How does hip hop music function as a social outlet for African Americans?
On Purpose: Hip Hop in Omaha
The documentary ‘On Purpose’ is about the history of hip hop in Omaha. The team that created this film sought to uncover the narrative and historical context behind how the seeds of hip hop spread to Omaha from New York and elsewhere. With hip hop being a newer art form, they were able to interview eyewitnesses of the earliest days of hip hop in the city, as well as the very people who brought it here. They utilized the archives at UNO, including microfilm, to access primary documents related to the topic. The story that unfolded from this research was a familiar tale that played out across the nation. The Black community in North Omaha experienced systemic oppression in the same way Black communities in New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and other major cities, and the tension this created boiled over in the 1960s with a series of protests which led to riots. Hip hop was born out of the ashes leftover from this conflict. It served, and continues to serve, as a way for people to express, to escape, to identify, to bond, to commune, and is now one of the most popular forms of music worldwide. Although hip hop from Omaha has yet to break through to the national level, it continues to impact the city with a variety of talented graffiti writers, MCs, DJs, B boys and B girls.
Published on August 5, 2017
Students created this documentary as part of the Omaha Public Schools Making Invisible Histories Visible initiative.
Talent Extravaganza Flyer
This is a flyer for a talent show held at the Omaha Public Schools TAC Building in 1998. Flyers such as this one were used to promote talent shows searching for local talent. Representatives from labels such as Virgin and Polygram records would come to judge. Talent shows were one way people in the hip hop community shared their talents. (Flyer courtesy of Chris Moore)
Young Rebel Tape
This is a cassette tape single of “Got My Back”. DJ Mista Soull recorded the track in 1999 in Omaha with his group, Young Rebels. We interviewed two members of the Young Rebels group: Mike Dunham ("DJ RIP") and Daryle Cox ("DJ MISTA SOULL"). They talked about how the group started in 1987. Young Rebels are important because they made hip hop big in Omaha when they went to New York and learned more about hip hop culture and music. Many people in Omaha were influenced by the hip hop culture they brought back and that’s how hip hop got big. (Courtesy of Chris Moore.)
Rainbow Records Recording Studio
Omaha's Rainbow Recording Studio, located at 2322 S. 64th Ave. in 2017, has a long connection to hip hop. It was opened in 1976 by Nils Ericson. This location is significant because one of the first hip-hop jingles was recorded at Rainbow Recording Studio. It was recorded for Max I. Walker Dry Cleaner. Many big stars have recorded at Rainbow Recording Studio, such as Lady Gaga and 311. The hip hop group the Beastie Boys recorded there for three days.
First Hip Hop Record Made in Omaha
The first hip hop record made in Omaha was made by DJ Rip in 1997. It was made and produced in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a part of the beginning of Omaha’s hip hop scene. This 12-inch record had a plain black cover. In the middle of the record, where the label is, it has a cartoon of a crew of people and the names and titles of all the songs on the album. The background is a cream color that fades into a soft red color. One reason that the album is important is that DJ Rip shouted out every DJ that was big in the area at the time.
Power 106.9 is a radio station in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2017, Power 106.9 had been on the air for more than 10 years. Power 106.9 is important to hip hop because they air songs from the hip hop genre, which people can hear and enjoy. Power 106.9 allows the community to be inspired by what is happening in the local scene through a weekly show focused on indie hip hop. The station plays music for people who need it, whether they are cleaning, jamming out for fun, parties or if they need something to help them with their emotions. Power 106.9 is located near 50th and Dodge Streets just outside Omaha's popular and historic Dundee area.
The Young Crew Boys
The five members of the Young Crew Boys are aged 5 to 14. These young individuals rehearse at the Fontenelle Park Pavilion. The Fontenelle Park Pavilion was a popular boxing gym. Chris Smith, age 27 in 2017, is the group’s manager. A notable place they performed was at the Black Music Awards. This group is important because they are a role model for young boys. You had to keep a C average, so it made young people want to keep their grades up to participate. They showed aspiring young people that they could do great and be recognized nationally. It also kept the five young people active and out of trouble. Fontenelle Park Pavilion is located on 4407 Fontenelle Blvd. in Omaha.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped reduce racial segregation; however, it certainly did not end it. In fact, the repercussions of segregation can still be felt today. For decades on end, African Americans were treated like second-class citizens. Through the process of redlining, they were confined to areas with sub-standard housing and little opportunity to succeed. But in this environment, a new genre of music called hip hop arose, giving a voice to the voiceless. This project provided students the opportunity to investigate how hip hop changed the musical scene in Omaha and the nation as a whole.
Because Omaha is located in the Midwest, it became a melting pot due to migrations from the South and the coasts. Residents of Omaha were able to get a taste of different styles of hip hop. As they continued to learn more through movies and the radio, hip hop grew in popularity within North Omaha especially. Hip hop started out as a way to express the Black culture and escape from the harsh realities of the Black experience. Hip hop originally possessed four elements: B-boying, Graffiti art, DJing, and Emceeing. These elements were explored at house parties and musical events. This changed, however, when rappers from New York and Los Angeles began expressing the truths about life as African Americans, from which arose conscious rap and led the way to reality/“gangsta” rap. Because of the explicit expression of violence in this style of rap, house parties started becoming violent. Reality rap took over the scene as Black men and women continued to be targeted by the police in larger cities.
The violence spread to Omaha because it served as a melting pot; however, the disadvantage most rappers faced was being unable to break out to a national audience. Although some groups traveled to places like New York to gain exposure to hip hop music, in 2017 no artist from Omaha has achieved the national recognition that so many dream of. This fact, however, does not make their stories not worth telling. In fact, more value and knowledge can be obtained by uncovering stories which are not well told.
Because of MIHV, students were able to interview individuals who were either deeply involved in the hip hop scene or big fans of the music. This program allowed students to find a connection to their own community and a genre of music they still love today.
2017 MIHV Project
"The best part of my experience has been getting to interact with my peers and teachers. Learning other’s stories really helped me put things into perspective."
- Seven W.
"I learned about North Omaha and hip-hop. I learned that redlining is a line that white people in power put around North Omaha to ensure that black people could only live in North Omaha."
- JaySean S.
"Unlike what I thought previously, I learned a great deal about hip hop."
- Angel P.
"The MIHV Program is actually Lit, especially my group the Hip Hop Group. Learning and knowing about my community has made me appreciate it more."
- Jazlyn H.
"After this program I know so much more. I know about the history of North 24th Street and why and how it died. I know about music and economics and racism."
- Lee B.
"I have changed for the better; I’m more aware and understanding of Omaha’s history. I learned more about music and culture too. I inquired the skill of involving myself deeply into a history and to expect the unexpected."
- Aidan M.
Ashley Howard, Chapter 1 "The State of Omaha Blacks", Masters’ thesis, Then the Burning Began.
DJ RIP, Houston Alexander, personal communication, July 18 2017.
Jesse J. Otto, Masters’ thesis, Contemporaries: Black Orchestras in Omaha before 1950.
Midland Alliance, "Rockin’ the B-boy Language."
Research compiled by Jaysean S., Lee B., Seven. W., Jazlyn H., Angel P., and Aidan M.
The students who worked on the hip hop project will attend high school at Burke High, Central High, and Bryan High.