Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The story behind the most glorious sound in the audible spectrum: the hip-hop air horn

Screenshot: The Origin Of The Hip-Hop Airhorn

The air horn is, at this point, a sort of universal shorthand that shit is going down. Midway through a track, at the beginning of a verse, unprompted in the middle of a meeting with HR—it does not matter. The wheedling bellow of the air horn, when blasted once or many of times in staccato succession, tells all within earshot to get the fuck ready. It is a magically powerful sound. The air horn sound can melt ice; it can cure sinus infections.

Great Big Story understands this, and so produced a short history of the life-bringing tone, tracing it back to Jamaican dancehalls up through DJ Cipha Sounds’ popularization on Hot 97. It is, in microcosm, a history of hip-hop, from block parties in the Bronx to a globally understood set of aesthetic signifiers.

The air horn is also a fun way to wake up sleeping family members. Wield it responsibly.


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