The Story Of Hip-Hop’s Earliest Days Is Told By Its Pioneers (Video)

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Fifteen years after the onset of Hip-Hop culture (August of 1973 is credited by many historians), Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid In Full album took the elements of skillful rapping and DJ’ing and applied them to a materialistic, ambition-driven lifestyle that featured fashion, jewelry, and luxury cars. Even in that decade and a half, most of Hip-Hop’s pioneers were not privy to that quality of life, let alone opportunities to be paid for their art and contributions.

By the 2000s, that divide had only appeared to widen. On The Blueprint, Jay Z professed that he was “overcharging niggas for what they did to the Cold Crush.” In one meaning, that line attributed the tough terms Jay’s sponsorship, recording, and touring deals to the days when his form of expression was undervalued—if at all—in the 1970s and early 1980s. Put another way, the late ’80s product Jay Z eventually saw the monetary gains that Cold Crush Brothers’ Grandmaster Caz and Almighty K.G. did not.

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With its latest annual “Cash Kings” list out this week, Forbes examined this progression from Hip-Hop’s earliest days in the Bronx, New York to its current stronghold in popular culture. Pioneers such as Grandmaster Caz, the Fantastic 5’s Grand Wizard Theodore, the Soulsonic Force’s Mr. Biggs, and others are interviewed in a short documentary film, Bronx To Billions. Within, they discuss the economic conditions and elements of style in New York City during the 1970s that birthed Hip-Hop, and how others watched and waited to capitalize.

The documentary touches upon Rap music’s first hit record, 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang to a historic event sponsorship deal that would ultimately lead to the Fat Boys getting discovered, brokered by Charlie Stettler, to modern moguls. Several degrees of separation exist between the Bronx River Houses Hip-Hop park jams of the mid-’70s and some of the first major checks in Rap music. While Flash and Bambaataa would have hit records tease the mainstream line, not all of the pioneers were beneficiaries of Hip-Hop’s eventual commercialization.

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However, Grandmaster Caz–who says he did not make one cent from giving then-manager Big Bank Hank his lyrics in “Rapper’s Delight”—says he’s finally seeing a return on his cultural contributions. “I’ve been involved in the culture of Hip-Hop for 43 years, since it started. In all those years [many artists] benefited from it, and came out on top and was in a position to do something like Macklemore did, and never did. So how do I feel about Macklemore? I love him to death.” Seattle, Washington’s Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (who appeared on Forbes‘ list, estimated to have made $14 million in 2015), included Caz as well as Grandmater Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee on last year’s “Downtown.” Caz, who with Cold Crush Brothers, released material with Epic Records in the early ’80s, said it was his first platinum song. A 43-year MC, Caz is also involved in Hush Tours. These bus tours in New York City travel to Hip-Hop’s landmarks, with pioneers serving as docents. That business is profiled in the doc.

Grand Wizard Theodore, credited with inventing the art of scratching records in Hip-Hop to create a sound effect, urges, “I just want to make sure that [Hip-Hop’s leaders] know where [the music and culture] came from. Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z, P. Diddy, we just want to make sure that these people acknowledge us and be like, ‘peace and blessings to the pioneers that put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this.'” Theodore appeared alongside many of the artists he and his innovation influenced in 2001 theatrical documentary Scratch.

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Outside of sales and mainstream appearances, another credit to the pioneers is coming by way of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum. To be housed in the borough credited with Hip-Hop’s earliest days, its chairman clearly believes the culture has never been about exposure. “It was about playing stuff that people did not hear on the radio. That’s what Hip-Hop means to me,” says museum chairman Rocky Bucano.

Early in the 14-minute vignette, Caz—a Bronx, New Yorker who also DJs, points out how three of Hip-Hop’s most recognized pioneers tie into basic geography. “Hip-Hop is kinda regional, but in a small sense. It was in the Bronx. There was a few different areas. And if you were from [one] area, then that’s where you learned Hip-Hop; that’s where you got your Hip-Hop from. If you’re from Bronx River, you got your Hip-Hop from [Afrika] Bambaataa. If you was from the west side, you got it from [DJ] Kool Herc. If you was from the South Bronx, you got it from [Grandmaster] Flash.”

The film shows various Hip-Hop landmarks, and some archival 1970s and 1980s Hip-Hop footage.