The history of Hip Hop

Hip Hop is the culmination of 'Black' thought, born centuries ago, out of the struggles of African s

Though Hip Hop was born in the 1970’s and came to prominence in the 1990’s, any historical analysis of Hip Hop must begin with the story of a group of Africans who were captured and enslaved some 500 hundred years ago. Between the 15th Century and the 19th Century, this group of Africans were stripped of their names, languages, history and cultural heritage.

They were forced to work from sun rise to sun down for free, and subjected to some of the most dreadful torture the world has witnessed. This group of slaves would provide the human resources necessary to build the western world. But though the story is often told otherwise, also amongst this group were people like Nat Turner, Paul Bogle and the Haitian revolutionaries who would refuse to be enslaved and lead rebellions against the British and French colonial masters. It is in the spirit of the above mentioned that you find the antecedents of a culture that would come to be known to the world as Hip Hop.

This spirit is found not only in their revolutionary acts, but in the words and campaigning of abolitionists like Frederick Douglas, civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Black Nationalists like Malcolm X and Black Power theorists like Huey Newton. Hip Hop is the culmination of ‘Black’ thought. It is a culture that is rooted, even today, in rebellion and struggle. Like the movements before it, Hip Hop is maligned by the fact that not all of those that the culture aims to speak to want to be aligned with it, the media and the system attempt to discredit it and it is portrayed as aggressive.

Hip Hop as we know it began in the 1970’s in Bronx, New York, when Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation. Bambaataa, a former gang member, influenced by the Afrocentric teachings of the 5 per centers and Dr Malachi Z York, decided to challenge inner city violence and gang culture and promote peace through music, rap, art, movement and street knowledge. The purpose was to provide an outlet for the frustration and anger that characterised life for youth of African descent in New York. The alienated youth of Bronx needed a sense of identity and something to believe in and Hip Hop would provide this. At first, Zulu Nation would hold block parties for peace. It later started to hold regular classes that taught youth about their heritage, the great achievements of their African ancestors and what would become the original 4 key artistic elements of Hip Hop, Rap, Breakdance, Turntablism and Graffiti.

From its humble beginnings in New York, the movement that would come to be known as Hip Hop has expanded into the five boroughs, across states and nations. The birth and growth of Hip Hop has produced millionaires and multinational companies. It is a cultural and musical phenomenon like no other and our gift from God.

Anthony Thomas is the founder and CEO of Hip Hop Generation. He is a philosopher,organiser and entrepreneur. He is a director of London Citizens and the Black Londoners Forum.
Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.