By Melissa Spellman
Fall Intern 2023
New Journal and Guide
Around the world, lovers of music, hip-hop pioneers – old and new – are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop music. Hip-hop is in the oral tradition of African culture. The stories, tales, proverbs, lessons, rhymes, and songs are preserved and passed down through generations.
The Last Poets, a group of poets and musicians of the 1960s that came out of the Civil Rights movement, are a prelude to hip-hop, utilizing the spoken word, drums, rhyme, song, and storytelling, all key ingredients to hip-hop. However, the widely accepted birth of hip-hop is dated to August 1973 among the backyard parties of the Bronx, New York with rap music.
Fifty years later, in 2023, hip-hop is a billion-dollar industry. Hip-hop has changed the entertainment industry, influencing fashion, dance, art, media, technology, religion, politics, education, and the American lexicon. MCs and Deejays are the folklorists and storytellers who have preserved the spoken word that is hip-hop.
Talking with Hot 91.1’s DJ Bee of the “Fresh Start” Morning Show, I got his take on the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop and delved into his hip-hop story.
A native of Philly, B. Reel, better known as DJ Bee, has over two decades in radio. He shared his first encounters with hip-hop.
“I was always into music because my parents played music in the household all the time,” said Bee. He was first introduced to hip-hop at age 6. He credits his introduction to rap music to his cousins visiting from Connecticut who brought with them cassette tapes of the Cold Crush Brothers and the Treacherous Three. Bee said it was songs like Planet Rock, groups like Newcleus, and mix tapes from Red Alert, Mr. Magic and Marly Marl that fueled his interest “so from hearing those tapes I just fell in love with hip-hop.”
We all remember our first encounter with the hip-hop sound. A sound that was different from anything you’ve ever heard on the radio. Bee recalled when he knew he wanted to be a Deejay, “I saw Wild Style, and I saw Style Wars, and I saw Beat Street and I was like. ‘yo this is what I want to do.’”
He references three 1980s films that depict the elements of hip-hop culture, including rapping, graffiti, and breakdancing. Bee continued, “My love for hip-hop started from age 6 and I really was fully committed like around 10.”
After learning his hip-hop origins, we discussed the first hip-hop album he purchased with his own money.
“U.T.F.O [Untouchable Force Organization] was the first [album] I bought with my own money, and I was 10,” said Bee.
He recalled the Roxanne Wars of 1984, “U.T.F.O. dropped Roxanne Roxanne, then they had The Real Roxanne, Shante dropped Roxanne’s Revenge, and then there were a whole bunch of Roxanne answer records,” said Bee. The Roxanne Wars is one of the most infamous Rap beefs between two artists Roxanne Shante and The Real Roxanne. This led to the most answer records in hip-hop to date.
The Roxanne Wars were a major wave in hip-hop and people saw an opportunity to profit by riding the wave. Bee continued, “The Roxanne Wars were so big they were making fake Roxanne records.” Hip-hop is a culture that affects everything it encounters. If hip-hop was a person, it would be that one friend that everyone gravitates to, who walks into the room, and changes the atmosphere.
I asked Bee what is the significance of the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop for him? “This culture made it to 50 when parents at one point in time said it’s just a fad. There are a lot of inconsistencies with dates and who is the actual father, or when it actually started. I’m just happy that we are celebrating the culture,” said Bee.
He went on to say, “One of my missions is to help preserve the culture.” Like how critical race theory is being used to remove books from schools and slavery is being painted as a benefit to the enslaved, Bee wants to ensure that hip-hop’s history is not rewritten but remains accurate by preserving the foundation of the culture.
Norfolk State University Professor Dr. Travis Harris is doing just that.
Dr. Harris is taking a holistic approach to understanding hip-hop’s culture, growth, and influence beyond music. He is the editor of the Journal of Hip-Hop Studies, a publication dedicated to researching and analyzing hip-hop. JHHS is a gem and safeguard to hip-hop culture, offering both academics and those in hip-hop a voice in academia.
Hip-hop has a complicated and controversial relationship with explicit language, violence, and the sexualization of women. However, art imitates life and for every dark lane of content, there are multiple roads of light that inspire, uplift, and bring joy.
Hip-hop is a tool of activism, giving voice to the voiceless, it transcends race; it’s international; it’s popular culture; it holds power, and influence.
As we celebrate 50 years of hip-hop, it is safe to say that the history of hip-hop will not be lost or silenced.