Straight Outta Virginia

Charting The Grooves with William and Mary’s Hip Hop Collection



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What has the William and Mary Hip-Hop Collection uncovered about the early days of the genre?

For one thing, Coastal Virginia was into the music from the very beginning, Kevin K. says. “Radio stations like WRAP [in Portsmouth] and some of the older stations was spinning the first records in 1979, like “Rapper’s Delight” [Sugarhill Gang] and Fatback Band’s “King Tim ... we’ve done a lot of interviews with people who have memories of driving around with their parents, and listening to the radio, and being galvanized by these people rapping or talking over the music.”         

“The early movies, Beat Street, Wild Style and Style Wars, they were all very popular here in Coastal Virginia. They really piqued the interest of kids in the early ’80s.” The first real hip-hoppers in Virginia were the b-boys—the break dancers. “It was really the dancing that led them to making music. It’s crazy to think how young they were—10,11,12—and they are participating in this new culture, inventing this new culture. It’s kind of wild.”         

So far, there have been very few vinyl records uncovered by the archivist. Early Virginia rappers made cassette tapes and sold them out of the back of their car (later, artists would burn their tracks to CD-R). The disposal part of the culture is one reason that it’s important to collect all of this material now, Jay Gaidmore says, before it disappears into the digital abyss.         

“With the hip hop stuff, they have their photos on their phone, or saved as mp3s. What’s going to happen to them when the phone gets switched out or the computer is replaced?” Archivists, for many years,have collected music from Virginia, he says —“the 1927 Bristol Sessions and whatnot. But it’s always a game of catch up. So we’re dealing with all of this now, while people are still alive.”         

“It’s ephemeral culture,” Kosanovich adds. “A lot of the flyers now are being generated digitally; they may not even get printed as posters.” But all of it is important, he maintains. “Give us your Photoshop, give us your gifs, get that digital record to us so we can preserve it,” the archivist says, mock pleading. 

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