Decades ago, hip-hop was associated and characterized with baggy pants and loose shirts. Hip-hop connoted one’s identity and is also considered as a form of self expression. However, that connotation has evolved through time. These days, hip-hop is not just mainly a self-articulation; it is now more of a culture and a movement that focuses on music, fashion and self-articulation.
During the 1970s, only several black radio stations played disco music which gave negative implication on African Americans. Because of this, they reacted and responded by hosting “block parties,” which is usually comprised of disc jockey (DJ)–a person who plays funk, disco and soul music–within their communities. A little later, hip-hop started to emerge in Bronx when a DJ named Clive “Kool Herc” Campbell utilized percussion break beats to craft songs derived from Jamaican dance hall music. Hip-hop, thus, started to flourish. Performers who spoke in sync with beat became known as emcees (MCs). Few of the famous groups in this field are Afrika Bombaataa and the Zulu Nation (Coger, 2009). Afrika Bombaataa was the one who coined the term hip-hop and gave rise to the emerging popularity of the genre.
According to Afrika Bombaataa, hip-hop was derived from Lovebug Starski, a South Bronx disc jockey wherein he always says, “hip hop you don’t stop that makes your body rock.” Bombaataa started using the term by pertaining to ghetto-culture that emerged on the streets. Moreover, his concept of hip-hop covered urban street expression and attitude such as gestures, language and stylized clothes that were attributed with street culture (Reyes 47-49, 98). Nowadays, hip-hop has extended its meanings, definitions and characterizations.
Hiphop, a word usually spelled as hip-hop, Hip-hop, Hip-Hop or Hiphop (“HipHop”), is a cultural movement than began in urban youth in New York, from primarily African American which further extended around the world (“Hip Hop”). Its emergence represents black youth organization, an illustration of a particular species of social movement. Hip-hop, as a movement, needs to be discussed carefully because its depiction is occupied with style, performance, opposition, leisure, consumption, representation and entrepreneurship (Watkins 65).
On the other hand, hip-hop is also exemplified as a form of music. It is a billion dollar industry and one of the most renowned music genres in the world (Coger). It encompasses four elements namely MCing, DJing, graffiti art and break dancing. Others consider beat boxing as its fifth element (“Hip Hop”). Since its acceptance and creation, hip-hop has conjured up its wonder by commemorating its origins and by maintaining its expression of social, political and personal struggles (Rentas 2009).
The aforementioned definitions of hip-hop can be traced from Bombaataa; however it is not anymore applicable to the hip-hop acts of today because several famous artists do not anymore embrace hip-hop as a self-expressive message; instead they frequently produce music for the sole reason and purpose of selling a commodity (Berky and Greer).
Hip-hop, in another sense, is more than just a form of music. It is also considered as a state of being, a form of expression, spoken words, a mindset and a lifestyle. It is also a manner of articulating one’s self by way of dress, language, writing, personality, attitude and behavior (Leslie). Hip-hop is a culture that materialized as a worldview among adults and youth born after 1965. It covers shared beliefs, practices and language, all of which are bound together by a common appreciation for urban aesthetic. Hip-hop as a culture and worldview possesses two essential characteristics: the urban youth aesthetics and urban youth experience (Ginwright 31).
Hip-hop as an urban youth aesthetic is most distinguishable through its physical features that are articulated through music, language, clothing and art. It pertains to the visual and artistic expression. On the contrary, hip-hop as an urban youth experience is molded by economic seclusion, poverty and struggle “to make it out” of the paraphernalia of ghettos. It validates and legitimizes the experiences of pain, hostility, fear, hope and love that have been overlooked in mainstream America for the urban youth. Thus, the relationship between black youth identity and hip-hop cannot be separated (Ginwright 31-32).
Furthermore, hip-hop is regarded as a social movement. Social movement is generally characterized by sociologists as collective efforts that endeavor social change. However, hip-hop as a social movement follows different pattern because of three important considerations. First is its emergence as a movement which belongs in the field of pop culture, is a discipline not commonly considered as political and not generally recognized as capable of producing social change. Second is the fact that it is founded and patronized by youth and creative people, who are not ordinarily looked upon as interested in implementing social change. Lastly, it allows the participants to see themselves as part of a bigger society. Thus, it creates a sense of collective identity and organization. Hip-hop as a movement represents a different mode of intervention in the social realm (Watkins 65).
If hip-hop is not acknowledged then as a movement that can make a change in the world, on the other hand, it is essential to look at it from another side. Today, hip-hop has revolutionized new genres of music, such as reggaeton, and has influenced the political system. One good example is when Kilopatrick, from a hip-hop generation, defeated the Detroit’s current mayor Gil Hill. It is because the youths from the hip-hop generation have already grown and have already obtained the right and freedom to vote. Their voices have already begun to be heard in the political spectrum. During that time, the election is divided by generation gap that the candidates represented for. The victory of Kilopatrick illustrates the hip-hop’s power over the political arena in order to craft political changes, which for them are very important (qtd. Berky and Greer).
Hip-hop is hailed for creating impacts on the society, especially to women of color. Hip-hop, hence, gives a space and outline for their lives. It can be sifted in their hair style, as well as in the way they run, pose, turn, talk and walk. Women has now influenced and affected most elements of hip-hop such as break dancing, poetry, MC, DJ, graffiti artists, beat boxing and pop locking. Hip-hop has also made its way on beauty pageants and top models just like how Tyra Bank’s UPN show, America’s Next Top Model, chooses two hip-hop fashion models in the previous two years (Leslie). On the other hand, hip-hop has been one of the sources of controversies. As such, it has already been blamed and accused of elevating violence, misogyny and homophobia (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”). Critics have also said that it promotes rebellion and prostitution. Several hip-hop artists exploit women of color through their song lyrics which depict contempt of women (Leslie).
Hip-hop is not just a style of fashion where the youth wears baggy clothes, tattoos or ghetto attires (Leslie). Hip-hop comes in many forms. It is a social movement because its members are youth of a particular community who expresses and articulates their voices and ideas through MCing, DJing, graffiti art and poetry. Even some of hip-hop forms have inculcated political activism within its tenets.
Hip-hop is also a cultural movement because it mirrors the culture of a particular group during a particular time. It transpires in a community setting where youth creates a collective identity of the group and of the hip-hop culture itself.
Nonetheless, hip-hop is a form of music. Nowadays, it is considered as one of the most well-known genres by marking a history in the music industry. Moreover, hip-hop is indeed an expression of one’s self – a form of articulating and expressing one’s nature and character through hair styles, fashion, music, language and representation.
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Cheryl L. Keyes. Rap Music and Street Consciousness. University of Illinois: Board of Trustees, 2002.
Coger, Lasan. 2009. “Hip Hop.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 02 March 2009 <http://www.naacp.org/about/history/blackmusic/hiphop/index.htm.>.
Ginwright, Shawn. Black in School: Afrocentric Reform, Urban, Youth and the Promise of Hip-hop Culture. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 004.
“HipHop.” n.d. Lasalle University. 03 March 2009 <http://www.lasalle.edu/~larkaid1/hiphop101/what.htm>.
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Leslie. 2009. “Hip-Hop: What is it All About?” My Sistahs: A Project from Advocates for Youth. 03 March 2009 <http://www.mysistahs.org/features/about_hiphop.htm>.
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Watkins, Samuel Craig. Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema. Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1998.