The history of hip-hop begins in the South Bronx, New York City. In the 1970s the South Bronx was already one of the most notorious urban areas in America; unemployment levels were high because of the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in 1959, which caused many businesses to flee the area. As a result, many middle class whites left the area, turning the South Bronx into a ghetto for disadvantaged minorities. Poverty was rampant and violent gangs roamed the neighborhood streets. This is the environment hip-hop flourished in.
Hip-hop music was created by the Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell), who followed in the tradition of early pioneering club DJs like Pete “DJ” Jones and DJ Hollywood. Kool Herc was the first DJ to use break beats in an extended manner, and also the first to use Jamaican-style toasting and chanting over the beat of the music. Kool Herc hosted large block parties at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, and other public venues, by tapping into city power lines to connect his stereo equipment, which included huge stacks of speakers, turntables, and microphones.
When partygoers danced to Kool Herc’s musical combinations he labeled them b-boys and b-girls – break dancers. “Breakin’” was also slang for getting excited or acting crazy. With graffiti already having been practiced in New York City in the 70s, the rest of the elements quickly united to form the culture of hip-hop.
Invention of the term “hip-hop” is often credited to the rapper Cowboy (Keith Wiggins) of the group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in the year 1978 and also the rapper Lovebug Starski. Other groups soon began copying them, and the use of the term grew, most notably in the song “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, released in 1979, and considered by many the song that introduced hip-hop music to the United States and the rest of the world.
Through the end of the 70s and into the 80s, other DJs elaborated on and followed Kool Herc’s pattern; they refined and developed the use of break beats, and also the practices of cutting, mixing, and scratching – basics of the art of DJ-ing. Some of those DJs included Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and Jazzy Jay. Also, by the late 70s, DJs began releasing 12-inch records that featured them rapping to the beats they created. This was the birth of modern MC-ing, and also the moment hip-hop music became commodified and widely-disseminated.