To the Five Boroughs
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The New York Playlist
I am not sure I can add anything to…
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the authoritative and wonderful celebration held on BBC Radio 6 Music. They have been focusing on the great state of New York and the music that came from there. To me; there is more to New York than the clichés: the rushing traffic and noise; those distinct boroughs and the urgency; the landmarks and the sense of wonder and size. It is, to be fair, a state more complex and rich than many people think. I have been considering the artists who are either based in New York or performed there – both past and present. As opposed to somewhere like London: New York is its own world and has so many diverse and compelling neighbourhoods. Newcomers like Princesses Nokia are putting the city back in the public fore: to be fair; the fascination has never gone away. My imagination casts to three different times: the 1960s when Bob Dylan played the East Village. This was before he made it huge – well before he went electric and shocked his established fanbase. It was a rich and heady time for Folk music. An article in The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review looked at New York’s expanding Folk scene from the late-1950s/early-1960s – and how Dylan helped change things and offer progression.
“Dylan was drawn into politics, releasing “The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” in 1964, but he soon rebelled against the prevailing political orthodoxy. In a New Yorker article he declared, “I’m not part of no Movement. If I was, I wouldn’t be able to do anything else but be in ‘the Movement.’ I just can’t have people sit around and make rules for me.” Of course, he broke one of the biggest rules of the folkies when he turned electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, giving Pete Seeger heartburn.
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Dylan’s apostasy was the most significant indication that New York folkies were broadening their musical range with electric instruments. One Village-based group, the Lovin’ Spoonful, led by the Washington Square veteran John Sebastian, became what was probably the city’s first folk-rock band. They were connected to another city group, the Mamas and the Papas, whose leader, John Phillips, had been one of the Journeymen — and the success of these bands, Petrus and Cohen suggest, signaled the end of the bustling New York City folk scene”.
The next period I think about is the birth of Hip-Hop - and how it has developed through the years. Brooklyn might have lost its crown in the past few years: other boroughs like Manhattan, and states further south, have taken hold and are producing bigger stars. A great article at WNYC looked at Hip-Hop’s invention - and how it managed to gain a foothold in The Bronx:
“Hip-hop's foundations were being laid in the 1970s, brick by brick, by DJs in the South Bronx, sometimes even in burnt out or deteriorating buildings. These pioneers invented sampling (isolating one sound and reusing it in another song) and hip-hop's other key elements through trial and error, mostly by fooling around with records at home.
DJ Kool Herc, a.k.a. Clive Campbell, laid the first building block of hip-hop down in 1973. That was when he reportedly hosted a party in his building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue with a sound system, or sound equipment used to DJ a party. Herc's sound system was a guitar amp and two turntables.
"Kool Herc brought the idea of the Jamaican sound system to America," says Marcus Reeves, journalist and the author of Somebody Scream! Rap Music's Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Eric B & Rakim (considered to be the most influential D.J./M.C. combination in contemporary music)/PHOTO CREDIT: Janette Beckman/Museum of the City of New York
We can chart those early days of Hip-Hop and what an amazing movement is was. Although the genre still lives life in the shadows: it is a powerful voice providing some of he most sounds around. From Beastie Boys through to De La Soul; through to Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar and Eminem: the American Hip-Hop movement has evolved and compelled through the decades. It has branched to other nations and brought in other genres and cultures: it all began back in the 1970s on those modest foundations. Aside from the Is This It/The Strokes sensation of 2001: there have been few fantastic guitar bands coming out of the state. There was a brief and active Garage-Rock/Post-Punk explosion after that album but, since then; New York has not really witnessed a huge and emphatic scene! There have been incredible New York-made albums but, and the third scene that has compelled me, the sheer variety of the modern day is staggering. Maybe there is nothing as world-changing as the Folk and Hip-Hop movements. Listen to BBC Radio 6 Music’s thorough and passionate look at New York’s incredible musical lineage. Wu-Tang Clan’s Mathematics and RZA took over the station for a couple of hours; Huey Morgan delivered a New York special – the station highlighted a dozen albums that captured/captures the spirit of the state. There are some fantastic New York newcomers but, for the most part; we look back at the state’s music and all the wonders from the five boroughs.
IN THIS PHOTO: Debbie Harry of New York-formed Blondie/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Rather than investigate history and timeline of New York’s blossoming music culture – other sites and writers can do that better than me – I thought it best to collate a selection of New York-inspired/based sounds: looking back at the legendary icons and the new breed who ensure eyes will always be trained on the mighty state. It is a fantastic part of the world that has done so much and transformed music as we know it. Such a candid, vivid and multifarious market that has made an impact on so many lives. It is not only the music that inspires evocative discussion: the bustling, multicultural neighbourhoods are teeming with energy and discussion; the terrific venues draw the people in and spit incredible sounds into the open – it is an organism and tapestry that is like nothing else. New York is truly unique. Rather than keep your eyes busy and distracted: have a listen to the stunning music either made in New York/by a New York artist or influenced by the state. As we remember the peerless impact New York has made to music - we must not forget the fact it will continue to shape and inspire the people…
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FOR generations to come…