Music has been an inextricable part of African culture for thousands of years

From the moment Rap burst on the scene, it seized the nation. It was attention getting, it was robust, it was innovative and it took little time to distinguish itself as a fully realized art form. The innovation of Rap spawned the creation of new musical forms. It influenced drum machines, as it glorified un-natural sounds. It redefined the role of synthesizers and created an industry of sampling and DJ techniques. The low tech nature of hip hop democratized music and placed it within the reach of kids who were squarely on the outside of the music industry and placed them front and center of a world movement. All rap required was a DJ, microphone, speakers and a rapper.

The songs below are an excellent selection from the best vintages in rap history.

CLICK HERE to download our PDF write-up of The Woozy Salute to Black Music.

The Songs

click to play the excerpt

1. Grandmaster Melle Mel (1982)the message

2. Afrika Bambaataa (1982)looking for the perfect beat

3. *2 Live Crew (1986)cut it up

4. Boogie Down Production (1987)super-hoe

5. Ultramagnetic MC's (1988)critical beatdown

6. The Jungle Brothers (1988)black is black

7. Schoolly D (1988)smoke some kill

8. Gangstarr (1991)step in the arena

9. Snoop Dogg (1993)gin and juice

10. The Digable Planets (1994)blowing down

11. X-Raided (2000)lord have mercy

12. Rob Swift (2002)interview with colored man

13. Quasimoto (2005)spaces

14. Diamond District (2009)first time

*CLICK HERE to view Kimberly Crewnshaw's, Beyond Racism and Misogyny: Black Feminism and 2 Live Crew. Boston Review

Rap, was at its root, an opportunity created from a combination of existing African-American musical traditions and a new imperative of expression emanating from newly empowered oppressed peoples. Inner city youth (blacks, Latinos Caribbean creoles, etc) pushed this imperative forward into a musical form that expressed new and bold iterations of an identity informed by civil rights, protest and black empowerment. Rap was in fact a new 'code' that highlighted their unique urban experiences, hopes and disappointment, while also serving as an explosive and infectious artistic outlet.

It is the thesis of The Woozy that hip hop follows in the wake of many musical innovations created by African Americans from the bits and pieces of rhythms, chorals, chants and percussive traditions brought to the new world from Africa. African-American music has re-imagined these basic components and adapted them to form new musical forms such as negro spirituals, delta blues, folk, dixie, jazz, blues, gospel, R&B, Rock, Doo-Wop, Funk, Soul, Spoken Word, Rap,... and beyond.

As far as hip hop being seen as a medium that portrays negative images by “glorifying” negativity let us not forget, hip hop is the voice of the urban landscape and this landscape is rife with negativity. These negatives exist in urban communities across the United States, not because of hip hop, rather, because of the historical effects of a myriad of issues arising from our nations 400 year long embrace and protection of slavery and all of it's consequences and eventualities. THESE realities and the literary devices employed to express them, compose the elements -the chemistry- that serves as the essential DNA and biology of hip hop.

Hearing about the dysfunction, traumatic responses and intergenerational impact of oppression as expressed in hip hop is not the problem. The fact that these problems exist and are perpetuated to this day IS the nexus from which hip hops springs. Hip hop can not be held accountable for the problems of the inner city, rather, its role in providing a vital articulation and expression of these issues while also serving as an urban educational outlet makes hip hop an invaluable cultural resource. Hip hop is, by and large, a celebration of life in the context of a uniquely urban perspective.

The following audio clips illustrate one route, -one progression through the African American song book from the greatest artists of all time.

The Progression

A Short History of the Evolution of African Music in America.

Slavery and migration transported African rhythms and structures to new lands that provided opportunities for hybrid innovations with instruments and new musical styles that were previously unimagined.

click to play the excerpt

1. Scott Joplin - Gladiolus Rag

Scott Joplin was a Black man born during reconstruction. Despite this enormous handicap, his talent outshone the specter of racism as he popularized ragtime and became one of the best selling songwriters of the late 19th Century.

2. Original Dixieland with Al Bernard - St. Louis Blues

Dixieland was a code word for Black Music. This clip is a fine example of it's structure and appeal as yet another innovation created by Black artists.

3. Robert Johnson - From 4 Until Late

King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson lived the same kind of vagabond life he sang about. A hardscrabble life lived in the heart of the south 50 years after the end of slavery.

4. Paul Robeson - Ol' Man River

One of the greatest athletes, scholars and actors in American history. At one time, he was the highest paid entertainer in the United States. In this song, he sings a well known work song for blacks who toiled loading cotton on the Mississippi while under duress, threat of violence and mostly for free. Robeson's voice is addictive and beautiful.

5. Billie Holiday - He's Funny That Way

Billie Holiday sings the blues like only she can. Due to the effect of racism and 2nd class status, the vast majority of blacks in her era had an upbringing not dissimilar to her. The artistry she brought in voicing the pain and longings of millions was exquisite.

6. The Mississippi Sheiks - Ram Rod Blues

Mississippi Sheiks is an excellent example of a Black country blues group that gained renown in the 30's

7. Mississippi John Hurt - Shortnin' Bread

John Hurt was discovered, lost and re-discovered decades later. His unique 3 finger style brought a homespun charm to compliment his simple vocal style. Hurt was an authentic sharecropper who made money playing his guitar for small dances and clubs. Once his recordings became known he became one of the most admired and covered blues artist in modern times. 'Shortnin' Bread' may seem like a simple children's song on the surface, yet, due to the complexity of American race relations it elicits painful memories among many.

8. Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit

A song about the horror of lynching, based on the poem by Lewis Allan, this one song, a grassroots anthem, did more to give voice to the anti-lynching movement than previous decades of organized protests

9. The Impressions - This Is My Country

One of the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Era written by Curtis Mayfield.

10. James Baldwin - Baldwin's Nigger

During a visit to England James Baldwin Explains that his genealogical search ends with a bill of sale as "Baldwin's Nigger". Baldwin's form was literature, but in The Civil Rights Era, it was his public speaking and essays that influenced the critical analysis of a new black consciousness. Baldwin and a cadre of Black grassroots educators, including Kwame Toure (Stokeley Carmichael), Martin Luther King, Jr., El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), Robert F. Williams, and many others took the word of a new Black identity on the road and completed the world’s largest and most successful re-education campaign in history, resulting in the transformation of 22 million American Negros into a proud, ambitious and politically active Black people.

11. Dick Gregory - Black Ain't A Color

In this talk Dick Gregory, uses small doses of humor in his un-repentant analysis of the Black/White dichotomy. Gregory embodied a Black power attitude of fearless Black love and truth that demanded recognition and exemplified an intelligent boldness and cockiness that is at the root of hip hop culture.

12. The Last Poets - Medley

The Black Poets were literally "Rap" before Rap was Rap. They had the music, the rhymes and the socially conscious message. The only thing missing was a DJ with a melody, drum machine, hook and bridge.

13. Verrett Lee - Oh Freedom

The great Verrett Lee sings 'Oh Freedom', A post-Civil War era freedom song brought back into fashion by the Civil Rights era.

14. Bob Marley - Concrete Jungle

Bob Marley sings about the concrete jungle in Trenchtown, Jamaica, -a former livestock farm that thousands of destitute Jamaicans called home. Even though Marley sang about Jamaica, those who lived in ghettos and yearned for something better resonated with the message that slavery, oppression and "ghetto-ization" are closely linked.

15. Peter Tosh - Go Tell It On The Mountain

This song is another traditional African-American spiritual song from the Civil War era brought to prominence by the Civil Rights movement.

16. Marvin Gaye - Anger

Marvin Gaye followed up his amazing album, 'What's Going On', with an album composed for and about his marriage and divorce from Berry Gordy's sister, Anna. Part blues, part funk, soul and doo-wop, Marvin expanded the African-American songbook.

17. Jimi Hendrix - Long Hot Summer Night

Hendrix melded blues with rock and pioneered psychedelic rock. As a black man in a game where almost all guitar gods were white, he turned the scene upside-down with constant innovation, a deluge of tracks and a charisma matched only by his voracious need for cutting edge experiences.

18. Richard Pryor - Eulogy

Richard Pryor, the son of a prostitute and pimp was raised in a whorehouse. His comedic routine broke from mimicking Bill Cosby into a whole new political/racial/cultural assault of vulgarity, preposterous scenarios and bitter, cutting truth. Richard Pryor liberated millions of African-American's by saying exactly what was on his mind.

19. Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

This song is a classic. A black liberationist opus that injected life, consciousness and political awareness into ghettos, college campuses and middle class living rooms across the nation.

20. Curtis Mayfield - Doo Doo Wop

A song about jail, injustice and the effect of incarceration upon the psyche of the oppressed, this song, written for a Miguel Pinero play, gave voice to the trials and tribulations of Blacks and Puerto Ricans caught in New York's criminal justice system.

21. Miles Davis - Honky Tonk (Take 5)

Miles Davis, like Hendrix, did nothing but innovate and push the boundaries of music.

22. The Edwin Hawkins Singers - The House Of The Lord

This song is a gospel classic from an inspired album that brought the roots of gospel into the homes of millions with it's hit, 'Oh Happy Day'.

23. The Sugarhill Gang - Rappers Delight

This is the song that started it all. Soon after Rappers Delight came out, everyone was talking about the song that didn't have singing, rather guys "talking fast" to the music. No one knew the word "Rap" yet. In the days where most people relied on the radio to hear music, everyone wanted to catch this song so they could hear the words and break down the message. For those that could memorize the lyrics quickly, they had to give multiple performances a day of "Rappers Delight". Sylvia Robinson of Sugarhill Records started a cottage industry of purloined beats, borrowed bass lines and stolen bridges to fuel the nations insatiable desire for the next 12" rap song.

24. Kurtis Blow - The Breaks

'The Breaks' was the next real hit song in Rap History following upon 'Rappers Delight'. During the early years of Rap, it was about waiting for 12" tracks to drop.

25. Boogie Down Productions - The South Bronx

In this song, The Blastmaster KRS-One gives a Hip Hop history lesson that marks The Bronx as the birthplace of Hip Hop.

26. Bob Marley - Redemption Song

Perhaps the greatest folk song of all-time, 'Redemption Song' is infused with a deeply heartfelt message that is firmly rooted in the personal, but points the direction towards a political liberationist perspective. This song reveals in an essential way why Rap was necessitated. A new musical form was needed to tell the story of a uniquely Black American human desire for freedom and recognition despite 450 years of oppression and the modern nightmare of techno-marginalization within concrete slums and vertical ghettos.

27. Schoolly D - Black Man

Schoolly D uses a Black Liberationist speech as the core foundation of his song, 'Black Man' illustrating the deep links between Black consciousness and Hip Hop.

28. RUN-DMC with Aerosmith - Walk This Way

'Walk This Way' by Run-DMC and Aerosmith was the song that finally broke Rap into the mainstream for good. When this song came out, MTV had a policy of only playing Michael Jackson while largely ignoring all other Black artist. 'Walk This Way' stormed the nation by merging rap with rock and uniting black and white youth through by way of a love of two musical styles that had previously been seen as incongruous. It was an artistic collaboration that achieved what reason, logic, and love could not, catapulting rap to a plateau from which it would never have to look back.