Hip Hop music. Who remembers Willie Wood & The Willie Wood Crew and that they produced a delightful dionysian dance anthem “Willie Rap” in 1979? Neil B’s “Body Rock”? Two major categories from Hip Hop’s profitability seem have emerged: mega-crowd Hip Hop, and superego Hip Hop or music would like to persuade others to respect this superego, leaving us the metaphorical skeletons, vinyls, of a Dionysian Rex, the musician who raps to spark a delightful and smiling (the key) good time, sometimes a smilingly perverse good time, in individuals.
The Corinthians and the Lesbians agree in their account of the matter. They relate that Arion of Methymna, who as a player on the harp, was second to no man living at that time, and who was, so far as we know, the first to invent the dithyrambic measure, to give it its name, and to recite in it at Corinth, was carried to Taenarum on the back of a dolphin.
- Herodotus, Book 1 of The Histories
In 1979, the music of certain New Yorker strivers, their musical existing, would be packaged by Sugar Hill records as the song “Rapper’s Delight,” much in the same way that Sun Records packaged R&B through white musicians such as Elvis Presley in order to sell records. “It” would be named Hip Hop and would be made popular by The Sugarhill Gang. By editing the personalities rapping the music, they produced a crossover hit. Before this, danceable rap thrived, though not as pop music.
1980 was around the same time that Indie music was beginning to be shaped (The Minutemen was formed in 1980, “Rapper’s Delight” was released in 1980) and as if a tale of two cities, both Hip Hop and Indie were tasked with expressing themselves, being cultural music in the age of impoverishing vanity that Ronald Reagan instituted to paraphrase Tom Wolfe (kinetics that inspire.)
Along the way of Hip Hop’s adapting to the times, that first style of Hip Hop, that aimed for delight as the song’s title goes, both commercial and not commercial, was left behind, a much less complex rapping to dance music that is now a dinosaur of a musical genre that has established itself. It is Hip Hop’s Dionysian Rex, bones for an exhibit, pictures to bring the second through the fifth grade to see on a day of orange leaves and the need to make straight lines. The dinosaur begins its extinction in around 1983, with the rise of a much darker hued Hip Hop: that of gangsta rap but also battle rap and other styles of Hip Hop, the rise of jolting.
Sugar Daddy’s “One More Time”; Portable Patrol’s “Cop Bop”; Bramsam’s “Move Your Body”: the compilation Boombox, released by Soul Jazz Records, is a pretty good anthology of the early days of dance rap, even before “Rapper’s Delight.” All songs were put out on small labels and the pictures to match all document a smiling spirit, despite the sliding down of the communities that hosted early Hip Hop down the toboggan that right wing politics placed maliciously for all who were not rich. Crack had already begun to spread its night onto Los Angeles but this was before the crack epidemic of the 80’s. The Last Poets had sold a large number of their first album The Last Poets, charting; it may be the reason why rapping became popular. However, it’s important to note that the spirit that founded Hip Hop was a continuation of that the rebellious 1960’s, an anti-fatum, anti-fate, spirit that not only desired to produce a society that does not resemble the political collective’s past, the nation state’s, but also of one’s own family; an anti-oedipal spirit as philosopher Gilles Deleuze puts it. Rapping was a new present, that did not resemble the ones that “parents” loved.
It was rap to dance music, especially over disco, as an expression of new sensibility. The disco sensibility was especially one of public homosexuality, and like today’s New Orleans bounce, as much as it was about lavish sound and merry ideology. It was spread, as always, by the prominence of urban clubs, by tales, but also on television, video of the real thing. Donna Summers and Berry White were two of the many names of those who seemed both infinitely well dressed and also content. These were rhythm people, not only worker bee people, who first and foremost existed to “live” and “prosper” newly.
It was a time for prosperous and just revelry. All those who “were not party people” would be enlivened and those who were a nuisance miraculously removed by a feeling’s Piped Piper of Hamelin, like how Bruce Leroy would be victorious over the bad guy in the 1985 film The Last Dragon. It was the sound of optimism: justice, art, nationality, comedy could all be achieved. Like in everywhere else that loves its revelry, the merrymaker had a talent, a gift. He or she had both a mind and a heart of promethean fire, strong enough to awake a musical genre.
Now the taste for Chester Himesian autobiography in song, for classic romantic expression (move over Beethoven, Chuck Berry is soon to be performing Fur Maybelline) and for performance amongst other things guides the production of what’s understood to be uber-kinetic blackness, despite the moments like when Kendrick Lamar was recorded in an interview with Rick Rubin for GQ Style that he has been most inspired by Eminem. Like others, he did not seem to mind that Eminem was not “black” because, to him, he loved Eminem’s clarity, and strove for it in his own music. The taste for materialist musical triumph seems to guide the music today though rappers like Kendrick Lamar are still able to crowd and socialize with personal narrative Hip Hop. Where merrymaking had once been the role of the rapper, gothic myths of immaterial through material triumph despite a bleak past (David annihilates Goliath) came to be Hip Hop’s forte.
Dancing is still integral to Hip Hop as it was at the time of the Dionysian Rex, though a much different sort of dancing is. The following is a quote from the French poet Paul Valery about dance: “Toute époque qui a compris le corps humain, ou qui a éprouvé, du moins, le sentiment du mystère de cette organisation, de ses ressources, de ses limites,des combinaisons d’énergie et de sensibilité qu’il contient, a cultivé, vénéré la Danse.” It roughly translates to that “an era that understands the human body will cultivate and venerate dancing.” It’s a new dancing but it’s dancing nonetheless and as Paul Valery says, it understands the human body. It is dancing that could never be sparked by Hip Hop’s Dionysian Rex, whose crowd danced to achieve lightness as opposed to dancing jolt.
I believe that Hip Hop is not only made to produce a crowd, by both proposing to this crowd but also conforming to a crowd, but that is co-produced by the crowd itself, as critic Ellen Willis once said about Rock n’ Roll. The crowd has changed. Furthermore, the impulse to build a crowd can produce lowly products. It is, however, the same impulse that produced greatness “Hit the road of jack” or any other jump blues song; it calls to fascinate a sensibility. That sensibility crowded kids of back then, a revolting time, around the Dionysian Rex, those first rappers, who promised a lightness, sometimes Rabelais-ian lightness, of being to their crowds.