Old Skool Era

Summary of the first class of Hip Hop from 1973 to 1985



During the late 60 and early 70s disco was the most popular music in the African American community amongst adults however, some of the youth were looking for something different.  Disco was depicted with everyone having on suits and best dresses.  However, this didn’t reflect the reality of New York and specifically did not reflect South Bronx. 

The South Bronx had about 12,300 fires during the early 70s and many buildings were decimated.  It looked like a warzone with pockets of devastation, abandoned buildings, and urban decay.  The gang culture was heavy as well as conflicts with the police. 

Filmmaker and Bronx native Vivian Vasquez tells PIX11 about her new documentary `Decade of Fire,` detailing the infamous apartment building fires in the South Bronx during the 1970s.

Street Justice: The Bronx | Tuesdays at 9p To say the south Bronx was dangerous in the 1970s would be an understatement. Officers in the 41st precinct had their hands full with the violent crimes that took place during that time period.


The Foundation

On August 11, 1973 Kool Herc threw the first Hip Hop party which was advertised as a “Back To School Jam” in the westside of South Bronx. 

The party was located at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Rec Room using the kitchen and two windows for the recreational room.  The first one held about 40 to 50 people and the room was described as an echo chamber. 

Kool Herc didn’t want to play disco music which was dominating the radio at the time.  Instead he elected to play older soul music and funk music.  He would play the break of a song which usually was the part where most of the instrumentals were dropped and only the drums were heard.  Also, he used two turntables in order to extend the breaks on the records.  As soon as the break ended for one record, he would play a different record or the same record at the starting point to keep the drums going.  The dancers during the breaks became known as break dancers.  He referred to this technique as “The Merry-Go-Round.”  Many of the records were ones which were not played on the radio.  Some of the early records spun include

  • Pigmeat Markham – Here Comes the Judge (1968)
  • The Winstons – Amen, Brother (BPM 125, 1969)
  • Babe Ruth – The Mexican (1970)
  • Dennis Coffee – Scorpio (1971)
  • Ohio Players – Funky Worm (BPM 87, 1972)
  • Skull Snaps – It’s a New Day (BPM 110, 1973)
  • Little Feat – Fool Yourself (BPM 153, 1973)
  • The Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Hihache (BPM 105, 1973)
  • Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock (BPM 124, 1973)
  • Incredible Bongo Band – Apache (BPM 119, 1973)
  • The Soul Searchers – Ashley’s Roachclip (BPM 110, 1974)
  • The Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Darkest Light (BPM 101, 1974)

Primarily breakbeats ranged from 100 to 120 but could go all the way from 80 to 160.  Some of the early attendees included Melle Mel, DJ Red Alert, and Kurtis Blow.

Grandmaster Flash

On the southside of the South Bronx, Grandmaster Flash was working on perfecting the merry go round technique.  Invented the art of scratching and turntablism by putting his hand on the record to stop it.  Grandmaster Flash was fascinated with electronics and things that spin.  He went to backyards looking for speakers, receivers, amplifiers, turntables and tinkered with it.  He set out on a research and development project to figure out how to mix records seamlessly and master his technique.  Grandmaster Flash describes the two methods he witnessed as such    

Mixing Technique

  1. Mixes on the air and radio would mix in and out of a record really slow and blend it. This took a lot of time to switch records.
  2. Kool Herc’s style was the opposite. Flash referred to it as ‘disarray in unison’.  He would extend a drum solo but when putting on the other record the two records would clash because there was no way to put the needle on the turntable in the right place. 

Eventually, Flash started placing his finger on the record to stop it.  It was a taboo thing but he felt this was the only way to do it.  He used a crayon to mark where the break lived and made another to mark where the break started on the record. 

This invention of blending records changed how hip hop was played going forward.  Also, it changed the idea of turntables being not just technology to play music, but turned the technology into an instrument to be played.  By the mid 80s Flash faded from the main hip hop scene but is legendary for his intelligence and scientific approach.  His techniques inspired other DJs such as DJ Jazzy Jay, Grandmixer Theodore, Charlie Chase, Grandmixer DXT, Jam Master Jay, and DJ Premier.  His blending techniques led to the advanced techniques of cutting, crabbing, clamming, scratching, zukka zukka. 

Grand Wizzard Theodore is regarded as the inventor of scratching.  He says the technique was created in his childhood home when he stopped a record with his hand, after his mother demanded he lower the volume.

Grandmaster Flash pioneered mixing techniques, such as cueing, previewing tracks before they are played, and ‘phasing’ the manipulation of turntable speeds to match the tempos of records.   


Afrika Bambaataa

At the Eastside of the Bronx, Afrika Bambaataa started hosting hip hop parties in 1977.  Bambaataa realized he had many of the same records as Kool Herc and could do the same thing.  Many people were scared to come to the Bronx River Housing since there were plenty of gangs. Afrika himself was affiliated with the Black Spades.  Disco Wiz, a Puerto Rican DJ, said he had a rough time since blacks and Puerto Ricans were killing each other.

Afrika led the charge of wanting to bring peace to the South Bronx and for gang leaders to become warriors for their crew.  He organized sit downs with the different gang leaders to work out different issues.  Through this he created the Universal Zulu Nation which was about peace, unity, love, and having fun.  This pushed the youth to get into hip hop and away from gang culture.  At this time is when the cultural movement was then called hip hop.  He would have everybody come to Bronx River for one big long set and everyone would get on.  Another one of his main messages was that whatever color you are, know who your ancestors.  Some would say that Bambaataa rescued the consciousness of the youth.   





Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Flash are considered holy trinity.

Rapping Before It Became Part of Hip Hop

Although the term ‘rapping’ wasn’t coined until much later, rapping in some form had always existed in the African-American community.  Some of the examples include.

  • Cab Calloway utilized the ‘Call and Response’ technique.
  • Gospel Quartet’s often sung in a fastpace way similar to modern rapping.
  • Gil Scott Heron and The Last Poets – Soul and Jazz poets. The blending of music and poetry that pre-dated modern rap.
  • Muhammad Ali – Boxing champion that would often say rhymes during promo for the fights.
  • Pigmeat Markham – Here Comes the Judge – Soul and comedy singer that made an early rap song.
  • New York Radio DJs
    • DJ Frankie Crocker – Delivered smooth lines that rhymed.
    • DJ Hollywood – Would rap at disco parties he DJ’ed.
      • Started Rhythmic Rapping. Harlem NY.  Inspired by Last Poets, Pigmeat Markham, Frankie Crocker.
      • He made crowd feel like they were part of the show.
    • Eddie Cheba – Eddie Cheeba was a pioneering DJ in New York in the 1970s, considered to be the number one club DJ. Cheeba was a close friend of DJ Hollywood and they frequently influenced each-other’s styles.  Cheeba is credited with inspiring Def Jam Recordings founder, Russell Simmons to pursue a career in Hip-hop when Simmons heard Cheeba perform in Harlem in 1977.
    • Lovebug Starski, was an American MC, musician, and record producer. He began his career as a record boy in 1971 as hip-hop first appeared in the Bronx, and he eventually became a DJ at the Disco Fever club in 1978. He is one of two people who may have come up with the term “hip-hop”. Starski claimed that he coined the phrase while trading the two words back and forth while improvising lines with Cowboy of the Furious Five at a farewell party for a friend who was headed into the Army.
    • DJ Hollywood rapped on disco and R&B music. According to Russell Simmons, “DJ Hollywood was the reason that they made a rap record.”

Rap in Hip Hop

Early rap was developed outside of Hip Hop.  Therefore, to name these notable people as the first rappers is controversial.  They were not a part of Hip Hop culture although they were influential to the development of rapping.  Matter of fact, many of these that were Disco DJs did not allow breakdancing in their clubs.  Instead they rejected the Hip Hop culture and Hip Hop rejected the disco DJs.  During these years Hip Hop was still about breakbeats and these “rappers” were apart of the disco culture.  Some of the notable early rappers that represented Hip Hop culture include Coke La Rock, Cowboy, Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, and Grandmaster Caz. 

Coke La Rock

Coke La Rock is often considered the first “MC” of hip hop.  He is described as the “First Vocal Party Rocker”.  Mainly he would shout out his friends or make additional announcements.  One of which would be announcing that his friends move their car to get women to think they had cars.  His vocals were primarily improvisational but did originate phrases such as “You rock and you don’t stop” and “Hotel, motel, you don’t tell, we won’t tell.”  He helped Herc’s parties grow from about 50 people to 500 people.  Coke La Rock would sell weed during the parties and would take breaks and spit rhymes for the party.  He was part of Kool Herc’s MC crew the Herculoids.  Although very important in the early days of Hip Hop, their popularity waned as early as 1977. 

Kurtis Blow

Kurtis Blow took his name imitating Eddie Cheeba at the suggestion of Russell Simmons, copying the pattern from Eddie Cheeba as “blow” was slang for cocaine as “cheeba” was slang for marijuana.  He is the first commercially successful rapper and the first to sign with a major record label.  “The Breaks”, a single from his 1980 self-titled debut album, is the first certified gold record rap song for Hip Hop. Throughout his career he has released 15 albums and is currently an ordained minister.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was formed in 1978 and was Hip Hop’s first supergroup.  During Grandmaster Flash’s performances much of the audience would watch him in fascination and often would crowd around him.  Flash wanted the crowd dancing instead and had to come up with a way to take the attention off of him.  He felt he needed to talk to the audience but couldn’t do that and DJ effectively at the same time.  His solution was to put the microphone on the other side of the table and have people that could MC be part of his team.  Initially people would just use the Mic for announcements and shout-outs but eventually a group with him and his MCs were formed.  First Incarnation was Grandmaster Flash and the 3 MCs which included Melle Mel, Kid Creole, and Cowboy.   

Afterwards, the B-Boy named Scorpio aka Mr. Ness joined and then the fifth member joined from another group and went by Rahiem.  During parties Flash would spin for a while but then the 5 would come on and perform a set.  It eventually became more of a show than just a party and the group moved to a stage so they audience could look up at them.  They had well-coordinated routines and it was a major act that shifted hip hop from being DJ dominant to rap dominant.  Their itinerary grew fast and soon they were doing two shows a day and coheadlining with the Jacksons and Rick James.

Blackout and the New Competition

While Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was the only group traveling the globe, other groups desperately wanted to start their own group but creating a crew was expensive.  Crews needed two turntables, a mic, and powerful speakers in order to battle.  Then the Blackout of 1977 in New York completely changed the landscape.  During the blackout many people broke into stores and stole the equipment needed to start their Hip Hop crews.  In the summer of 1977, the Bronx and Harlem became saturated with Hip Hop crews looking to battle their way to top while the Furious Five was away on tour. 

Some of the crews that popped up in the summer of 1977 include.

  • Funky 4
  • Busy Bee Starksi
  • Spoonie G
  • The Treacherous Three
  • Fillas Four
  • Mastadon and the Death Committee
  • The Crash Crew
  • The Boogie Boys

Rapper’s Delight and Commercialization of Rap

Sylvia Robinson was a teenage singer with R&B pedigree that founded the label All Platinum Records.  In the Mid 1970s the company gets into financial trouble and starts looking for something unconventional to make a hit.  Sylvia went to a birthday party for neice and saw one of the first rapping DJs Lovebug Starski.  She decided that this was what she was looking for and asks him to make a record with her.  Starski declined so Sylvia tells her son to find some guys in New Jersey that can rap.  He ends up finding Master Gee and Wonder Mike.  Also, she became aware of a guy named Hank from the Bronx that could rap.  She couldn’t make a decision on who to choose between the three and ended up joining the three together into the Sugar Hill Gang.  They had no idea what to expect but they just kept passing the mic to each other like they would at a party because no one told them to stop.  When Rapper’s Delight hits the streets it was a major success and was played constantly and on numerous radio stations.  It took off in August of 1979 and by September of 1979 they were opening up for Parliament-Funkadelic. 

Some people from the Hip Hop community such as DJ Kool Herc loved it but many others did not.  Many in the Hip Hop community was confused by the release since they had never heard of these rappers before and the rhymes used were stolen from DJ Hollywood, Lovebug Starski, and Grandmaster Caz.  Some even described the song as stupid.  Hank knew Caz’s rhymes from being around him and stole them for the song including the line “Never let an emcee steal your rhymes”.  In its day it was highest selling single of all time but many still viewed it as a novelty and a sanitized version of the Hip Hop going on in the Bronx.  Afterwards, other record companies attempted to score big rap hits by enlisting comedians and actors leading to an oversaturation and for rap to be looked at as a joke.  Some of these novelty records include.

  • Rodney Dangerfield’s “No Respect”.
  • Rappin’ Duke.
  • Mel Brooks put out the Hitler Rap.
  • Repper de Klep – Danny BOy.

Fantastic 5 Vs Cold Crush

Amongst the competition of the underground in the late 70s and early 80s, The Fantastic 5 and Cold Crush Brothers rose to the top and had the most notable rivalry.  Cold Crush formed in 1978 and was cofounded and led by Grandmaster Caz who was one of the first hip hop performers to both DJ and MC.  They practiced for a year before coming out and main appeal was their lyricism.  Grand Wizard Theodore and the Fantastic 5 were influenced by the Jackson 5 and would have dance steps and harmonizing.  Since they were most popular with the ladies, and they were often called the The Fantastic Romantic 5. 

Eventually the two crews would have a battle at Harlem World on July 3rd 1981.  The owner offered that $700 go the winner and $300 to the loser, however the two crews confirmed that they preferred that the winner takes the full $1000.  Battles were won by crowd participation and cheers and The Fantastic won due to the showmanship and the ladies screaming louder than the guys.  However, when the tapes of the battle were released the Cold Crush Brothers became more popular.   

Caz had a full repertoire of braggadocio rhymes, street rhymes, stories, and jokes in his arsenal.  After viewing his rapbook, it was noted that he had great penmanship of page of page of lyrics, with no cross outs.  Caz said a lot of his unique ideas came from the “white” music that he would listen to that his peers didn’t know.  The Cold Crush tapes became so popular that they were rivaling radio records.  However, Hip Hop was still mainly a live performance art until the Golden Era started around 1985. 

Bronx Takes their talents Downtown

Sal Abbatiello’s Disco Fever Club in the South Bronx was the premier venue for early hip hop stars like Lovebug Starski, Run DMC, and Kurtis Blow to perform.  Outside of the Bronx and Harlem, Hip Hop was really only seen through pop culture where it was still viewed as a silly gimmick with random comedians and celebrities making rap records that had no attachment to the culture.  For the more authentic underground hip hop culture to spread, it had to break into downtown.  According to some, the culture was saved when the Bronx DJs started going downtown to areas that were open to hip hop culture. 

Fab 5 Freddy introduced Bambaataa to people in Manhattan that led to Bambaataa Djing for the parties downtown.  The new wave punk rockers were the first outside scene to embrace hip hop.  Punk rock was the alternative to rock and they formed a union with the Hip Hop crowd which was the anti-disco movement within the black community.  Both crowds were not the aristocrats or studio 54 crowd so they blended.  Also, college kids at NYU started getting into the scene as well. 

Grandmaster Flash was skeptical about the new audience but was told to do what he normally did and it became a big hit.  The DJs were booked all the time and it opened up a whole new market because now DJs such as Flash could play songs that wouldn’t be received well in the hood.  Fab 5 Freddy introduces Flash to Blondie and after watching Flash DJ, Blondie makes a song about him that brings a lot of additional attention to Flash from mainstream America. 

The new audience also allowed Bambaataa to expand his selection to acts such as Bus Boys, Sex Pistols, and Elvis Presley.  He expanded much further into playing a lot of rock, deep wave punk, and electronic music. 

Popular Early Releases and Places

As the founder/CEO of Sugar Hill Records, Sylvia Robinson produced some of hip hop’s earliest commercial hits, including Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight”, The Sequence’s “Funk You Up”, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message”.


The Sequence was hip hop’s 1st all female trio.  Their song “Funk You Up” was one of several early hip hop hits released by the pioneering Sugar Hill label in the late 1970s and the first song released from the south as they were from Columbia, SC.

Bambaataa made his own record with the Soulsonic Force using the TR-808 and sampled electro music.  He made a record combining the technopop sound with the funk sound he grew up on called “Planet Rock”.  The idea came from routine that the Soulsonic Force used to do with DJ Jazzy Jay playing songs behind it.  He created the Electro-funk sound and the song became one of the first hits using the TR-808 drum machine.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released a song called “The Message” which was the first socially conscious hip hop song.  The song cut deeper than most because it had a real point to it at a time when most rap was silly.  It became the first critically acclaimed hip hop song and a major influence for future rap music. 

In 1984, 14-year old Roxanne Shante scored one of the first hip hop hits by a female MC with “Roxanne’s Revenge’ a pointed response to Roxanne Roxanne by the all-male rap trio UTFO.

Run DMC’s video for “Rockbox” was the first hip hop video played on MTV, introducing the genre to new audiences.  The record set the tone for the rap-rock hybrid the group used on another hit, “Walk This Way:


Longer List of Popular Breakbeats in the Old Skool Era sometimes referred to as the “Sacred Crates of Hip Hop”.  To play with the two turntables set up click here.


  • The Winstons – Amen, Brother (BPM 125, 1969)
  • Babe Ruth – The Mexican (1970)
  • Dennis Coffee – Scorpio (1971)
  • Sweet G – Games People Play (BPM 102, 1983)
  • Love Bug Starski – Starski Live at the Disco Fever (BPM 100, 1983)
  • The Soul Searchers – Ashley’s Roachclip (BPM 110, 1974)
  • Skull Snaps – It’s a New Day (BPM 110, 1973)
  • Ohio Players – Funky Worm (BPM 87, 1972)
  • Little Feat – Fool Yourself (BPM 153, 1973)
  • The Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Hihache (BPM 105, 1973)
  • The Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Darkest Light (BPM 101, 1974)
  • Junie Morrison – Suzie Thundertussy (BPM 110, 1976)
  • Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock (BPM 124, 1973)
  • Incredible Bongo Band – Apache (BPM 119, 1973)
  • Zapp – More Bounce to the Ounce (BPM 110, 1980)
  • Grandmaster Flash – The Message (BPM 110, 1982)
  • George Clinton – Atomic Dog (BPM 108, 1982)
  • Billy Squier – The Big Beat (BPM 102, 1980)

List of additional Popular/Classic Hip Hop Songs during the Old Skool Era.   

  • Kurtis Blow – Breaks (1980)
  • Cybotron – Clear (1983)
  • Run DMC – Sucker M.C.’s (1984)
  • Roxanne Shante – Roxanne’s Revenge (1984)
  • T La Rock – It’s Yours
  • Run DMC – It’s Like That (1984)

List of Popular/Classic Hip Hop Albums during the Old Skool Era

  • Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message (1982)
  • Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C. (1984)




Hip Hop Evolution Documentary