Michael W. Waters
On August 11, 1973, a party in the recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx became the unlikely birthplace of a movement; hip hop. Forty years removed from its genesis, hip hop remains vibrant, influencing everything from linguistics and politics to music and fashion. To fully understand hip hop – and its historical and present-day contributions – it is important to note the context that shaped it and that ultimately catapulted it internationally.
On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Widely regarded as the American Civil Rights Movement’s greatest leader and most prominent voice for social change, King’s death marked the end of the American Civil Rights era. King’s death also marked the beginning of the decline of the historic African American church, fuelled by a growing disillusionment with the church to effectuate still needed changes and equality for African Americans. “An earlier concern for social justice seemed lost to a new sense of individual pietism that promised heaven but did little to change the existential situation of black Americans.”2
A new generation of African American youth came of age during the years of the African American church’s decline. The children of the Baby Boomers Generation – individuals born during the Post-World War II spike in births in America between 1946 and 1964 – this new generation’s disillusionment with the African American church was fuelled not only by their parent’s disillusionment, but on account of the dire economic and social concerns surrounding them, particularly in the urban centre. Therefore, in one generation’s time, African American participation in the life of the historic African American church declined dramatically, especially with urban African American men. “A generation ago, four out of every five inner city black men had some contact with church or Sunday School. Today…studies show three out of five have no church contact whatsoever.” Hip Hop has a greater influence on the youth than our pastors.
How does the Christian Church compete with Hip Hop ?