Beat-Boxing Bronx: Celebrating 50 Years of Hip-Hop

The MTA released 50 Years of Hip Hop MetroCards to celebrate the event throughout the city. Metropolitan Transportation Authority ( COURTESY

By Grace Cardinal, Asst. News Editor

Hip-Hop has officially reached its 50th anniversary! Celebrations have occurred across the city and nationwide, including everything from museum exhibits to documentaries and much more.

Hip-hop rose from poverty, urban decay and gang violence in the Bronx borough. “Block parties and the various elements of hip-hop served as an outlet for creativity and an escape from the hardships of daily life,” according to AP News

“At the time of hip-hop’s inception, the Bronx had the highest poverty rate of not just New York City, but of all 62 counties in New York state,” according to AP News. “50 years later, it holds that same status.” Today, the style of hip-hop has evolved, yet maintained a prevalent presence on 21st century billboards.

“It’s all about taking music like disco, jazz, rock, r&b, music that sort of reflects, at the time, a sense of the past, almost like getting together for a family picnic,” Mark Pottinger Ph.D. said. “Music that sort of captures a generational moment in time. That’s the hook that defines hip-hop.”

Pottinger explained that hip-hop was created to shake up traditional, stable, socially constructed ideas. He said that the style mixes the past with the future, which represents everyone.

“The idea of boy or girl, or gender or race, or black or white, which seem to have been stable for many centuries or decades, this modern reality post-1950 brings the sense that things are not stable, that we can sort of revive a hybridity…to return to the past, but destabilize its meaning is at the heart of hip-hop,” Pottinger said. “It takes ideas of the past, reinvigorates it with new hybridity, filling it with elements that speak to the now but also ideas of the past. If anything, that’s what we are, we are sounds and ideas of the past that are reawakened with ideas of the present.”

Ethan Viera, a student at Manhattan with his own rap record label, told The Quadrangle about why hip-hop remains a prevalent genre with the younger generations and beyond.

“It voices struggle, and it kind of displays raw emotion,” Viera said. “I think those two things are inevitable in life. Everybody suffers. Everybody has raw emotions, how we express it is filtering those raw emotions, but rap is as raw as you’re gonna get. And so it relates to a lot of people because rappers are saying things that people don’t want to hear, but things that really make sense. A lot of people feel that a lot of people see that and they understand it. And that’s why there’s that familiarity. That’s why it’s loved so much.”

Pottinger explained that he feels hip-hop is still prevalent today due to its accessibility in creation.

“I think it’s mainly because many people can participate in its creation. There’s all these different dock programs that are online, and many of those same dock programs are used by artists. Lil Uzi Vert, he’s considered a SoundCloud rapper, a lot of that has been done independently away from the big production houses that define music today.”

Viera has been drawn to the genre since childhood, crediting Jay-Z as the artist who first got him interested in the style.

“It was maybe in like 2013 I was playing 2k, believe it or not,” Viera said. “And that year, Jay Z and Swizz Beatz did a soundtrack, and there was one song that really got my attention. It was PSA by Jay Z. I heard it, I was like, this is so gritty. It’s gritty, it’s intense, I really enjoyed it. I saw what he was trying to do, and I enjoyed it. Ever since then, I’ve just been listening more and more, indulging myself more and more into the genre.”

Pottinger commented on his own experience with rap music as a child, growing up in a time when hip-hop was gaining popularity. 

“I went into my little world and created my own sort of space in my room. And that included Run DMC, as well as Fat Boys as well as, at the time, Will Smith, the whole DJ Jazzy Jeff, you know, that whole world of not hard-hitting, gangster rap, but more sort of focusing on the having fun with the language and having fun and poking fun at sort of the everyday teenage phase because I think, that group was more focusing on what it means growing up in this country, as a black man.”

Pottinger, who was on sabbatical last year, spoke of his time internationally while hip-hop celebrations were occurring. 

“What was interesting is that I was in Paris last year with students during the summer,” Pottinger said. “And then I went to Amsterdam and London and to see continually in these 50 years there was already discussion of this happening in these international spaces. And as an aside, for the first time ever, in the 100 plus years of the Olympics, we have breakdancing as an event. It’s gonna be Paris, which many people would argue is the second capital of hip-hop. When I was in Paris, there were always happenings with breakdancing, but also a live event right there. You know, these [events] that are not necessarily planned for the 50 year, there’s no real leader of the 50 years celebration. There’s a sense of making this 2023 something important.”

Viera spoke about the ways he noticed NYC celebrated the milestone in music in different ways. 

“I know that the MTA did 50 years of hip-hop Metro cards,” Viera said. “It depends on what borough you get it from, but it’ll give you a different card each time, which I thought was interesting. They also have a hip-hop museum. There’s also the Brooklyn Museum with the Jay Z exhibit. There’s even more than that, you go to Soundview in the Bronx and there’s a block named after Big Punt. There’s so much and I feel like they’re trying to publicize it more, make it reach past the surface a little more, because with the younger generations, the origins aren’t as recognized. Everyone just listens to what’s popular now. But how did it get popular? You know, who started that? Who helped it?”

Viera concluded with hopes for his future in the industry. 

“I would not spend my life doing anything else, this is all I want to do,” Viera said. “When I first figured it out, when I first found it, I didn’t know it. But there was a point where I was like, there’s no going back. This is what I want to do, and I don’t care what I have to do to get there. That’s all part of the struggle and raw emotion that rap kind of teaches you. Literally just don’t give up. You want some shit to happen, make it happen, and that’s all there is to it.”