to watch the 1 hr 25 min video, click on
Cranky, aging rock stars may kvetch and bitch, but it doesn’t really matter. Hip Hop is here to stay. The musical revolution that began in the Bronx has gone global, acquired billions of dollars in holdings, and pushed every other form of popular music to adapt to the world it created over the past several decades. And whether you’re a casual fan or die-hard hip hop head, you’ve probably learned a list of names—the names of the founding fathers of the genre: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Africa Bambaataa, the Sugar Hill Gang, DJ Kool Herc, Kurtis Blow….
The list goes on. Those are the inventors of rap, right? The men—and too often unsung women—who turned seventies disco, funk, and R&B into something else entirely, who re-invented NYC street and club culture, and eventually the world with only their voices, dances, graffiti, attitudes, turntables, and mobile sound systems? Not exactly. Maybe it wasn’t the Bronx in the late ‘70s. Maybe it was Brooklyn and Queens in the late ‘60s. And maybe the founding fathers had names like Grandmaster Flowers, Nu Sounds, King Charles, Master D, Charisma Funk….
Never heard of ‘em? You’re not alone. The documentary above, Founding Fathers—narrated by Chuck D of the immortal Public Enemy—makes the case that these obscure pioneers did it first, and never received the credit they deserve after the uptown artists picked up their styles and ran with them. The claim is attested not only by veterans of this original Brooklyn party scene, but also by New York scenester Fab 5 Freddy and Queens historian Danny Wells (who traces the origins of the genre back to Louis Armstrong, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers), among other observers—and by the end of the film, you’ll have a very different understanding of where the music came from.
We learn that rapping began in 1970 with the rhyming patter of radio and club DJs, who imitated and one-upped each other in friendly competition over disco records, then created the call-and-response refrains that characterized the genre early on. And the musical “mixology” of hip hop began at the end of the ’60s with Brooklyn DJ Grandmaster Flowers—“the first Grandmaster”—who got his start in public parks. DJing then evolved into an almost athletic event with twin brothers The Disco Twins. Constructed mainly from interviews and archival footage, Founding Fathers presents a history of hip hop that you’ve never heard before, one created by local stars who didn’t achieve worldwide fame and glory, but who nonetheless forever changed the way the world sounds.
Founding Fathers (made available on Founding Fathers Youtube channel) will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Rick Rubin Revisits the Origins of Def Jam Records & the NYU Dorm Room Where It All Began
How ABC Television Introduced Rap Music to America in 1981: It’s Painfully Awkward
All Hail the Beat: How the 1980 Roland TR-808 Drum Machine Changed Pop Music
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness