Hip Hop Caribbean Origins

Most Hip Hop historians claim that Hip Hop was formed in the South Bronx, during the 1970’s, in the poor Afro- Caribbean, Latino – Caribbean, and African American mixed neighborhoods.

However, after viewing Founding Fathers: The Untold Stories of Hip Hop, it much more likely that elements of Hip Hop was developed throughout New York City’s Afro- Caribbean, Latino- Caribbean, and African American communities, including Flatbush, Brooklyn and East Elmhurst, Queens. It began as a sub-culture between these neighborhoods. Hip Hop was non-mainstream music that most people only knew if they were involved in those communities, especially since it was most played in block/house parties. The Bronx is where all the elements of Hip Hop- graffiti art, break dancing, DJ-ing, rapping- were solidified and institutionalized. This formation of Hip Hop culture was facilitated by the Zulu Nation, a group formed by Afrika Bambaata during the 1970’s.

Mainly focus on the Grandmaster Flowers segment (11:28-14:30), Kings Charles segment (29:30-34:30), and overall spirit of Hip Hop culture during that time (1:02:00-1:09:06).

Grandmaster Flowers and King Charles predated better known Hip Hop contributors, like DJ Kool Herc; however, both were also heavily influenced by Jamaican music. Grandmaster Flowers was not of Caribbean descent, but he did live in primarily West Indies community of Flatbush, Brooklyn. Participants of the documentary remember how he was one of the first people to play club music from a sound system during Carnival, instead of traditional Caribbean instruments, like the steel drum. He brought the West Indian community and African community together through music- like Hip Hop.

King Charles was originally from Jamaica and moved to East Elmhurst. He was noted for developing innovations to New York sound systems with knowledge from sound systems from the Caribbean, such as using a certain type of amplifier to create a heavy bass, like in reggae. People in the documentary noted they knew that King Charles was foreign, but they had little idea that his heritage influenced his music so much, so when he played music most Americans did not recognize his sounds as ‘Caribbean,’ just unique. This is an example of how Caribbean style contributions can sometimes go unrecognized, because the audience of the music, as spreaders of knowledge, did not know themselves.

The clip about the overall spirit of hip hop culture during this time period expresses hip hop as a positive thing. It created a culture that connected various neighborhoods across New York City through the enjoyment of music. It stimulated friendly competition and acted as an outlet for creative expression for rebellious youth.

DJ Kool Herc is widely considered one of the founding members of Hip Hop. He was born in Jamaica, but emigrated at the age of 12 to the Bronx. This clip shows how his Caribbean heritage influenced his music, but how that influence goes largely unrecognized. Although DJ Kool Herc cherished his roots, he did not overly publicize his ethnicity in fear of backlash from the his new American community. In the interview he switches from his ‘American’ voice and his Jamaican accent. He states the Caribbean community were characterized as ‘smelling like curry’ and ‘being dirty’; this reveals dissonance between American blacks and the Caribbean, and the need to hid parts of his identity in order to be accepted. However, regardless if everyone was aware of it, Caribbean music did influence Hip Hop’s creation in NYC.

DJ Kool Herc’s main innovation that contributed the basis of Hip Hop is called ‘breaking’ aka the ‘merry go round’, which is combining and repeating instrumental breaks in order to make a rhythmic base.

The usage of sound systems and rapping over beats (toasting) was prominent in Caribbean dancehall, reggae, calypso, and dub music before the 1970’s creation of Hip Hop in America.

Example of 60’s Jamaican dub artist, King Tubby. Note his use of the sound system and short repetitive beats.

Example of Toasting from U-Roy, a Jamaican Reggae/ dancehall musician. He is performing a song from the 60’s in Jamaica.

Example of Heavy Reggae Bass Beats that influenced Jamaican- New York DJ King Charles, from Jamaican Reggae/ Dancehall artist Yellowman.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, are also considered founding members of Hip Hop. Grandmaster Flash was born in the Barbardos and moved to the Bronx when he was young. He is mostly known for building on breaking/ mixing/ scratching techniques used by earlier DJs, such as DJ Kool Herc. Another member of the group was called Kidd Creole, which points to Caribbean heritage. Supposedly, one of the members, ‘Cowboy,’ coined the term ‘hip hop’ when he was mockingly scatting to an army friend. Although, the term ‘hip’ has previously been known in association with drug culture.

Here is their 1982 hit, ‘The Message,’ that found mainstream success, which is definitely similar to the toasting video above.

20 thoughts on “Hip Hop Caribbean Origins

  1. I like all of this but if you go back to the 40s Louis Jordan was rapping, James Brown , Chuck Brown, Jimmy Castor in the 60s and 70s also Kool &Thd Gang etc.etc.

  2. Rap has very clear Black American origins going back to the early 1940. Look up The Jubalairs ‘Preacher and the Bear’ for an excellent example, and earlier. The Jamaican origin myth is over stated and much more of a two way street than some people seem to believe.

  3. I’ll disagree on the part where it says Grandmaster Flowers was heavily influenced by carribean music part. Flowers is considered to be the founders of Disco inspired by J.B., he also was the first to mix as a dj & later to dive into HipHop. Early Kool Herc Records did not play carribean music as he says in his interview, its majority inspired by James brown funk & soul tracks samples. During that time it was just funk & disco being mixed, scratches & cut w/ MCs

  4. Once somebody brings up the ” Jubalairs ” and the Caribbeans didn’t play apart i already know they’re not from NYC and following Tariq Nasheed’s Bulls**t FBA rhetoric

  5. There is no Jamaican influence in the creation of hip-hop. It doesn’t even have the same time signature. Saying that Jamaicans founded hip hop is a bigger lie than saying that Elvis founded rock and roll.

  6. To say there’s no Jamaican influence just shows a horrible understanding of music itself. Did it birth hiphop ? No But between the sound system style and the amount of Jamaicans influential in hip-hop that’s nonsense

  7. Loved your piece on hip hop. But please answer me this…this is all true..SO WHY DO PEOPLE CONTINUE TO SAY HIP HOP STARTED IN THE BRONX!!! When we know that’s not true!!!

  8. This is horrible misinformation. Back during the time of Hip Hop’s creation, these neighborhoods were NOT predominantly Caribbean or Latin. All of them were still predominantly Afro American. Most West Indians didn’t migrate to America till the 80s. Grandmaster Flowers was inspired by Afro AMERICAN music alone, not Caribbean. You all must hate your cultures if you want to try to steal Black American culture. These lies are disturbing!

  9. Caribbean people were merely participating in Black American Culture. That does not mean its origins of hip hop is caribbean. Let that sink in!

  10. This piece totally ignores HipHop historical Black American roots dating back to James Brown, Jubilaires, PigMeat, Satchmo and it’s connection to BlackAmerican History, Culture, Ethnicity & Lineage. The Founding Fathers of Hip Hop the untold story is just the beginning of the TRUTH, that will connect all the Black History. The early DJ’s Jack the Rapper, Jocko Henderson is where Matuchi & Dodd got toasting from.

    Also, DJ Mario’s role in NYC is also a part you ignore, because you want to recognize your Carribeans. Tremendous difference between Creation/Origination (BlackAmericans) & Participation/Contribution (Carribeans).

  11. I find the comments disparaging the Barbados-Jamaican connection to hip hop founders to be disturbing. Yet no one would deny that much of the black community from Charleston, SC, to Jacksonville, Florida, were originally from the Caribbean. Gullah linguistic rhythms are mostly Barbadian with Jamaican and Bahamian added. I say that to say this : Hip hop is an American, Barbadian, Jamaican influenced phenomenon with break dancing as its West African component. The Caribbean islands are America. The black people there came from the same place in Africa as those in America. Most blacks in Brazil, however, came from farther south in Africa. Don’t argue about it. Just give credit where credit is due!!

  12. let me shut this down once and for all for all the people that think reggae inspired hiphop:

    “I tried to apply reggae music to the american kids and dem didnt understand it” –DJ Kook Herc in his own words @ 4:40 https://youtu.be/guhdPYnq-gc

  13. ” I told them, im gonna try something NEW tonight, Im a call it the merry-go-round”
    –DJ Kool Herc using only the break parts of BLACK americans James brown and percusionist Preston epps (bongo rock) music for the B boys to dance to and took the idea of two turntables from american DJs.


  14. African Americans created HIP-HOP, Caribbean’s didn’t create it at all and neither did hispanics

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