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"The Message": The Birth of Hip-Hop Culture

Suggested Grade Level: 5-8 / 9-12

This research guide serves as a resource for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Education Department course, "The Message": The Birth of Hip-Hop. For additional information on the course and for more teacher resources, see

In the early 1970s the Bronx borough of New York City was home to the beginning of hip-hop culture.  This class examines how young people responded to the social and economic crisis of the Bronx by creating hip-hop.  By the 1980s, rap recordings took the voices of inner-city life into the mainstream, spreading it around the United States.  Since then, parts of hip-hop culture - including the MC, the DJ, the graffiti writer and the break dancer – have become some of the most important forms of expression for young people on the planet.  In this class, students will learn about this history, along with the musical tracks and vocal raps of “old school” artists such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa, the Treacherous Three, the Funky Four Plus One and Run-D.M.C. – musicians who sent a message to American audiences about what life was like in inner-city communities.  Explore the history of the sound that changed American popular music forever.


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    These research databases can be accessed within the Library and Archives.

    • African American Music Reference
      African American Music Reference brings together 50,000 pages of text reference, biographies, chronologies, sheet music, images, lyrics, liner notes, and discographies which chronicle the diverse history and culture of the African American experience through music. The database is constantly expanding to include comprehensive coverage of blues, jazz, spirituals, civil rights songs, slave songs, minstrelsy, rhythm and blues, gospel, and other forms of black American musical expression.
    • RoJaRo
      The world's largest free music magazine index covering rock - jazz - roots music - blues - country - rap - soul - folk-latin - gospel - metal - psychedelic - reggae - punk - world music - salsa - afropop - pop - film music-progressive - dance - techno - electronica - avant garde - ska - r&b - exotica - house - etc. Also including music magazine, fanzine & record label information.

    Rock Hall Video: Interviews

    Funkmaster Flex

    Rev Run

    Rock Hall Video: Behind the Scenes/Artifact Spotlight

    Behind the Scenes (Artifact Spotlight) - Snoop Dogg's Shoes



    These resources, pulled from class discussion and selected from the Library and Archives' collections, will help you to:

    • Analyze and evaluate lyrics in order to comprehend themes related to inner city life and hip-hop culture.
    • Describe how social events influenced the development of hip-hop culture.
    • Explain how hip-hop artists innovated technology to change and challenge traditional musical and rhythmic composition.


    Cover Art
    The Anthology of Rap - Adam Bradley (Editor); Andrew DuBois (Editor); Chuck D (Afterword by); Henry Louis Gates
    Call Number: ML3531 .A57 2010
    This pioneering anthology brings together more than three hundred lyrics written over thirty years, from the 'old school' to the 'golden age' to the present day. Rather than aim for encyclopaedic coverage, Bradley and DuBois render through examples the richness and diversity of rap's poetic tradition. They feature both classic lyrics that helped define the genre, including Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five's "The Message" and Eric B. & Rakim's "Microphone Fiend", as well as lesser-known gems like Blackalicious' "Alphabet Aerobics" and Jean Grae's "Hater's Anthem"

    Cover Art
    Born in the Bronx - Johan Kugelberg
    Call Number: ML3531 .B66 2007
    "Writer and curator Johan Kugelberg has pulled together the scattered remains of a movement that never had its eye on posterity. The book includes a foreword by legendary DJ and Bronx activist Afrika Bambaataa, a hip hop timeline by best-selling author Jeff Chang, the improvisational flyer artwork of Buddy Esquire, Polaroid photographs buried for decades in basements across the Bronx, and personal contributions from influential figures such as Grandmaster Cas, LA Sunshine, JDL, Mare 139, and Grandwizzard Theodore.

    Cover Art
    Can't Stop Won't Stop - Jeff Chang; D. J. Kool Herc
    Call Number: ML3531 .C536 2005
    Forged in the fires of the Bronx and Kingston, Jamaica, hip-hop has been a generation-defining global movement. In a post-civil rights era rapidly transformed by deindustrialization and globalization, hip-hop gave voiceless youths a chance to address these seismic changes, and became a job-making engine and the Esperanto of youth rebellion. Hip-hop crystallized a multiracial generation's worldview, and forever transformed politics and culture. But the epic story of how that happened has never been fully told . . . until now.

    Cover Art
    Don't Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin' - Russell Myrie
    Call Number: ML421.P83 M97 2008
    ISBN: 9781847671820
    Russell Myrie’s Don’t Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin’ is the first authorized biography of Public Enemy, the foremost hip-hop group of all time. With unprecedented access to the group, Myrie has conducted extensive interviews with Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, Professor Griff, and the Shocklee Brothers, along with many others who form a part of Public Enemy’s legacy. Beginning with the group’s inception on Long Island and working up to the present day, Myrie writes with in-depth detail about the making of each seminal album.

    Cover Art
    Hip Hop Movement: from R&B and the civil rights movement to rap and the hip hop generation - Reiland Rabaka
    Call Number: ML3479 .R33 2013
    The Hip Hop Movement offers a critical theory and alternative history of rap music and hip hop culture by examining their roots in the popular musics and popular cultures of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement.

    Cover Art
    Hip-Hop Turntablism Creativity and Collaboration - Sophy Smith
    Call Number: ML3531 .S658 2013
    Hip-Hop Turntablism, Creativity and Collaboration values hip-hop music as worthy of musicological attention and offers a new approach to its study, focusing on the music itself and providing a new framework to examine not only the musical product, but also the creative process through which it was created



    Back to black: 100 years of black music: music that changed the world, 1900 to 1999 - Various performers
    Call Number: CDB COLL BACK 2001
    Featuring music by Chic, the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Afrika Bambaataa

    Cover Art
    The Best of Public Enemy
    Call Number: CD PUBL-E BEST 2001



    Cover Art
    2 turntables and a microphone: the life and death of Jam Master Jay - Guy Logan
    Call Number: DVD JAM-M TWO 2009
    Go inside the unsolved murder investigation of Jam Master Jay, legendary DJ and part of Run-DMC. Learn how security tapes of the incident came up missing, why witnesses are no longer talking, and more. Features interviews with 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, and others

    Cover Art
    Godfathers and sons - Marc Levin
    Call Number: DVD VAR BLUES 2003 GODF
    Hip-hop performer Chuck D and heir to Chess Records, Marshall Chess, travel to Chicago to explore the history of Chicago blues and to make an album that will pair contemporary hip-hop artists with veteran blues musicians.

    Cover Art
    From mambo to hip hop: a Bronx tale - Henry Chalfant
    Call Number: DVD COLL FROM-M 2009
    This well-crafted hour-long documentary - produced in conjunction with NYC's City Lore project and Latino Public TV - traces the music of the South Bronx, where Puerto Ricans who emigrated from Puerto Rico to the South Bronx in the 1950s and 60s merged their music with the African-Americans who moved in during the 1970s to create the original hip-hop movement of break dancing, scratching and B Boys.

    Cover Art
    RUN-DMC: live at Montreux 2001 - RUN-DMC
    Call Number: DVD RUND LIVE 2007
    Run DMC were one of the true pioneers of rap music. Formed in the early eighties they had a string of hit singles and multi-platinum albums through the decade, which helped to define the sound of contemporary rap music. They also pioneered the crossover with rock and pop typified by their worldwide hit "Walk This Way", which they recorded with Aerosmith. This concert at Montreux in 2001 was one of the last they performed before the tragic death of Jam Master Jay in 2002.

    Archival Resources

    New to Archives? Check out:

    • Evening With series. Darryl McDaniels. (in 2 parts)
      In this Rock Hall program, Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. discusses the group's Hall of Fame induction, the early commercial rap scene, rap and race relations, the political power of music, critics' assertion that rap would be a fad in the mid-1980s, his concern with gangsta rap's lack of political conscience, and the importance of education.
    • Chuck D
      This catalog search provides links to a variety of archival materials in our collections on this artist.
    • Grandmaster Flash
      This catalog search provides links to a variety of archival materials in our collections on this artist.
    • Hip-Hop
      This catalog search provides links to a variety of archival materials in our collections on this topic.
    • Public Enemy
      This catalog search provides links to a variety of archival materials in our collections on this artist.
    • Run-D.M.C.
      This catalog search provides links to a variety of archival materials in our collections on this artist.
    • ARC-0023 Alan Light Papers
      The bulk of the Alan Light Papers dates from 1997 to 2002, when Light was editor-in-chief at Spin and working on three book projects: Tupac Shakur, The Vibe History of Hip Hop, and The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys. The collection emphasizes Light’s research and editorial processes, through his extensive research files and interviews, handwritten edits, notations and drafts, as well as the practicalities of publication, through writer and photograph agreements, budgets, and correspondence. Seen within a broad context, the files offer a condensed documentation of the history of hip-hop through the 1990s. There is a focus not only on individual rap artists, producers, and record executives, but also on the controversies that surrounded the hip hop world related to violence, sampling rights, and censorship debates.
    • ARC-0057 James Bernard Papers
      The James Bernard Papers span the year 1990 to 2006 and consist of correspondence, clippings, financial records, and other documents related to The Source, promotional materials from the National Hip Hop Political Convention, interview transcripts, press kits, and single issues of non-music magazines related to African American culture, as well as VHS cassettes, two CD-Rs, and audiocassette recordings of interviews.
    • ARC-0111 Datwon Thomas Collection
      The Datwon Thomas Collection spans the years 1999 to 2008 and consists of clippings, correspondence, photographs, flyers, and a calendar documenting Thomas' career as a music journalist. Documented in the collection are hip-hop and rap artists from the late 1990s to early 2000s, as well as the hip-hop and rap cultures of the time. Artists of note include Eminem, G Unit, Method Man, and Young Jeezy. The Collection showcases the impact of journalism and mass media on the rap and hip-hop music culture.

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Video

    Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five accept and perform at the Rock Hall Induction Ceremony, 2007

    YouTube Videos

    Hank Shocklee (Bomb Squad)

    A Taste of Honey, "Rescue Me"

    Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight"

    Positive K, "I Got A Man"
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum | Library and Archives
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