East Croydon Cool talks… is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts.
This month we chatted to Sumit Rehal, the Editor in Chief of Highlight Nation to learn a little more about the world of Hip Hop.
Highlight Nation was founded in 2014 as an entertainment website to promote under-represented talent. The site has gained a strong cult following of thousands worldwide who appreciate the viewpoints and creativity of the journalists. In addition to interviews, articles and video content, Highlight Nation also run a range of events including the hugely popular 2Pac Changes exhibition held in Croydon last year.
Alongside his role at Highlight Nation, Sumit is also a music and art journalist. He started writing out of frustration and dissatisfaction with what is regarded as popular culture. He was fed up with media executives telling people what to believe and so decided that “in a world where the mainstream is dictated by advertising and money hungry corporations”, he would “seek to celebrate true talent by creating content that highlights passion and supports local industry.”
Sumit’s three vices are hip hop, travelling and wrestling, all of which he has written about extensively.
1) When did Hip Hop start? Who were it’s founders?
Hip hop started to popularise in the late 1970s in the Bronx, New York. It is argued that DJ Kool Herc put on the first ever hip hop parties at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue and this is where pioneering artists such as Grandmaster Caz, Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee, Afrika Bambaataa, Sheri Sher, Mean Gene, Kool DJ Red Alert, and KRS-One started to get involved. The roots of hip hop culture such as the rapping and the instrumentation traces its way back to jazz and even the African sounds of centuries before.
2) Why/How did it get the name Hip Hop?
The early hip hop sounds were very different to what we hear now. Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, who was an MC in the pionerring rap group The Furious Five, is often credited to coining the term due to him teasing a friend who was in the army by chanting “hip/hop, hip/hop” while preparing to rap on the microphone. He later worked this routine in his performances and the phrase caught on.
3) How did Hip Hop make the transition from the USA to the rest of the world?
Hip hop in its purest form is a great way to cultivate a message, especially towards the youth. Movements around the world caught on to social missions of revolutionary hip hop artists such as Public Enemy, NWA, KRS One and 2Pac. Alongside this the non pure form that we hear on the radio is very marketable with its earworms and simplicity. Altogether though, hip hop is the punk rock of today with countless artists using their music to spread a social or unique message.
4) Who have been the biggest influences in taking Hip Hop mainstream?
In terms of rappers – 2Pac and Eminem were behemoths when it came to controversy and making waves into the mainstream. However there are those behind the boards such as Dr Dre and Kanye West who have been geniuses when it comes to business and production deals.
5) Why so much homophobia and misogyny?
At its very core, hip hop is unfiltered social commentary. If a rapper is being genuine, they are commenting on what they really feel or what they see and it is actually all they know. If a rapper feels love, he will rap about it. If a rapper feels hate, he will rap about it. However the balance of this is dangerous as many business executives prefer to market the more mysogynistic side of things because that is what they feel the audience prefers to hear. If that is the case then it appeals to what people also resonate with.
The way I see it though is that hip hop is a broad term for one topic. When you think of restaurants, you mostly get restaurants that are bad for you and filled with junk such as McDonalds or you will get restaurants that sell high end, healthy food but they are less common. The same thing goes with music, the junk is what is mostly available as it is easy to process but there are still thousands of positive artists that you just have to put a bit more of effort in to find. The only way we will hear something different is if we change our listening habits.
Modern rappers such as J Cole and Kendrick Lamar are the most popular music artists in the world right now but most of their messages are very supportive of different communities.
6) What impact has Hip Hop had on UK culture?
Early hip hop has had an impact on UK movements such as Garage and Grime but those genres are also inspired from other genres such as Jungle and Drum N bass. However artistry such as Graffiti and breakdancing are also part of the hip hop family and this has played a huge part of UK culture of the last few decades.
7) What are the best Hip Hop events/gigs around the world?
Hip Hop Kemp near Prague is one of the most popular pure hip hop festivals with old school and new school rappers on all day in one stage. You even get to travel to the festival by steam train!
8) Has tension between artists been an integral part of Hip Hop culture?
Many treat hip hop as a sport as there is limited space for competition. However a lot of the time the tension is fueled by the media and it is blown out of proportion. A lot of tension between UK rappers is thankfully just banter at the end of the day.
9) What does the future of hip hop in South London hold?
There have been a huge breakthrough of rappers and producers from South London come through recently. Mainstream artists such as Stormzy and Krept & Konan are from Croydon itself and others such as Giggs are from around the area too. In the near future, we will see a variety within underground social rappers such as Vividree breaking through.
10) How can we keep up to date with what’s to come?
Keep it locked in at Highlight Nation, check out the website and follow us on Instagram @Highlight.Nation for interviews for the next wave of artists coming through!