Scottish Claim They Created Rap Music

The other day one of my former college roommates sent me a link to an interesting article entitled: Rap Music Originated in Medieval Scottish Pubs, Claims American Professor. At first glance I thought that my old friend, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, was playing some sort of nationalistic prank on me. However, after further investigation, I discovered that there was actually some substance to these claims. The gist of the article was summarized in it’s subtitle:

“Rap music originated in the medieval taverns of Scotland rather than the mean streets of the Bronx and Brooklyn, an American academic has claimed.”

As a Hip-Hop scholar I found this claim to be outrageous – paramount to musicological sacrilege. It would be like saying that Jazz music emerged from the German Polka scene, or that Salsa grew from Norwegian discos. Embracing the only the most crude stereotypes I immediately developed the mental image of a lepred-bearded, round-bellied, leprechaun-esque Scotsman in pub, attempting to dethrone the New York born pioneers of the international Hip-Hop movement… and I was disgusted (has anyone seen Leprechaun in the Hood? Ice-T was in that movie.. anyway). Hip-Hop is uniquely American, it was born in the Bronx and to suggest otherwise is an insult to Afrika Bambata, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and other pioneers of the Hip-Hop movement.

The article seemed to me, to be yet another attempt by the mainstream to appropriate a Black cultural movement and credit it as European in origin. Ironically, when rap music first emerged no academics wanted to acknowledge it, let alone claim it. Now that Hip-Hop has stimulated the imagination and captured the awe of the world, here comes a professor who wishes to plagiarize and copy/paste Hip-Hop into the cannon of Scottish/European history. Unacceptable and, quite frankly, unfounded.


11 Comments to ‘Scottish Claim They Created Rap Music’:

  1. Anonymous on 30 Jan 2009 at 8:26 am: 1

    Please this argument is not really on! Rap music devolved from the slaves traditions evolving. Two are Maskanda Imbongi, and the Griot traditions. iziZulu Imbongi’s wouldnt sing a song without taking a ‘break’ in the middle of the rythmm to TELL IT LIKE IT IS.. who they are, what is happening, and what the truths are. Very obviously a RAP. The Griots (Northern African traditions) that I meet, traditional songs had similar ‘breaks’. These styles of music are still alive and well, and really amazing.

  2. Graeme on 30 Jan 2009 at 9:53 am: 2

    As the former roommate in question, I must point out that I don’t think contemporary rap music was founded in Scotland. Rather, I think it’s interesting to see how language and textual glue evolve in similar ways across the world.

    Of course at the heart of all clan based culture is the oral history of each tribe, passed down through song and poetry.

    Scotland has a long tradition of poetry and oral history; people the world over sing Auld Lang Syne at New Year; a poem written by the Scottish Bard Robert Burns – celebrating his, posthumous, 250th birthday this year with Homecoming Scotland, a government initiative designed to reunite people of Scots descent.

    Indeed 1 American citizen every minute claims to be of Scots, or Scots Irish, descent through the Homecoming Scotland site, meaning that the Scottish effect is strong in the U.S.

    The reason behind the Scots influence of America has little to do with our own imperialistic ways but much more to do with the enforced governance of England over Scotland. The Highland Clearances, as they are known, were forced displacement of clans people from Scotland to the coast and overseas by a method that would now be called ethnic cleansing.

    Records show that during the Revolutionary War (or War of Independence as we call it in the UK) the majority of front line soldiers on both sides were conscripted Scots Clansmen. The idea that their oral traditions of poetry, rhythm and language were retained in America isn’t hard to imagine and neither is it difficult to see where linguistics may have been shared between other conscripted and enforced peoples.

    It’s also worth pointing out the enormous religious divides that did, and still do, exist in Scotland. Catholics and Protestants have been killing each other for years and the result has been some secret church movements and meetings. Some scholars claim that this may have links to the origin of gospel music; something I personally think is pretty dubious.

    I feel I should point out that, despite what many of my fellow countrymen may think, including the current government, I don’t think Scots are discriminated in contemporary society. The Highland clearances are in no way comparable to Slavery or The Holocaust for example.

    However it’s important to recognise that America is a crucible of worldwide cultures and without doubt there is worldwide influence in rap music and hip-hop culture.

    The proof is in the worldwide appreciation and enjoyment of the genre, while country music – a particularly peculiar American phenomenon – has a very, very small minority following outwith the United States.

    Contemporary rap is neither an American creation nor is it purist Black cultural pursuit, its origins are much more diverse than that. Of the three mentioned, Afrika Bambaata, Kool Herc and Flash only Afrika comes from the USA…the others from Jamaica and Barbados respectfully. It should be pointed out that ‘the break’ invented by Kool Herc and attributed to being the seed from which hip hop grew was formed from a sample of the Incredible Bongo band’s ‘Bongo Rock’ and the English rock group Babe Ruth’s track ‘The Mexican.’ Afrika Bambaata’s first hit ‘Planet Rock’ was based on a major sample from Kraftwerk, a German electro outfit. While the term hiphop was coined by one of the furious five to describe the chants made by marching soldiers.

    However none of these things should detract from the power of hip hop as a Black cultural movement. Indeed the origins diversity should be championed as hiphop pioneers were and are able to harness the power of worldwide culture and channel it into one of the worlds most influential is significant forces.

  3. Nasirah on 30 Jan 2009 at 1:07 pm: 3

    Like Larry King said”black is in” and so is everything good associated with him. I am surprise by these European antiics but I am glad we have scholars who are able to prove this fallacy.

  4. Pierce on 30 Jan 2009 at 6:15 pm: 4

    Great points, rommie. I have this to add:

    Hip-Hop is a Pan-African formation. Jamaica, Barbados and West Africa have all influenced rap. Jazz, Reggae, Funk, Soul and Blues artists have all contributed to the cultural foundations of Hip-Hop culture. America is a place where cultures from throughout the world collide, and bits and pieces of each country/ethnic group influences unique American cultural products.

    HOWEVER-regarding this article. Just because Scotsmen held lyrical “battles” in local taverns, does not mean that rap originated in Scotland. Beethoven improvised on the piano, long before Thelonious Monk-but that does not mean that Jazz improvisation originated in Germany, with Ludwig.

    There are origins of rap that we can trace, (such as “Grand Wizard Theodore originated the scratch”) and there are simple facts, non-related to the origin of rap (such as “Scottsmen used to hold lyrical battles in Medival pubs”) I believe that this article is an expression of the latter.

  5. Graeme on 30 Jan 2009 at 6:40 pm: 5

    all good points.. I can’t respond, cause I don’t believe that hop hip originated in Glasgow. I do love the etymology of language and hip hop, as a fairly new and lyrical medium, offers a great study. Perhaps we should combine powers and write the defining book on the subject?

  6. fred on 31 Jan 2009 at 2:27 pm: 6

    “How the Scots Invented the Modern World” by Arthur Herman
    The Scots invented everything. Or was it the Russians? I forget.

  7. kameelah on 1 Feb 2009 at 4:57 am: 7

    ha! i came across this article a few weeks ago, shared it on facebook, then forgot to link it here.

    i think graeme is right:

    I don’t think contemporary rap music was founded in Scotland. Rather, I think it’s interesting to see how language and textual glue evolve in similar ways across the world.

    most history scholars understand the importance of multiple causality and often don’t (or shouldn’t) rely on one cause to explain the global culture of hip hop.

    whenever i read assertions like szasz i reflect on WHY someone would be interested in claiming ownership over hip hop now. what about our shifting cultural, social, political, and economic landscape would warrant such an academic assertion? i do not actually know and would be interested in reading the full text of szasz work to figure some things out. there is a reason why the scots and hip hop kids in the bronx are being discussed in the same sentence. i do think it is an issue of cultural appropriation as pierce has noted, but all forms of appropriation have yet another layer of motivation.

  8. Bobby Fontaine on 20 Feb 2009 at 5:26 pm: 8

    When I first heard rad, I was reminded of hearing the songs Black girls singing when double skipping rope while I was walking through the back streets of Washington DC

  9. Bobby Fontaine on 20 Feb 2009 at 5:27 pm: 9

    When I first heard rap, I was reminded of hearing the songs Black girls singing when double skipping rope while I was walking through the back streets of Washington DC

  10. Shabuya on 9 Mar 2009 at 11:29 pm: 10

    find a book called “The Origin of Rap Music” published in 1994 and listen to the cassette tape put out titled “Rapologist Speaks ’94” by a Rapologist-Critic from Philadelphia named Robert Jr. James McClendon and you’ll learn that white folks have been tricking you all for years.

  11. Anonymous on 28 Mar 2009 at 1:51 am: 11

    well i guess, the ancient origin of hip-hop would be in west africa as far as the rhyming, storytelling and joke talking… but the origin of the “hip-hop BATTLE” would have to be with the scotts as they were hurling insults at eachother. simple

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Published on January 29, 2009 at 11:59 pm. 11 Comments.
Filed under history,music.