BobDylan1

Whenever the history of hip hop and rap is talked about one song is specifically brought up, SugarHill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”. The iconic trio released this track in 1979 and collectively America responded with a “WHAT IS THIS?!” Quickly thereafter, it took America by storm, made  it to #3 on the UK charts and even debuted #1 on the Dutch top 40 (apparently the Dutch love good hip hop).  It would go on to become a legendary anthem that not only holds up to this day but also ushered in a genre of music that is now as popular as any in the world.  But some music historians feel that their actually was a popular song that was “hip hop” 14 years earlier, noted lyricist Bob Dylan’s 1965 “Subterranean Homesick Blues”.

“Johny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government”
Bob Dylan – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Hip hop at its core and its best is a trip into the mind of the MC, a stream of consciousness that explodes out from your speakers or headphones and tells a story that transports the listener to the time and place that is being rhymed about.  Bob Dylan certainly flows on this track in that manner and actually paves the way for what hip hop evolved into.
“The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the DA”
Bob Dylan – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Dylan And Baez
American electric folk hero Bob Dylan and singer, songwriter Joan Baez in Embankment Gardens, London.
Unlike much of the hip hop before  Public Enemy, Dylan actually gets into drug culture and run ins with the law in the 1960’s. Much of hip hop in the early 1980’s was jovial, party music that celebrated dancing and just having an all around good time but Dylan’s lyrics on this track (although rudimentary in comparison to)  could easily be about the crack epidemic that ravaged inner cities from the mid 1980’s on.
“Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Wash the plain clothes
You don’t need a weather man

To know which way the wind blows.”

Bob Dylan – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
bob-dylan3
Obviously Dylan has always been an advocate for social change and progress but the verse above could absolutely be about today’s social injustices as well.  In fact, it’s easy for one to make the progression from these words 50 years ago and then see what J Cole has to say about police brutality on his track, “Be Free”“Are we all alone fighting on our own/ Please give me a chance/ I don’t wanna dance/ Something’s got me down/ I will stand my ground,/ Don’t just stand around/ Don’t just stand around”
“Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success”
Bob Dylan – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
In Dylan’s last verse on the song he dives into what society wants out of young men in 1965, which is about as hip hop as it gets.  The schism between what the out of touch expect out of you versus the reality of what it is actually like for a young person in a difficult situation.  The difference being that the experience being talked about is the African American experience in the United States.  So although Bob Dylan cannot speak to that he can put voice to a generation feeling under appreciated and abused.  With that in mind, Bob Dylan obviously is as accomplished a lyricist as one can find but he also might be hip hop’s first MC.