hip hop vs. black punk: why we shouldn’t have to choose
February 13, 2022
I want to tell you a story about my experience with Death.
Rewind to 2020’s national shutdown where streaming services calmed the anxious mind. That was when I discovered the documentary, “A Band Called Death.” In the early 1970s, Detroit’s Hackney brothers—David, Dannis, and Bobby—would (kinda) be considered the first African-American punk band, preceding Bad Brains and Pure Hell (who many consider the first). But, with no label backing, they were persona non grata. In 1976, they self-released a single, “Politicians in My Eyes,” to little-to-no spins. Yet, “Politicians” breathed life into Death as their urban legend grew amongst punk purists because of the record’s rarity. In 2008, the surviving brothers, Bobby and Dannis, dusted off their demo recordings. A year later, they released them…For the World to See.
“They really predated what we know as the Punk movement,” Questlove summed up in the 2012 documentary.
I knew Afro-Punk bands existed, though far and few between. But at that moment in 2020, I was today-years-old when I knew an all-Black band was punk before punk was punk—Proto-Punk. Still, I’m a child of hip-hop, and the similarities between the two genres aren’t lost on me. Hell, NYC’s punk scene of the mid-to-late-1970’s paved a concrete path from SoHo to the Bronx, birthing probably the last original American art form, Hip-Hop.
They’re kissing cousins. However, the misconception about punk rock to some hip-hop heads during the 1980s and 1990s was that connecting to the music of the Patti Smiths and Sex Pistols of the world was futile because they suffered from a melanin-deficiency, as well as their legions of fans.
Aside from being musically attached at the hip in terms of how both sounds rely heavily on basslines and vocals, melodic or aggressive, that move the crowd, the tenets of both cultures derive from poverty-stricken environments that prompted an IDGAF, DIY attitude that birthed their respective cultures in the first place. In terms of fashion, what was really the difference between the fits of The Ramones and The Cold Crush Brothers? And that unbridled expression while flipping off the establishment that created angst and systematic hardships—either on wax or for the hell of it—were paramount for both. One group just riffed on a guitar, the other used two turntables and a mic.
“When you’re Black, you’re punk rock all the time,” said journalist, filmmaker, and guitarist of The 1865, Sacha Jenkins on The Very Black History of Punk Music digital news report by Al Jazeera’s AJ+.
The evolution of both genres has melded into one another. Not only is there a worldwide slew of punk bands of color using various digital platforms to be seen and heard (Meet Me @ The Altar, Danny Denial, Crystal Axis), you can hear punk’s influence in attitude and sound in hip-hop, today. Ahem…Kanye’s “Black Skinhead.” Musical and cultural tastes aren’t monolithic. Without the combining influences of Black punk and hip-hop, music festivals like AfroPunk wouldn’t be the global force it is today. And as hip-hop continues to be culture, the influences of punk rock will permeate and resonate with a new generation of POC misfits who’ll continue to go against the grain and add a smidge of anarchy to the establishment.
“I’m not saying Black people created punk,” Jenkins says. “I’m saying we are punk rock without even trying.”
Can’t get more punk than that
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