Does the story behind the word “hip-hop” go back to the nineteenth century?

Thirty-two years ago, Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, who was a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was teasing a friend. The friend had just signed up to serve in the U.S. Army.

Cowboy was mimicking the rhythm of marching soldiers by scat singing “hip hop hip hop.”

He later used the phrase in a performance. Then the name began to be used by disco musicians in a derogatory way to identify a new type of music being performed by MCs and DJs. But before long, its negative connotation wore off and the name stuck.

(By the way, MC is an abbreviation for Master of Ceremonies and DJ stands for disc jockey.)

Let’s break down the word. Hip-hop combines two slang terms. Hip, which means “in the know,” has been a part of African American vernacular since the late nineteenth century. Hop represents the hopping movement exhibited by hip-hop performers.

The key individuals and groups credited with popularizing the term in the late seventies and early eighties include The Sugarhill Gang, Lovebug Starski, DJ Hollywood, and Afrika Bambaataa.