August 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Hip-Hop, said to have begun in 1973 at a little South-Bronx party hosted by DJ Kool Herc. But years before Herc introduced New York to the breakbeat, African-American music and spoken-word traditions had been brewing in the great social unrest of the 60s and 70s to create a musical genre that is now a global phenomenon. Today we look at two original copyright deposits from the Music Division collections which represent the early foundations of Hip-Hop.
Here Comes the Judge (1968), Pigmeat Markham
Twelve years before the Sugarhill Gang’s 1980 hit, “Rapper’s Delight,” put Hip-Hop on the global stage, another American rap song gained international influence, hitting number nineteen on the 1968 UK Billboard Charts. With “Here Comes the Judge,” comedian Pigmeat Markham assumed his signature stage role as an irreverent courtroom judge who deals no-nonsense rulings. The character boasts, quips, and “lays down the law” over a funk beat, foreshadowing the braggadocio that would become a key element of rap in later decades. Though comedic, the song is deeply rooted in the social unrest of the time, with the Judge declaring that he will put an end to the Vietnam war:
Everybody near or far,
I’m goin’ to Paris to stop this war.
All those kids gotta listen to me,
I am the Judge and you can plainly see…
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1971), Gil Scott-Heron
American poet, singer, and jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron was in his early 20s when he released “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” on Flying Dutchman Records in 1971. In an essay for the song’s induction into the National Recording Registry, Cary O’Dell calls it “a timeless social critique…one in which the founding modern strands and themes of rap and hip-hop can be heard.” Scott-Heron took the title directly from the Black Power movement. Featuring spoken lyrics on top of a jazz-funk groove, the song calls out white-centric American consumerist media – while underscoring its glaring ignoration of the Black experience:
There will be no pictures of Pigs shooting down Brothers on the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being run out of Harlem on a rail, will [sic] a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion, or still lifes, of Roy Wilkins strolling through Watts in a red, black, and green Liberation Jump Suit that he had been saving for the proper occasion.
Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville Junctions [sic] will no longer be so Goddamn relevant.
As Marcus Baram points out, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” would endure as a social justice anthem not just for its time, but for numerous movements to come. Furthermore, its influence can be heard in socially conscious rap from Public Enemy to Mos Def to Kendrick Lamar.
To learn more about Hip-Hop and the pieces discussed here, check out these resources from the Library of Congress: