On what he deemed the 30th anniversary of hip hop, in 2004, Village Voice critic Greg Tate wrote that the music’s “ubiquity has created a common ground and a common vernacular for Black folk from 18 to 50 worldwide.” Its global reach, however, has made it a rich site for “corporate exploitation.” The complicated relationship of hip hop and capitalism is something of a “bitter trick.” The music “represents Black culture and Black creative license in unique ways to the global marketplace, no matter how commodified it becomes.” And yet it “has now become a seller’s market, in which what does or does not get sold as hiphop to the masses is whatever the boardroom approves.”
Tate’s argument that the music and culture of hip hop are inseparable from globalized capitalism may partly explain why it roared into life in the eighties as a “convergence of ex-slaves and ch-hing,” just as the global consumer marketplace began to take its modern shape. Young, artistic entrepreneurs begged, borrowed, and stole records and equipment, sensing the opportunity for fame and riches in the creative recuperation of old sounds with new technology. Theirs was a language of ambition and desire, a celebration of sex and power—the language of modernity written in complex rhyme and call-and-response. A language spoken over generations and nations, and—now over ten years after Tate’s essay—spoken for over forty years of ever-increasing market share.
The origins of hip hop have provided ample material for entertaining fictionalizations like Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down and popular histories like the documentary Hip-Hip Evolution. These linear accounts present the genre to us in formats we find easily digestible. Even as Luhrmann’s series attempts to mimic the hyperkinetic pace of rap, it tells a story as conventional as they come. To experience the past 40 years of hip hop on the genre’s own terms—its perpetual callbacks to its ancestors, its seamless interweaving of past and present—it’s almost as though you’d need to experience it all at once. And so you can, in the incredible mash-up video above from The Hood Internet.
Taking over 150 songs from over 100 artists, the video puts them all in conversation with each other “40 Years of Hip Hop” mashes up “rappers from different eras finishing each other’s rhymes over intersecting beats, all woven together to make one song.” It’s an impressive technical achievement, and one that throws into relief not only hip hop’s smooth, shiny hyper-capitalist embrace of technology but also, as theorist and Black Atlantic author Paul Gilroy wrote, its counter-cultural core as a “means towards both individual self-fashioning and communal liberation.”