DIY Culture: Bridging the Gap Between Punk/Post-Punk & Hip-Hop

blame it on JES7 January 7, 2014

Debbie Harry (of Blondie), Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash & Chris Stein (of Blondie)

NOTE: By no means am I an expert in the genre. My knowledge is acceptable; middle-of-the-road at best. Sources are selected from digging through record bins, reading books on the subject and copious amounts of online digging and research.

As a child growing up in group homes and foster care for most of my pre-teen/teenage life, I was exposed to many different genres of music, as most of my “roommates” arrived from different backgrounds. While I’ve always been a Hip-Hop “true schooler,” I never really shunned other genres (save for country, bluegrass and pop music). I recall memories of our in-house counselor playing White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human” and being absolutely drawn in by the hardcore, high energy, industrial sounds of the song.

It was then that I also discovered bands like The Clash (I still have Combat Rock which I picked up from a thrift store for a dollar on cassette), The Ruts, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, the Ramones, Joan Jett and The Psychedelic Furs; and I sort of fell in love.

This encounter would eventually lead me to browse through his 300+ CD case and discover albums such as the Judgement Night soundtrack which married hardcore rap with industrial / metal / punk, a la Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill’s “I Love You Mary Jane“. On paper, it seems like it would sound awful. In reality, it makes perfect sense.


Public Enemy rocking Minor Threat Out of Step shirts

Tracing back to the origins of Hip-Hop reveals that the genre was basically born out of a DIY ethic, just as the 70s punk movement was. In hindsight, you could say the two genres are generally cut from the same self-sufficient cloth. The punk ideology lived within (and still does) the culture of early Hip-Hop: anti-establishment angst, hostility against corporations and for the most part, aggression against mainstream consumerism. Independence played a pivotal role in the advancement of the culture.

While it’s hard to pin-point the exact definition of post-punk, we can sort of break down the basics: less aggression, more experimentation (see Television’s “Marquee Moon” off the album of the same name, considered to have some of the most intricate guitar playing. Also, there’s a free drum break toward the end of the song. Yeah, I just gave out a secret), a heavy emphasis on dub (drum and bass) and the implementation of synthesizers, however sparse.


Debbie Harry on the set of the video for “Rapture”

In the early days of the scene, when Busy Bee battled Kool Moe Dee, punk and post-punk artists were already walking amongst Hip-Hop artists who would live to be considered our icons and forefathers. Post-punk/New Wave band Blondie’s hit “Rapture” appeared in Wild Style, albeit playing in the background.

The favor was returned in the video for Blondie’s “Rapture” which featured cameos from Fab 5 Freddy (who appeared in the aforementioned film), Wild Style star Lee Quinones and art icon Jean-Michel Basquiat (who stood in for an absent Flash). Debbie Harry also spit a few elementary bars on the song, shouting out Fab 5 & Grandmaster Flash as well. Almost a decade later, KRS-One would reenergize the song when he sampled “Rapture” for “Step Into a World (Rapture’s Delight)”, which, interestingly enough, also sampled The Mohawks’ 1967 instrumental hit, “The Champ” which hinted at early mosh-pit energy interlaced with mad funk. Don’t believe me? Watch the live performance of Onyx’s “Slam” below, which samples and interpolates “The Champ”.

Before the Beastie Boys would be catapulted into Hip-Hop stardom, they recorded an EP titled Polly Wog Stew which was straight up hardcore punk, seeming to pick up influence from bands like the Misfits and Black Flag. This, however, was in the early days when the original line-up was comprised of Mike D, MCA, John Berry and Kate Schellenbach (who played in the all-girl punk band, Lunachicks) – sans Ad-Rock.

Another post-punk/new wave band which would prove to be a major influence on Hip-Hop is the all girl trio ESG, who hailed from the South Bronx amidst the emergence of Hip-Hop. One particular cut from their 1981 self-titled EP that played an important role is the eerie, funktastic sounds of “UFO” which became the back-bone for many a rap classics. Even the Cold Crush Brothers cashed in on the punk attitude rage, releasing “Punk Rock Rap“, although it incorporated more new wave than punk.


Another parallel between the two cultures lies within the late graffiti legend RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ & K-Rob’s 1983 single, “Beat Bop“, considered to be a holy grail amongst diggers and Hip-Hop connoisseurs alike, carrying a price tag over a thousand dollars, mostly due to the unique artwork by Basquiat. Basquiat was known to frequent legendary hangouts like CBGB (considered the birthplace of New York punk) and the Mudd Club (in TriBeCa), rubbing shoulders with icons like indie film maker Jim Jarmusch and Andy Warhol; the latter whom managed The Velvet Underground, considered one of the proprietors of punk/proto-punk (RIP Lou Reed).


Malcolm McLaren

Other notable post-punk artists who had an impact on Hip-Hop include Malcolm McLaren (R.I.P.) who managed UK legends The Sex Pistols and released Duck Rock with The World’s Famous Supreme Team, which gave birth to songs like “Buffalo Gals” and “Hey DJ“. Without The Police’s “Roxanne”, off their 1978 Outlandos d’Amour (pretty much a post-punk/reggae album), we would never have heard Cam’Ron’s “What Means the World To You”.

Tom Tom Club was yet another staple in the new wave community, with two of their members migrating from David Byrne’s Talking Heads -one of my favorite new wave bands ever– and recording the smash singles, “Genius of Love” and “Wordy Rappinghood“. The former would later be sampled in countless songs, including Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” with ODB, Redman’s “Brick City Mashin'” and artists such as Eric Sermon, 2Pac, Ice Cube, T.I., 50 Cent and countless others.


Brandon Flowers (of The Killers) and the late Lou Reed (of The Velvet Underground)

The six degrees of separation can even be heard in The Killers’ first album, Hot Fuss, a post-punk revival album which cites influence from The Smiths, New Order, Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground and The Cure. “Andy You’re a Star” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” featured a choir section sung by The Sweet Inspirations, a soul group which reigned supreme in the 70s, headed by Emily Houston (mother of Whitney Houston, aunt to Dee Dee & Dionne Warwick). The Sweet Inspirations’ music was sampled by Raekwon (“Criminology“) and Ghostface Killah (“One“).

Fast forward to the present, and that influence is still apparent. Maybe more than ever; as everything comes full circle. The strong, independent mindset is reborn and rebranded within the Millennial Generation, and is apparent in “up-and-coming” artists like Nipsey Hussle, Action Bronson, Jay Z & Beyoncé’s #newrules approach, the Pro Era crew -hell, even Chief Keef, who I’m not a fan of at all- portrays the same punk attitude mindset.

As more established and rising artists come to the harsh realities of dealing with shady record labels and realize industry rule 4080 still applies today, those same artists are revamping their strategies. Distribution now deals at an independent level while the marketing aspects are handled individually through social media; dropping a giant middle finger to the corporate universe that has for decades, had a strong grip on artists’ collective throats. As Yasiin Bey said on “Oh No” “Observe how I stake my claim / I independently lay it down… I earned what they said I wouldn’t / I got it the way they said I couldn’t.”

The Slits’ cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”