Harlem's history in America begins in 1658 when Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch Governor of New York establishes a village community in northern Manhattan and names it Nieuw Haarlem. The town was very rural and inhabited by a small population of farmers. Although wealthy residents of urban New York City were only a few miles south, they treated Harlem as a summer getaway where they built large estates to enjoy during vacations. Throughout the 1700's, the population continued to be small and scattered and actually decreased in the 1830's because farmland in the community had become overworked. However, later in the 1800's the advent of the subway line, which extended into Harlem, encouraged aggressive building in the northern part of Manhattan.
African-Americans began moving into Harlem in the early 1900's. In 1914 they numbered approximately 50,000 and by 1930 the population had soared to 230,000 people. The 1920's witnessed the Harlem Renaissance and the explosion of African-American culture expressed through music, dance, and literature. It was home to famous writers (Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes), musicians (Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday), actors (Paul Robeson), dancers (Josephine Baker), and painters (Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden).
Today, Harlem is experiencing yet another renaissance whose foundation is built on economic development. Although Harlem has weathered many tests including high unemployment for its residents, deteriorating infrastructure, and a decrease in population over the years, commerce is now alive and strong on the streets of Harlem. Residential and office renovation, and new construction are flourishing again. Additionally, former President Bill Clinton has made the neighborhood home for his presidential offices, and the beautiful boulevards lined with renovated brownstones serve as reminders of the vibrancy of Harlem's history and the promise of future prosperity.
Hip-hop is a multifaceted cultural phenomenon which was first created in New York City in the late sixties. The four pillars of hip-hop are DJing, rapping, break dancing, and graffiti. Some of the pioneers of hip-hop like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash began their careers as DJ's, with Kool Herc being credited as the first DJ to use two copies of the same wax album on two turntables. An MC (rapper) would perform with the DJ to get the crowd excited and pump up the DJ. Eventually the MC became the main attraction and the source of commercial success.
Fast-forward to the present and hip-hop has taken the world by storm. The lyrical skills and heart-thumping beats that comprise all hip-hop music have become cultural staples in every continent on the planet. Although hip-hop was born in New York City, many of the rappers who contribute to its evolution come from all parts of the United States. Nevertheless, Harlem has long produced highly acclaimed hip-hop artists such as: Crash Crew (Turn It Out), one of the first recorded hip-hop groups; Big L (Lifestyles of the Poor and Dangerous - 1995); Mase (Harlem World - 1997); Cam'ron (Confessions of Fire - 1998) leader of the music crew The Diplomats; Loon (Loon - 2003); and Jim Jones (Harlem: The Diary of a Summer - 2005).
Only time will tell what future hip-hop artists Harlem will produce next.