The Roots of Hip Hop: From Church to Gangsta
Mon Dec 22 2008
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Hip-hop history is dominated by pop creationists who discuss the genre’s storied inception—in a housing project, in the Bronx, in the ’70s—as hard and fast figures. Yet just as rock & roll made rumblings long before Elvis Presley wandered into Sun Studios, hip-hop’s antecedents can be traced deeper into America’s past. On The Roots of Hip Hop, compiled by a mysterious musicologist named Hellhound MC, songs are presented from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, each flickering with hints of a music that someday would make Lil Jon the most unexpectedly employed man in the country.
Hip-hop’s golden age this is not. As smooth and rousing as Rev. J.M. Gates’s 1930 sermon “These Hard Times” may be, it’s safe to say that, presented with a time machine and a freestyle battle, the Notorious B.I.G. would have eaten the good Reverend for breakfast. Yet this collection casts its net wide, finding glimmers of rap in everything from hillbilly music (Harmonica Frank Floyd’s talking blues) to a pre-Will.i.am presidential salute (Soul Stirrers’ “Why I Like Roosevelt”). Sometimes, the incipient culture is evident only through a spoken bit or outlaw attitude. A few songs, however, exhibit a vigor that might still move a crowd: Red Saunders’s wild “Hambone” or “Puerto Vootie,” by the always-great jazz prankster Slim Gaillard. And then there’s Joe Hill Louis’s “Gotta Let You Go,” a terrifying rap from 1950 that could send chills down Eminem’s spine. Kids today!