. This crossover of genres added a new dimension to the Jazz music.

    In 1980 the Sugar Hill Gang released the first ever all-rap record under the title “Rappers Delight.” Before it, rappers (or MCs) had been the ones to take the backseat to DJs; speaking over the microphone only to tell party-goers that their cars were illegally parked or their mothers were telling them to come home.

    After it, Hip hop would become a worldwide enterprise.

    The Golden Era

    D.I.T.C. (Lord Finesse, Diamond D, Showbiz specifically), The Beatminerz as well as DJ Premier and Pete Rock can be credited with being some of the most influential beatdiggers / producers of the early to mid nineties, also known as the golden age of Hiphop.

    Songs like “T.R.O.Y” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth and “Above the Clouds” by Gangstarr and have set the bar for the quality of a Hip hop beat. These songs have a sound quality that is absent from much of the albums today… the way the drums sound so real that in listening it almost feels as though you are at a live concert… the manner in which the samples have a crisp and undeniable tonal quality.

    Another notable record is the 1997 released album “Endtroducing” by DJ Shadow. The album’s make up is the majority record samples, but interestingly enough many of the songs have been used in movies and television shows. Since it’s release, many DJs have attempted to do similar stand-alone instrumental albums, most notably RJD2’s Deadringer and Prefuse 73’s Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives.

    It should also be noted that there are even more distinctions between beat diggers. While one beatmaker might only use first edition releases of a record, another might go so far as to sample from a CD when unable to find a particular piece of vinyl. Many purists think of this as cheating, and consider it as a detriment to the culture of Hip hop.

    Present Day Hip hop

    The late 90s saw a drastic change for Hip hop as the music changed from being largely sample based to synthesizers and keyboards. This change came due to a number or copyright lawsuits from the artists and their record labels that were being sampled.

    The denial of sample usage began in 1991, when record executives became savvy to the fact that they could gain residual income from rappers using their music. After this, no one would be able to slay the giant of copyright infringement without a relatively big wallet.

    Rap groups such as Public Enemy and Gangstarr were severely hurt by the new laws. When comparing their first album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” to “Fear of a Black Planet”, a definite change can be heard, specifically in the number of sampled parts used in the song.

    One lawsuit that did manage to lend some credibility to sampling came with the Beastie Boys being sued by James Newton for their use of his song “Choir” on their track “Pass the Mic.” The judge ruled that the Beastie Boys had obtained sufficient rights to the six-second flute stab in question prior to its usage, and all charges were dismissed.

    Artists such as Puff Daddy (now known as Diddy) paved the way for an even greater commercialization of Hip hop music. And while much of the music has strayed from it’s Hip hop culture, many artists still do a decent job of remaining true it. Below is a listing of essentials from the last decade for any fan of Hip hop records.

    RJD2 -Deadringer
    Jay Z -Blueprint
    Dr. Dre – 2001
    Madvillain – Madvillainy
    Kanye West – College Dropout
    Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein
    El-P – Fantastic Damage
    Dead Prez – Let’s Get Free
    Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele
    Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx II
    Common – Like Water for Chocolate

    These records prove that beat digging and sampling are not dead, and never will be. The amount of red tape that must be cut might be greater, it’s true, but it is necessary in order for Hip hop to return to the art form that it once was.

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