Carry on Tradition

What do hip-hop and personal computing have in common? You probably don’t know the pioneers of either and chances are both are broke or died broke. We’re familiar with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs just as we’re familiar with Run-DMC, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z. What about Fred Moore or DJ Kool Herc?

Moore was a political activist and technology enthusiast. He was a member of the People’s Computer Company and a founder of the Homebrew Computer Club. Moore was integral in the development of personal computing and wanted to use the technology for revolutionary purposes. He embodied the phrase “The revolution will not be televised.”  During the 60s counterculture movement, Moore was one of many people who would be hard at work in the labs by day and partaking in orgies and acid parties at night. Like many of these individuals, he didn’t make close to enough money to compensate his influence. Moore died in a car accident in 1997 without any of the luxuries a few of his more successful contemporaries like Steve Jobs enjoy. (For more info check out What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer).

Kool Herc, aka Clive Campbell, is known as the originator of hip-hop. He pioneered the use of break beats and rocked parties with hard funk records as an alternative to gang violence. When many kids couldn’t afford instruments, he showed how you could turn record players into bands. Hip-hop literally remixed music. Like Moore, Kool Herc didn’t see much of the money from the culture he pioneered. While hip-hop has gone on to become the genre of choice globally, he recently couldn’t treat his kidney stones because he couldn’t afford health insurance.

Although both personal computing and hip-hop have gone on to revolutionize how we see the world today, both have morphed from the original intents of their pioneers. Once revolutionary creations, both means of production are now in the hands of the corporate powers they were meant to rebel against.

As both have moved away from their origins, the pioneers have been forgotten and, especially in the case of hip-hop, become more disposable. It is in the best interests of the people and the technology/art to have grounding in the roots. There’s an old saying that goes, “If you don’t know your past then how can you know your future?” When we don’t show love to those that opened the doors for us, or in many cases don’t even know them, we allow others to rewrite our history and ultimately control us. In the spirit of maintaining our identities and purpose, here’s a bonus Nas song from the same album naming many of the old school artists who never got their due.

If you don’t know, now you know.


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