“Hip-Hop Evolution,” which just debuted on Netflix, goes very old school to source hip-hop’s early-1970s roots. If you think of A Tribe Called Quest as old-school innovators, you’ll be blown away by the earlier artistry of groups like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Here are five things we learned from the series.
1. How breakdancers got their name
The joke in the ’80s was that they were called breakdancers because they broke bones spinning on their heads. Nope. They got the name because unlike disco dancers, they danced during the “breaks” in songs, which DJs like Grandmaster Flash (pictured) looped to create the first hip-hop songs.
2. Hip-hop exploded as the result of a blackout
Widespread looting during the 1977 New York City blackout suddenly gave aspiring DJs and MCs the equipment they needed to launch their musical careers — and launch a new musical art form. (This also comes up in Netflix’s “The Get Down.”) Grandmaster Caz (pictured) says he was among the artists who looted equipment.
3. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were incredible.
We knew they were important before, but we didn’t realize just how groundbreaking they were. They were the first hip-hop group to leave the Bronx and tour internationally, and they were the first to imagine the socially conscious force hip-hop could be. “The Message” advanced hip-hop far beyond the party songs of the 1970s and early ’80s, paving the way for Ice Cube, KRS-One, Public Enemy and other politically minded rappers.
4. The origins of “Rapper’s Delight”
Ego Trip’s excellent “Book of Rap Lists” went into this story a bit, but “Hip-Hop Evolution” breaks down in detail how producer Sylvia Robinson assembled the Sugar Hill gang after an impromptu audition outside a New Jersey pizzeria.
They assembled “Rapper’s Delight” to cash in on what was then an exciting new fad. There are many reasons other rappers considered them poseurs, including the apparent fact that Big Bank Hank “borrowed” rhymes from Grandmaster Caz. (Caz later forgave him.)
5. Where Andre 3000 got his fashion daring
The Outkast MC’s courageous fashion choices in the early 2000s seemed crazily out of step with hip-hop style. But these pictures of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 show that fashion daring was part of hip-hop from the start.
Also? This is how cool-looking Sylvia Robinson was.