McGuire discusses the evolution of hip hop

Haligonian rapper, producer, and academic lectures for Black History Month.

Mike McGuire, both an artist and student of the genre, talked hip-hop last week at Mount Allison. McGuire is a recent graduate of Mount Saint Vincent University, whose time there culminated in a thesis on the history of hip-hop in Halifax; his talk outlined the genre’s rise and fall from its beginnings in the Bronx through its Golden Age in the nineties and ended with discussion of the genre’s current state.

McGuire’s talk began with a discussion of the influences of hip-hop, in which he specifically mentioned the talking blues and West African music. Due mention was also given to the influence of poetry on the genre, and with nods to Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets, McGuire detailed how these influences mixed in the Bronx.

To set the scene, he talked about Robert Moses’ push for urban renewal by the city of New York in 1972, which saw massive construction projects in the Bronx. The Cross Bronx Expressway displaced millions in an effort to make the city more accessible to the suburbs. The result: property values plummeted, half a million jobs were lost, and youth unemployment spiked to eighty per cent. Four blocks a week were lost to fire throughout the decade because it was more profitable for landlords to lose their property and collect insurance than to maintain it.

It was a place where people had to make their own fun, giving rise to many hip-hop related activities. Together these allowed the community to come together around music by converging in parks, stealing power, and putting on massive shows.

After adding the caveat that this was only a history, and not the history, of hip-hop, he outlined the first advancements of hip-hop in the field of DJing. From DJ Kool Herc’s stringing the break beats of songs together to Grandmaster Flash’s clocking technique, the sound developed over the course of twenty years.

McGuire discussed how, unlike preceding genres that became cultural touchstones, such as rock-‘n’-roll or jazz, hip-hop stayed largely true to itself and remained politically charged. As Chuck D famously said, “Rap is black America’s TV station. It gives a whole perspective about what exists and what black life is.”

However, as rap became part of the mainstream its principle began to shift, the genre becoming more and more dominated by the themes and sounds of West Coast gangster rap. McGuire ended his talk on that note, opening up the floor for discussion. In these discussions, more controversial topics such as the direction and focus of contemporary hip-hop were brought up, including its focus on money and its attitudes toward women.

McGuire is a rapper and producer himself, releasing albums and contributions to other projects under the moniker Hermitofthewoods. He is also an avid slam poet who has competed on the national stage, and a resident judge for The Elements League, which is part of a rap battle circuit.

The talk was a planned part of the university’s celebration of Black History Month, some of which is now occurring during the month of March due to complications arising as a result of the strike.

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