How to Change the World

“For me rappers and dancers are poets and artists and often times the most interesting performances are given by them.” Ice Cube

How do you change the world?  One way is through music.  Today, while volunteering at a musical event designed to inspire Aboriginal kids, I learned to appreciate Hip-Hop.  It turns out that Hip-Hop is more than a musical style.  It’s a movement that has shifted people from poverty to empowerment, from violence to music and collaboration.

In 1963, construction of a new Expressway through The Bronx in New York lowered property values, displaced communities and gave rise to widespread poverty.  The resulting anger and desperation sparked a violent street gang youth culture.   In 1967, a young student now known as DJ Kool Herc (short for Hercules) moved from Kingston, Jamaica to The Bronx.   To replicate the neighbourhood parties that were part of his culture in Jamaica, DJ Kool Herc plugged his family’s sound equipment into his apartment building’s recreation room and began hosting ‘back to school’ parties together with his sister.  Influenced by funk, disco, reggae, rhythm and blues, Herc developed the style that became the blueprint for hip hop music.  Herc used rhythm and rhyme to turn ordinary announcements like ‘Johnny, you’re wanted home for dinner’ into poetic four beat, four bar rifts.  He used two record players to focus only on the short, heavily percussive, part in each song called ‘the break’.  Dancers would save their best dance moves for the drum beat sounds of ‘the break’ and that’s where ‘Break Dancing’ evolved.  Herc looped ‘the break’ so it would play longer.  Break dancers became super competitive, creating and refining tougher and tougher moves, like spinning on their heads and elbows.

A powerful gang leader in The Bronx named Afrika Bambartaa moved from the guns and knives to becoming an influential Hip-Hop DJ who promoted fundraising to re-build communities.  His example transformed gang warfare into energetic competitions on the dance floors.  Negative energy and raw emotions were turned into innovative works of artistic expression.  Eventually, the rest of the world took notice of the amazing talent coming out of The Bronx and Hip-Hop became global.

Like everything on Earth, some people have focused on the negative and some people have focused on the positive, so you may have heard or seen a negativite side to hip-hop.  However, the spirit of this musical style is passionate, pure and poetic.  How amazing that it took just one man who loved music to spark a movement that changed an entire community, and the world.