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Harlem World poster, 1981
Courtesy of Curtis Sherrod


“Hip-hop is the voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, and it’s a local phenomenom fueled with so much passion and truth it could not help but reach the entire world.”

—Kurtis Blow

For more than a century Harlem has been the cultural, artistic and musical capitol of Black America. Its timeless, globally indelible influence on jazz, gospel, R&B and, for nearly 30 years, hip-hop, has immeasurable social, cultural, and historic significance. Highlighting Harlem’s contribution to hip-hop’s amazing evolution, from its humble 1970s inner city beginnings, to the annual $10 billion worldwide phenomenon it is today, is the proud purpose of harlem is... Hip-Hop.


Harlem’s hip-hop history of break beats, break dancing, MC battles, and graffiti art can officially be traced back to Harlem World, which, from 1979 through 1985, was the Mecca of all things hip-hop. Through its graffiti emblazoned portals strode some of the best MCs and DJs of the time, including Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, Love Bug Starski, Grandmaster Caz, The Cold Crush Brothers, Busy Bee, the Harlem World Crew, the incomparable Doug E. Fresh, and Harlem’s original “King of Rap,” Kurtis Blow.   


Born Kurtis Walker on August 9, 1959, Kurtis Blow started his career as a break dancer, became a deejay and ultimately a barrior breaking MC. His first release, 1979’s ”Christmas Rapping,” was followed by rap’s first gold classic single, “The Breaks,” featured on his debut, self-titled 1980 Mercury/CBS album. Other hits followed, such as “Hard Times,” “Basketball,” and “If I Ruled the World” (featured in the hip-hop themed movie, “Krush Groove”). A nurturer of the early careers of the Fat Boys, Run-DMC and others, today Kurtis Blow still tours, records and heads a thriving hip-hop ministry. Indeed, the “King of Rap” still reigns.


The stellar list of vital Harlem hip-hop pioneers also includes “The World’s Greatest Entertainer,” Doug E. Fresh, whose double sided 1985 gold single “The Show/La Di Da Di,” is a hip-hop classic; Eric B. and Rakim, who gave hip-hop a funky jazz flavor with their 1986 smash album Paid in Full; the Jungle Brothers, who scored with the unique album, Straight out the Jungle; Children of the Corn, lead by Harlem’s late Big L, and featuring Killa Kam (a.k.a. Cam’Ron); and MA$E, who shot to stardom with Sean “Puffy” Combs on the hit “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems,” and, in 1997 delivered the platinum solo album, Harlem World. Two of Harlem’s biggest hip-hop moguls are Damon Dash, who, with rap superstar Jay-Z, created the multi-million dollar Roc-A-Fella Records/Roc-A-Wear clothing line dynasty; and Sean “Puff Daddy” (now Diddy) Combs, the multi-millionaire rapper, actor, fashion entrepreneur, and CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment. Star maker of Notorious B.I.G., Lil Kim, Faith Evans, Mase, etc., Diddy underscores the enduring power and global influence that is Harlem-created hip-hop. 


No retrospective of hip-hop in Harlem could be complete without recognizing its native legends The Last Poets. Rulers of the spoken word to the beat from the mid-‘60s, the “Godfathers of rap” were the voices of Black consciousness. Still politically and artistically on point, the Last Poets have collaborated with Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh, Nas, and Dead Prez, solidifying their timeless legacy and direct link to Harlem’s rich hip-hop history.


Summing up harlem is... Hip-Hop, Kurtis Blow concludes, “Hip-hop is the voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, and it’s a local phenomenon fueled with so much passion and truth it could not help but reach the entire world.”


Hip Hop isjust like rap...
Rap people do beats in rap...
Hip Hop has rhythm...
Rap and Hip Hop make people feel good...

—Sasha Green, 2nd grade, G.P. Brown Computer School

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