The Vinyl Keeps Spinning: Hip Hop’s Timeless Love Affair

Vinyl for sale at the LA Record Fair (Credit: Camilo Almonacid)

Is it the gritty sound that digital recordings, promising to improve quality and accessibility, can’t quite replicate? Or the allure of holding a rare album in your hands- sliding the record out of the sleeve, holding it by its edges, lowering the needle, and watching the revolutions of the spinning disc? Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of a bygone era or the deeper connection it creates with the artist, where every crackle and pop tells its own story.

A view from the front of the LA Record Fair (Credit: Camilo Almonacid)

LA Record Fair: 

This love for vinyl comes to life on the third Sunday of every month at the LA Record Fair. Here, the air buzzes with jazz, and melónamos (music lovers)  have animated conversations amidst the colorful canopy of tents selling food, clothing, music, and other arts and crafts.

It all started in 2008 with Beat Swap Meet, a cornerstone of Los Angeles’ vinyl culture, a gathering of the minds, providing a space for music enthusiasts and truth seekers to gather, trade, and celebrate the enduring appeal of vinyl records.

A pop-up vendor at the LA Record Fair (Credit: Camilo Almonacid)

The event has grown into a community tradition, and Beat Swap Meet now presents the LA Record Fair with over 30 vendors offering genre-spanning selections. Melónamos explore crates of vinyl, uncovering everything from classic rock albums to obscure cumbia records. Based on supply and demand, prices can range from $1 to $1000.

Aaron from Drip Tone Records, a vendor specializing in punk, metal, and hip hop, expressed his joy in returning to local LA gigs after extensive travel to music festivals nationwide:

Drip Tone Records pop-up shop at the LA Record Fair (Credit: Camilo Almonacid)

“Music is about connection,” Aaron emphasized. “Something about this physical medium allows listeners to connect deeply with the artists. You can stream music for free online and access every recording ever made. However, people still love vinyl records for their tangible connection to the music- it’s not just an ephemeral experience.”

Cultural Impact of Vinyl:

In an era dominated by digital streaming, vinyl has made a remarkable comeback. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in 2021, vinyl records reached $1 billion in sales for the first time in almost 40 years. The evolution of vinyl records reflects a dynamic history of technological advancements and cultural shifts.

  • From the first Edison phonographs in the late 1800s that recorded sound using hand-cranked cylinders wrapped in tin foil, to the introduction of the flat disc and gramophone, the evolution of sound recording has been remarkable.
  • The 1920s saw shellac records at 78 revolutions per minute (RPM), but the seismic shift came in 1948 with 12-inch LP records at 33 1/3 RPM, allowing for more extended playback. This, along with 7-inch singles at 45 RPM, ushered in the golden age of vinyl from the 1950s to the 1970s, dominating the industry with iconic album releases and improved sound quality.
  • The mid-1980s saw the supposed death of vinyl with the rise of cassettes and the introduction of a new portable medium, the Walkman. Vinyl sales declined further with the advent of the digital music era and MP3s, which seemed poised to render records obsolete. 
  • But the numbers indicate otherwise. The RIAA reported 43.2 million EPs/LPs sold in the U.S. last year, up from less than a million in 2006, when the vinyl comeback began.

Influence of Hip Hop:

Hip Hop classics fill crates at the LA Record Fair (Credit: Camilo Almonacid)

The Hip Hop community’s deep connection to records has significantly contributed to vinyl’s resurgence, highlighting the genre’s impact on preserving and revitalizing vinyl culture.

  • Hip-hop’s roots are deeply connected to records. Since the days of Kool Herc, DJs have used turntables and vinyl to create beats, scratches, and mixes.
  • From sampling old records and crate digging– searching for unique sounds through vinyl collections- to turntablism, the art of manipulating sounds pioneered by Hip-Hop DJs, vinyl culture has been kept alive.
  • Hip Hop artists and labels continue releasing vinyl albums, catering to collectors worldwide. As one of the most popular music genres globally, Hip-Hop influences other genres and encourages music lovers to rediscover vinyl, sparking nostalgia and personal connections.

Leo Garcia, Soul1Jazzie Vendor:

Leo Garcia, a vendor at the LA Record Fair, has been in the record business for 35 years, specializing in jazz, soul, Latin, and Afro-Cuban records. He passionately shares his music collection, hoping future generations will embrace vinyl. “Earlier music is the foundation of what we listen to today,” Garcia explains, attributing Hip Hop’s influence to the recent surge in vinyl sales.

Kadrian Alvarenga, founder of Latin Gold Records (Instagram)

Kadrian Alvarenga, Latin Gold Records Owner:

Another vendor at the LA Record Fair, Kadrian Alvarenga, was inspired by his wife to pursue his dream of owning Latin Gold Records. After only five months of vending, he has seen how vinyl bridges generations, recalling a father who introduced his son to Queen.  Alvarenga’s father, who passed in 2013, left behind a record collection that ignited his love for wax. This generational connection epitomizes why vinyl remains beloved, preserving and creating new memories.

Timeless Experience:

As we navigate the digital age, vinyl’s resurgence reminds us that music is more than a sound.  Whether rediscovering classics or exploring new releases, vinyl fosters a unique connection between past and present, enriching our lives. 

After a long pandemic pause, June 22nd, 2024, marks the much-anticipated return of the official Beat Swap Meet. It’s a full day dedicated to record and cassette digging, DJs spinning all-vinyl sets, live performances, ciphers, breakdancing, graffiti, and a beat showcase. This event isn’t just about displaying skills or vendors making transactions; something more profound is at play. It’s a celebration where music, history, and community unite in a way that streaming can’t simulate and the algorithm can’t predict. 

The Beat Swap Meet and the LA Record Fair remind us to rejoice around the communities we build and the connections we make. These “For tha Kulture” events emphasize the human aspect of music consumption and the timeless significance of vinyl records, opening auditory portals, bridging generations, and creating lasting memories, shaping how we experience the sounds of analog music in the digital age.