Home Arts & Culture An open conversation with Tariq Nasheed: Exploring the true history of hip-hop

An open conversation with Tariq Nasheed: Exploring the true history of hip-hop

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The history you think you know about hip-hop is likely not correct. Actually, let’s run that back. The history of hip-hop that you think you know might not be accurate. Rather, the origin of hip-hop is not what you think it is. Okay, enough revisions, you get the gist.

Essentially, that’s the point Tariq Nasheed has made with his latest documentary, Microphone Check: The Hidden History of hip-hop.

“We kept hearing these narratives about how hip-hop came from African culture, Caribbean culture, Latino culture, but foundational Black American culture is often overlooked. It’s often ignored, and that’s where hip-hop came from. So, I wanted to tell the truth about the history and really pay homage to some of those pioneers who are still around, and still people are ignoring them — and they want to tell their stories.”

In a candid interview with our resident conversationalist, Dan Gaul, Tariq discusses the motivations and objectives behind his latest creative work. It’s not a significant departure from his previous projects, but it is transformative.

“I’ve done a lot of documentaries on history, especially untold black history, that’s kind of my niche.” He points to his Hidden Colors series, a five-part documentary that explores the untold history of Aboriginal, Moor, and African descent peoples and their marginalization in America and worldwide.


As for his focus on hip-hop culture, the machinations are closer to home:

“I’m a historian, and I like to uncover a lot of things not told. Plus, I’m an avid hip-hop fan. I’m a real big fan of hip-hop culture and have been since a child.”

He talks of the overlapping revisionist cycle, which brings us full circle to our intro. Constant revisions.

“When the 50th anniversary of hip-hop started to come around, we started to see a revision of history.” Naturally, he asks: “Why are they trying to revise the culture? Why are they trying to revise the origin of what was what?”

“Everybody can enjoy it. Everybody can participate. But we gotta’ respect where it came from…”

Uncovering the genuine stories of hip-hop pioneers

It’s a clear-cut mission: Tell the truth about the origins of hip-hop and the way it actually happened. But getting to the bottom of that may not be so simple. Dan asks how this process has affected Tariq in his life, namely exploring and learning the stories of others.

“You know, getting these pioneers to tell their story, that’s big for me, and I’ve learned some extra stuff from them. One thing in particular, and we talked about this in the film, there was a difference between the disco DJs and the hip-hop DJs. There were a lot of disco DJs in the 70s who would rap, but they were still not quite considered hip-hop because they didn’t really involve the totality of hip-hop. Meaning the rapping, the mixing, the beat-boying, the graffiti, the whole thing. So there was an internal battle about that.”

More poignantly, Tariq explains why many of hip-hop’s true founders are misrepresented.

“It’s very interesting that a lot of these pioneers, who actually created things from the very beginning, they’ve been often underrepresented. In the film, we have the first hip-hop breakdance from Trixie. We have the first female M.C. which was Sha-Rock (Sharon Green). The first person who created modern graffiti, Cornbread out of Philidelphia.”

“A lot of these pioneers have been underrepresented. Because when a lot of documentaries go into hip-hop, what they’ll do — because many of these documentaries are funded by the corporate structure, and [in] the corporate structure, they have record labels, and they want to promote their artists — so they’ll talk about the Kool Herc party in ‘73, then they’ll skip to the 90’s or something like that. Then start talking about rappers who are more current, so they can push that agenda.”

“Why are they trying to revise the origin of what was what?”

This is where Tariq makes it clear that Microphone Check is a true glimpse into the origins of the culture. It does not dive in after the scene has been established but rather much earlier, as those early creative storms are forming.

“I wanted to focus on the 70s. If you see the film, most of what we talk about happens [then] and before. We don’t really get into the 80s because [by then] hip-hop is established, and most of the stuff that happened in the 80s is pretty well documented.”

“But the fuzzy gray area that’s been uncharted for so long is what happened after that party in ‘73 and what happened before that party in ‘73. No one ever wants to talk about that, and that’s what we [cover] in this film.”

A 50-50 historical revision that just isn’t there

Circling back to revisionist movements, Tariq discusses how this has played out throughout the history of media and entertainment, especially music. How certain historic movements have come to be ignored.

“You know what, in our culture, whenever we create a genre, and that genre starts to look like something positive, there’s been a need to take it away from us and give credit to other people. When hip-hop was negative, when it was looked at as a negative thing — degenerates, a bunch of criminals, the scratching up records, and this is noise — it was all black. Nobody wanted to share that with us. When people were getting indicted, and [there were] censorship charges and people were going to jail for hip-hop, it was all black.”

As the culture evolves, so does the related sentiment.

“Now that it’s going to the Olympics, now there’s a big corporate push for hip-hop, now everybody wants to claim part of the origin story. That happens with a lot of our genres. That has happened with Rock ‘n Roll, which was a foundational Black American culture. When Rock ‘n Roll started, it was devil music, you had people protesting it, it was the worst thing ever and turned society into degenerates — the same thing with Jazz. Jazz was devil music. Those blacks are turning people into weed-smoking junkies. Once it became commercially viable, Rock ‘n Roll and Jazz, it was taken out of our hands to a certain degree.”

At the risk of repeating, Microphone Check takes that hidden and unwritten history and makes it known, not so we falter, but so that society can continue to grow on its proper foundations.

“So they’ve always done that with the genres we create. We’re saying no, we’re going to gatekeep it and let people know where it came from. Everybody can enjoy it. Everybody can participate. But we gotta’ respect where it came from, and that’s foundational Black American culture.”

It’s silly to imagine that a culture so far-reaching and metamorphic for modern society is grasping challenges like Tariq posits. Many of us respect and love the movement, so why ignore those hidden truths?

Now’s our chance to right some of those wrongs, and Tariq is leading the charge. But more importantly, he’s giving a voice to the real pioneers of hip-hop culture, a voice they’ve had difficulty finding until now.

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