Old school hip hop describes the earliest commercially recorded hip hop music (1979–1984), and often by extension the music in the period preceding it (see Roots of hip hop). The image, styles and sounds of the old school were exemplified by figures like the Fat Boys, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, The Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One, Fab 5 Freddy and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. This was later sent into decline with the advent of new school acts Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J, with these latter acts now themselves often considered old school as we move further away in time from their initial impact.


Hip hop music began in the early 1970s in New York City with the advent of breakbeat DJing. Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and other DJs extended the breaks (short percussion interludes) of funk records. This use of extended percussion breaks led to the development of mixing and scratching techniques. As hip hop's popularity grew, performers began speaking while the music played, and became known as MCs or emcees. Melle Mel, a rapper in the group Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was the first to call himself "MC". Performers often emceed for hours at a time, with some improvisation and a simple four-count beat and basic chorus. MCs grew more varied in their vocal and rhythmic approach, incorporating brief rhymes, often with a theme. These early raps had precursors and parallels in other aspects of African American culture, such as the dozens and signifying. During this early stage were prominent rap groups such as Funky Four Plus One, who performed "That's the Joint" on Saturday Night Live in 1981. (see Roots of hip hop music).

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