Within hip-hop, there has always been a curiosity as to who created rap music and its source. For years, Caribbeans and African-Americans have gone back and forth in attempts to claim the art form. DJ Kool Herc was a Jamaican immigrant to the US, and Grandmaster Flash’s family migrated to the States from Barbados. As such, many West Indians claim that hip-hop was something born out of dancehall culture. However, this has never been certified.
Delving further into the culture, many African-Americans claim that UK genres like grime are direct replications of hip-hop. Many US citizens class other nations’ rapping as an appropriation of American culture, an opinion derived from long-lived falsehoods. Concerning the art of rapping, it seems that everyone wants to claim it.
Still, unfortunately, the lineage of rap and why it exists in different forms worldwide is far more complex and nuanced than most care to believe. In reality, the prevailing narrative that “rap was created by African-Americans” is an unbelievably reductionist view of what is, at its root, a fundamentally and indisputably African art form. While it is true that traditions such as scatting in jazz and improvisational rhyming during soul music breakdowns are practices that have their beginnings in African-American culture, for that to be cited as the source of rapping is ludicrous. However, many individuals still look at hip-hop through this lens.
As a form of expression, rapping is undeniably something that African-Americans have excelled at and helped spread across the globe. However, is it really their sole creation, or is the art form rooted in something much deeper? Despite what that prevailing narrative suggests. The true origins of rap have been expounded by the likes of KRS-One and Akala. However, the truth always seems to fall on deaf ears.
Not to disparage African-Americans, but concerning rap, a thorough exploration into the art form’s history would lead you back to the ‘Gold Coast’ of West Africa. This is where the stylistic origins of rap come from. Furthermore, no one individual created it. Before the creation of a shattered African diaspora spread across the globe, the majority of Black individuals currently living in the Americas and Europe were once residents of this coastline.
Here, a unique culture existed known as ‘Griot Culture’. The term griot has been referenced in many hip-hop tracks. This is the true foundation of modern-day rap music. The bedrock, so to speak. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, griots were travelling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintained a tradition of oral history in West Africa. Numerous historians have concluded that griots utilized drums such as djembes and bongos to enhance their features.
This culture is something that would travel to the Americas. If we consider the displacement of these Africans as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, we suddenly begin to see the bigger picture of how the art of storytelling over drumbeats may have its origins in locations such as the ancient Mali and Ashanti empires, instead of merely just the Bronx in the mid-’70s. Griot culture manifested itself differently across the Americas, from hip-hop to reggae. From grime to dancehall, they all incorporate elements from that same griot culture.
Below you can hear ‘Noah’ by the Jubilaires which is often cited as the first rap song of all time. The history of rap will forever, be truly subjective. Many will say it began with Cool Herc, while others may say it began with Jazz. Irrespective of when it began, it has birthed many amazing talents and a copious amounts of quality music. You can listen to the Jubilaires in the video below.