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Hip Hop and the Deep South: The Origins of American Rap

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

By Sholdon Daniels

a stack of vinyl records labeled as old school hiphop
Remember digging through the crates for that perfect jam?

As an entertainment lawyer, I often come across many misconceptions about the history of hip hop. One of the most common is that it was created in the South Bronx in the 1970s. While the South Bronx played a significant role in the development of hip hop, the roots of this cultural movement can actually be traced back to the Deep South and its gospel music tradition.


The origins of hip hop can be traced back to the early 20th century with groups like the Jubalaires. The Jubalaires were an African American gospel quartet that formed in the 1920s in Birmingham, Alabama. They are considered by many to be the pioneers of what would later become known as hip hop music. The Jubalaires and other gospel groups of their time would often perform in church services and on street corners, using their music to spread the word of God.


These gospel performers would use call-and-response techniques, where the lead singer would sing a line and the audience would respond with a chorus. This call-and-response style would later be incorporated into hip hop music, where the MC (master of ceremonies) would rap a verse and the audience would respond with a chorus. This was a key aspect of early hip hop performances, and it can be traced back to the gospel music tradition of the Deep South.


Another important aspect of hip hop that can be traced back to gospel music is the use of drum machines and electronic instruments. Gospel performers would often use these instruments to create a rhythmic beat, which would accompany their singing. This use of technology in gospel music would later be incorporated into hip hop, where drum machines and electronic instruments would be used to create the beats for rap songs.


While the South Bronx played a significant role in the development of hip hop, the roots of this cultural movement can be traced back to the Deep South and its gospel music tradition. The Jubalaires and other gospel groups of their time laid the foundation for what would later become known as hip hop music. So the next time you hear someone say that hip hop was created in the South Bronx, remember its roots in the Deep South and the gospel music tradition that paved the way for this cultural movement.


As Pimp C would say, "The South Still Holdin!"


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