Scratch today's dance superstars, and you'll more than likely find an old b-boy underneath. The reasons are simple. If you're in your twenties or thirties, hip hop was probably the first music you heard that valued technology, skills and having a decent record collection over musicianship. If that sounds familiar, it's because exactly the same values power today's house, trip hop and jungle scenes. Which is why, when you talk to anyone from Mickey Finn to Massive Attack, they recite their old skool past with such reverence: discovering hip hop in the mid-80s tended to be a life-changing experience.
When techno hero Dave Clarke described hearing electro for the first time, he called it "the music I'd waited all my life to hear." Talking to Mixmag earlier this year, Massive Attack's Mushroom said that hip hop was "the most diverse music I'd ever heard": at 15, he claimed, "It was just a case of what side of [hip hop] culture I was going to apply myself to. A bit of spraying? A bit of breaking or DJing?" And in the drum n' bass scene, you can't move for ex-breakers and former graf writers. DJ Hype, Goldie, Urban Takeover: "It's the breakbeat," says Mickey Finn, "it comes from hip hop. Hip hop was a street sound, it's about reality, and so is drum n' bass".
Maybe the most famous old b-boy of all is the Prodigy's Liam Howlett. He began his musical career as a DJ with Brit hip hoppers Cut To Kill, and throughout the Prodigy's stellar ascent, he's made a string of references to his past - remixing Method Man, sampling Ultramagnetic MCs' Kool Keith on 'Out Of Space', then collaborating with the real live Keith (in his Dr Octagon guise) on 'Diesel Power'. He took breakdancers on the last Prodigy tour as support act. And last year, he slated house DJs for their lack of "hip hop talent". So what does he make of old skool hip hop's influence on the UK's house dancefloors in 1998? Over to you, Liam...
"GRANDMASTER Flash's 'Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel' was the first record that really grabbed me. It was through that I got into the whole hip hop vibe. I loved the fact that all you needed was a set of decks, you didn't need guitars or any of that stuff. My mate's brother was a DJ and he had these decks and I would just sit in his room listening to these tunes. At that time, the film Beat Street was big and breakdancing was the thing and me and my mates got completely into breaking. We used to travel around to shopping malls to 'battle' with other crews. So it was like, going from listening to records in this room to realising the whole thing about hip hop wasn't just the music: it was the culture as well. It seemed really touchable. It was from the street and once you were into it, you were obsessed by it all.