Without doubt, funk is the father of hip-hop – and although disco is sometimes viewed as somewhat anathematic to that movement, it’s worth remembering that for a while at least, it provided the vehicle that brought rap out of New York and presented it to the world – and the results of these divergent musical styles crossing paths still resonate around the globe.
It’s easy to forget or play down the importance of the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ – an unusual, clever novelty record that was cocksure and playful, which burned up the commercial airwaves in 1979. It was followed swiftly by Kurtis Blow’s ‘Christmas Rapping’, which also charted and gave Top Of The Pops its first on-stage rapper in early 1980. Although it wasn’t yet referred to as hip-hop in the UK, rap had already made itself known to the record-buying public at large – and as the rap 12-inch single was barely a year old, this was an incredible feat for such a nascent scene.
The largely independent rap releases which had been slowly but steadily trickling out of the US would occasionally, like Sugarhill’s appropriation of Chic’s ‘Good Times’, take their musical cues from popular club tracks of the day – and disco-derived rap records were plenty. ‘Rock It… Don’t Stop It!’ features a selection of forgotten or relatively obscure rap singles from the ’79-’83 period, universally known as ‘old school’, which fall into this category. Inspiration for these vignettes from hip-hop’s evolution range from classic party rockers by Cheryl Lynn, through to Yazoo (and, no doubt, ‘Rapper’s Delight’) and the featured MCs give it their best shot with humour, earnestness and everything in-between. Although most of these hail from New York state, the under-represented Massachusetts shines alongside a prominent player which at the time had yet to find its own distinctive voice – Los Angeles.
Hip hop and rap are now a dominant force in contemporary music and have constantly adapted to stay relevant, drawing on and absorbing all around them. ‘Rock It… Don’t Stop It!’ goes back over 30 years to their collective big bang moment.