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Hip-Hop was the Bitcoin of the '70s & Early '80s

By Alec Banks

Let's get this clear from the very outset: I don't know anything about Bitcoin.

In fact, that's a good thing for the sake of the point I'm trying to make. Sure, I bought .000000158 (or something like that) a few years back when a coin was trading for $18,000 on Coinbase. Someone I knew told me that it was the easiest money I'd ever make. Naively, I ponied up some money and watched it slowly dissipate until I had enough and decided to cash out with enough left to buy a Chipotle burrito.As Bitcoin prices currently hover around $35,000, it has once again reignited the conversation — and definitely piqued the interest for people who — like myself — don't really understand it, but who desperately want to be involved. For those in the so-called "know," there's an optimism about Bitcoin and other crypto currencies. A lot of these people are the ones who got into crypto currencies when a coin cost fractions of a dollar and now have hundreds of millions in coins.

Those on the outside looking in when it comes to cryptocurrency place a shelf life on its utility in "normal" society.  Simply put: that it's a fad — placing an extra emphasis on the idea that you might as well cash out now before the precious coins go the way of MySpace.

It remains to be seen what happens with Bitcoin. In the time of the writing, the coin spiked another $4,000 to hit $39,000 per coin despite warnings from the head of the European Central Bank who said of Bitcoin that it was, "but a highly speculative asset which has conducted some funny business."

For those growing up in the '70s and '80s, Hip-Hop culture was brimming with energy and enthusiasm because of just how new it was. Whether it was Herc's party, Grandmaster Flash tapping directly into the lights in the park to power his turntables, or DJ Hollywood controlling the crowd at Disco Fever, each day brought new highs. As word spread to other boroughs, kids couldn't get enough — especially when graffiti and breaking entered the fray. And yet, people were still weary of it.

Def Jam's early publicist, Bill Adler, speaks directly of this time, saying, "Industry experts tended to think in terms of genres, which could be very faddish. So at the beginning of the '80s, disco had basically petered out and disco was very much a genre [that] didn't generate a lot of individual stars. People bought the beat; it was a producer's medium. When rap music comes along, people are thinking, 'Oh, it's going to be the next disco.'"

Bitcoin evokes memories of the dot com bubble.

After a bullish run on all things associated with the Internet, on April 2000 — just one month after peaking — the Nasdaq had lost 34.2 percent of its value. Over the next year and a half, the number of companies that saw the value of their stock drop by 80 percent or more was in the hundreds. The devastation to people's personal finances who drank the IPO Kool-Aid surely fuels the idea that "new" means dangerous — just like Hip-Hop.

 Both Bill Adler and DJ Mister Cee point to one major reason why Hip-Hop was able to thrive when the doubt was running rampant: Artists and culture are a much more potent recipe than a record or a song.

"[Russell Simmons] said, 'Bill, we don't make records, we build artists," Adler says. "He had that artist perspective always. And it was in stark contrast to, say the attitude of the folks over at Sugar Hill Records. Now, Sylvia Robinson was a great genius and someday somebody is going to write a great book about her, but her mission as a record label person was pretty typical that is, she cared about records and she didn't care about artists so much."

DJ Mister Cee points to five artists who helped ensure that Hip-Hop didn't have a shelf life: Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, The Fat Boys, Whodini, and LL COOL J.

"They changed the whole trajectory of Hip-Hop becoming more mainstream because they were being themselves," he says.

The best performing asset of the last decade was not Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or real estate. it was Bitcoin. When the best performing asset doesn’t even exist in traditional banking models, banks get interested. Several U.S. banks are creating digital coins for B2B cryptocurrency payments. A report suggests some large technology companies are also exploring digital currencies to enable payments among users of their services. Yet — as Fortune has noted — the industry still lacks a "Tom Brady of crypto" due to to the fact that the originator of Bitcoin is anonymous.

As Pitchfork has noted, the cryptocurrency community has embraced rappers: Who better to push their financial technology into the mainstream than the world’s most flamboyant and immoderate spenders? From Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” to Gucci Mane’s “I Get the Bag,” financial stability has been a central theme in rap for over three decades. So it makes sense that cryptocurrency, a new, potentially lucrative investment opportunity, would pique the interest of the rap world before any other cultural sphere.

“Obviously challenges will arise from a security and privacy perspective, but the Internet was the same way 20 years ago,” Nas said.“I was really inspired by the boundaries people were pushing,” Jones said. “[Bitcoin] seemed like something people bet against because the government doesn’t welcome with open arms what they don’t control. But it is such a big idea that it could never be controlled.”

For me, it sounds a lot like what Hip-Hop artists were forced to endure during the culture's formative years.