It’s hard to believe, but hip-hop has been around now for half a century. Back in August of 1973, in the Bronx, NY, DJ Kool Herc spun the same record on twin turntables to extend the song’s percussion breaks. It was a seminal moment in an art form that would grow beyond music to film, style, and ultimately culture.
While much was made about hip-hop’s east coast and west coast sounds, Houston left its own mark on it, most famously through “chopped and screwed” music developed by artists like DJ Screw and Bun B, among others.
In the audio above, we discuss 50 years of hip-hop with John Guess, the CEO of The Houston Museum of African American Culture. We also talk about the museum’s exhibit, El Franco Lee II: Mid-Career Survey, curated by HMAAC’s chief curator, Christopher Blay.
The museum, in conjunction with the Emancipation Park Conservancy, is putting together a series of events called "Beats on Screen: A Celebration of Hip-Hop Cinema," which features three film screenings in the month of July to celebrate 50 years since the creation of hip-hop.
The first screening will be "Wild Style" (1982) on July 9 at Emancipation Park at 7:30 p.m. The event will be preceded by a DJ Battle between DJ Aggravated and DJ Def Jam Blaster. The film is recognized as the first hip-hop motion picture. It follows a South Bronx graffiti artist who's commissioned to paint a backdrop for a rap concert.
"Wild Style was a film that introduced," Guess said. "These were people like Queen Lisa Lee and Lady Pink and Grandmaster Flash who were introducing themselves to the world."
The next screening at Emancipation Park will be "Beat Street" on July 14 at 7:30 p.m. According to Guess, this movie is hip-hop's coming out film. It follows a DJ and his best friend as they try to break into the music business.
"Now you're not talking about ‘We're doing this', we're out of the basement this is what we do," Guess said. "It becomes something that's familiar to other people, and it becomes an over into what musicians, who came out of basements, were doing to get into the music industry."
Guess said Beat Street was the film that spread hip-hop culture and music beyond the Bronx and across the country. It was produced by Harry Belafonte and featured budding star Rae Dawn Chong.
Finally, the series wraps up on July 23 with a screening of "House Party" at the Houston Museum of African American Culture at 7:30 p.m. The 1990 film features the hip-hop duo "Kid ‘n Play" and tells the story of Kid, Christopher Reid, sneaking out of his house to go to a party at Play's, Christopher Martin, house. It will be preceded by a 90's hip-hop set from DJ Flash Gordon Parks. Although not widely considered a hip-hop film, Guess feels that it shows off the culture.
"By the time you get to ‘House Party,' well, it's a party," said Guess. "That is, now you're looking at fashion, how Kid dressed, how Play dressed, the hairstyles, you're looking at the real expression that comes from life in low income areas, in the community, and how they were taking the creative impulse from that and reimagining."
HMAAC curator Jasmine Jones explained why they chose to celebrate hip-hop with film.
"With the expansion of Hip-Hop from the Bronx to the rest of the world, it was an inevitable step for its influence to touch film, even creating its own genre."
Nicolas Pinto contributed to this story.