[Today: Big Bangs…]
Country music and hip-hop were both up-from-the-people musical movements, with country springing from the rural splendor of the Appalachians in the 1920s and hip-hop forming in the urban wasteland of the South Bronx of the 1970s. It’s difficult to come up with two genres that are less alike, but Country and Hip-Hop share one wrinkle: both had their formative geniuses captured on wax, totally unpasteurized, right before both forms of music blew up coast-to-coast.
The Bristol Sessions was the work of an industry scout named Ralph Peer, who set up shop in Bristol, VA over a couple of weekends in the summer of 1927 with the intention of recording the finest examples of “hillbilly” music. Bristol was a thriving city of 32,000 located on the Virginia/Tennessee border and at the crux of several railroads, making it a strategically sound spot to attract mountain musicians. Peer put out word through the local newspaper and ended up discovering a treasure trove of artists, including The Carter Family – A.P., Maybelle and Sara Carter – who would become the first family of country music. “They look[ed] like hillbillies. But as soon as I heard Sara’s voice, that was it. I knew it was going to be wonderful,” Peer recalled. During these sessions he also discovered the great Jimmie Rodgers, as well as Ernest Stoneman. In all he recorded 67 sides by 19 different acts, and the songs he captured would form the backbone of what would become country music. None less than Johnny Cash has said that “These recordings in Bristol… are the single most important event in the history of country music.”
Wild Style was a 1983 motion picture that served as a de-facto documentary of the fledgling hip-hop scene. Sure, it had some Hollywood story lines sunk into it, but it featured real rappers and graffiti artists, playing characters loosely based on themselves. The movie’s soundtrack is a goldmine of early hip-hop, a sound that wasn’t largely captured on tape because the artists involved felt like it was a spontaneous music that wasn’t meant to be recorded. Rappers like Busy Bee and Grandmaster Caz deserve to be better remembered by modern music fans – they are every bit the pioneers to their genre that A.P. Carter and Jimmie Rodgers were to country. Unfortunately, their best moments were left to the ether, so the physical proof of their brilliance is pretty thin, but Wild Style is evidence enough. With its snippets of b-boy and graffiti artist chatter, this album has been sampled by a Who’s Who of rappers, including Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys and Jurassic 5.
The Bristol Sessions was recorded four years after the recognized birth of country music, while Wild Style was laid down roughly five years after the advent of hip-hop. Both are remarkable documents of the popular birth of a distinctly American music…
Listen: The Soldier’s Sweetheart [Jimmie Rodgers – The Bristol Sessions]
Listen: South Bronx Subway Rap [Grandmaster Caz – Wild Style]
Listen: Single Girl, Married Girl [Carter Family – The Bristol Sessions]
Listen: Stoop Rap [Double Trouble – Wild Style]