Hip Hop pioneer Lovebug Starski passed away on Thursday (February 8) and news of his death quickly rippled throughout the Hip Hop community.
Legendary New York City Hip Hop promotor Van Silk, who had been a friend of Starski’s since they were teenagers growing up in the Bronx, noticed many people incorrectly crediting Starski for coining the term “Hip Hop.”
But Silk points out it was actually Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5’s Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins who came up with the name.
“The term Hip Hop was coined by Keith Cowboy from Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 and Lovebug Starski popularized it,” Silk explains to HipHopDX. “Now, both of our brothers are gone and can’t dispute it. But I guess they discussing it now together.
“I’ve just seen many articles written by what I call fake industry news giving Lovebug credit for the term,” he adds. “I want to tell the truth to those who were not there.”
According to Cowboy’s best friend and Nice & Smooth’s manager Dynamite, the term “Hip Hop” came to life during a particular park jam where a group of friends were saying goodbye to Billy Bill who was going off to the U.S. Army.
“I met Cowboy around 1970,” Dynamite tells DX. “Me, Lovebug and Cowboy all grew up as kids playing together. Cowboy moved on the block and was the first to introduce us to Hip Hop. He kept telling us about Grandmaster Flash — this was before the Furious 5. Pete DJ Jones was the first DJ in the Bronx and he was Starski’s introduction to Hip Hop.
“Around 1976, 1977, Cowboy and Starski were both competing for the attention of Grandmaster Flash,” he continues. “Cowboy is more popular of the two because he has this crowd control, kind of like a pied piper. Starski is taking all of this in because he’s basically just a DJ at this point. Cowboy spots Billy Bill and starts going ‘hip hop, hip hop’ in a cadence of a solider marching off to war. All of a sudden, the crowd is bobbing their head to ‘Hip Hop’ and everyone is catching on. Starski’s looking at all this and seeing how all of this works. He’s getting it now. He’s becoming Lovebug Starski right in front of our eyes.”
The following week, another friend of theirs, Cocomo, was heading off to the Army. Cowboy threw another farewell park jam and chanted the “hip hop, hip hop” phrase again. This went on for a few weeks but Cowboy eventually went on to other rhymes.
“He had to keep changing things for crowd participation,” Dynamite explains. “He was always thinking of newer things to say but Starski liked that ‘hippity hoppity’ thing and it just became his own rhyme. Cowboy moved on but Starski didn’t. He glorified it. He made the Hip Hop thing what it was because he made it his. That’s why people give Starski the credit for Hip Hop.”
Although Cowboy passed away in 1989, his contributions to the culture are immeasurable. Silk was there to witness the birth of what is now the biggest genre in the United States and remembers when it was taking its first steps. He recalled going to similar park jams with The Kidd Creole, Mele Mel and Keith Cowboy back in 1976.
“I had many arguments with Lovebug that Cowboy was saying ‘Hip Hop’ in his rhymes when he came to Forrest Projects Park and rocked the mic,” Silk says. “All Lovebug would say was, ‘Fuck you’ [laughs]. Cowboy must be credited with coming up with the phrase ‘Hip Hop’ and Lovebug Starski for popularizing it. We have to keep our history correct.”
Van and Dynamite also made a point to recognize Afrika Bambaataa for pushing the term forward.
“When Afrika Bambaataa was asked by a reporter what we called this new genre of music, he thought about it for awhile and said, ‘Hip Hop,'” Dynamite says. “Bambaataa made it more official even more so than Cowboy and Starski with the Zulu Nation. We’re not taking that away from him.”