Hip Hop culture History Essay

Hip-hop is both a cultural and artistic movement, which stated in 1970’s in the ethnically diverse Bronx borough of New York. Hip hop is represented by the mixture of ethnic cultural, artistic and music particularities of African Americans, Latin Americans and Jamaicans. Later it spread all over the world attracting a bigger number of youth every year. It is generally agreed that hip hop is represented by four elements; rapping (MC-ing), Djing, graffiti and break dancing (others also include beat boxing, political activism, hip hop fashion style, slag, etc.) In many respects hip-hop is a synonym to the hip hop music or rap music to the biggest part of the audience. There is no single opinion about the origin of the term “hip hop”. The American Heritage College Dictionary gives the following definition to the term “hip-hop”:

“The popular culture of big city and especially inner-city youth, characterized by graffiti art, break dancing, and rap music—of or relating to this culture.”

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KRSONE describes hip-hop as culture this way:
“True hip-hop is a term that describes the independent collective consciousness of a specific group of inner-city people. Discovered by Kool DJ Herc in the Bronx, New York around 1972, and established as a community of peace, love, unity, and having fun by Afrika Bambaataa through Zulu Nation in 1974, hip-hop is an independent and unique community, an empowering behavior, and an international culture.”(Kris Parker Ruminations, 22)

Now a lot of people agree that the term hip-hop appeared in the works of DJ Kool Herc and DJ Afrika Bambaataa who gave different attributes to the term hip-hop which later began to be used in the characteristic of the whole hip-hop culture. Hip hop culture which was born in the environment of low middle class youth and immigrants was very close to young people and to their problems as it help them to escape from everyday problems, lyrics in hip-hop song touched a lot of burning issues of youth; unemployment, human rights, protests, etc. In the book Hip-hop America, Nelson George writes this about the culture of hip-hop and its influence:

“Now we know that rap music, and hip-hop style as a whole, has utterly broken through from its ghetto roots to assert a lasting influence on American clothing, magazine publishing, television, language, sexuality, and social policy as well as its obvious presence in records and movies…advertisers, magazines, MTV, fashion companies, beer and soft drink manufacturers, and multimedia conglomerates like Time-Warner have embraced hip-hop as a way to reach not just black young people, but all young people.”( Hip-hop America,101)

That’s why we can say that in some 20-25 years hip hop turned into universal and the most popular culture in the USA as it influenced the development of today’s music, fashion style and media turning into the most influential youth subculture in modern American society.

There is a big number of factors which influenced the development of hip hop music: which included not only cultural particularities of different music genres which originally contributed to hip-hop, but also development of audio electronics which allowed to get new wonderful sounds and remake existing melodies. It’s agreed that hip-hop was made by both African culture and various musical genres of multi-ethnic community of New York.

Elements of rapping were common for West Africa cultures, and since the seventeenth century these culture penetrated into the USA, Caribbean and UK as African slaves were moved to the New world. First, it was a part of slave subculture, but later it became mixed and influenced by English and Caribbean tradition and became widely spread as well as different genres of jazz music. Another important influence on the hip-hop music was made by the Jamaican sub-genres of reggae, especially by dub. Dub versions of the most popular reggae songs became adjusted for dancing clubs as beat was isolated and the rhythms were more clear. Such practices led to the development of new style of music: hip-hop, which united different rhythms and melodies and became very popular in New York. Later it was contributed by the practice of speaking over the instrumental records, which led to the spread of this music in the majority of NY dancing clubs making popular such musicians as Jamaican immigrant DJ Kool Herc.

The phenomenon of hip hop is that on the early stage it wasn’t pretty much commercial music, as a number of hip hoppers were playing on the streets, in the neighborhoods or near community centers for crowds of teenage youth, who like to hear old funk tunes and satiric lyrics. Bakari Kitwana for example states:

“I have established the birth years 1965-1984 as the age group for the hip-hop generation. However, those at the end of the civil rights/black power generation were essentially the ones who gave birth to the hip-hop movement that came to define the hip-hop generation, even though they are not technically hip-hop generationers.” (The Hip-Hop Generation, 43)

In late 1970’s DJs started to use a new technique as they included percussion breaks in records of the most popular bands such as Rolling Stones and to any band with a clear and rhythmic drum break. The development of Djing was also caused by the appearance of new audio electronics devices such as mixers which allowed to make the break last longer turning 1 minute break into 6-7 minutes mix. At the same time DJs started to use computerized affect and synthesizers, which made music more lively, moving and popular.

Another very important component of hip-hop culture is break dancing, which is often called b-boying or b-girling. It’s a very dynamic dance followed by the rap or hip-hop music breaks. The origins of break dance also go to the dance elements from African culture, Capoeira (a form of dancing and martial art developed by African slaves in Brazil). Originated in South Bronx, break dance quickly spread all over the USA and later all over the world being a part of hip-hop musical culture. Break dancing has no limitations set by some kind of tradition, so the dancer has a wide field for improvisation and self-expression. Being dynamic, acrobatic and simply lively it attracts a big number of young people and teenagers today.

Graffiti remains to be one of the most controversial aspects in hip hop culture, urban art which is painted on the walls of the building or subs may be regarded dualistically: as form of art and as a crime (as it can be regarded as form of vandalism”). The first forms of graffiti appeared in the 1960’s and it became spread in 1970’s and 1980’s turning into a form of calligraphy made with spray paint. Today graffiti represents signatures made with multiple visual colorful effects such as shading. Some of the graffiti works had political direction criticizing war in Vietnam and arm races, others had peace appeals, etc. It’s very interesting that interest to graffiti was so high that Henry Kolt publishing company even published a catalogue called Subway Art (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1984). Nevertheless in many respects graffiti is considered to be vandalism as “images” of such “urban artists” only destroy urban harmony. Such tendencies were even reflected in criminal legislature, as in California for example graffiti is considered to be a “gang related activity” and such “artists” may be even sentenced for life just for making pictures on the walls.

The hip hop fashion changed over the years and today it’s mainly represented by the youth street ware, which is common for youth of different ethnicities all over the world. Besides, hip hop slang and other hip-hop culture aspects influenced today’s youth views, beliefs and values which have changed gradually under the impact of human rights movement in 1960’s, hippies movement, etc turning into a more realistic and pragmatic perception of life. In order to describe the influence of hip-hop on today’s youth Efrern Smith gives the following evidence:

“Hip-hop has taken over the music industry in the same way the Williams sisters have taken over tennis. Look at the National Basketball Association as hip-hop players Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson and hip-hop culture in general are being used to sell soda, candy, and clothes to young people. To see hip-hop as simply rap is to not understand the impact and influence of a greater movement.” (Hip hop as cultureYouthworker August, 2004)

In 1980’s the clothes worn by such rappers as Run DMC, Puff Daddy and others dictated hip-hop fashion. They were mostly large glasses called cazals, Kangol hats and sport shoes such as sneakers of brands like Adidas and Nike. These singers also established fashion on wearing big gold chains and jewelry items as earrings, and different jewelry, which symbolized African heritage and balck, Pride movement. Another feature of hip-hop culture was the changing hairstyle: jheri curl and hi-top fade. Hip-hop also introduced doo-rag wearing, which is widely spread today.

Today’s hip-hop fashion is not simply based on the street ware and comfortable sport ware of such brands as Adidas, Nike or Puma. Today’s it has a tendency of turning into a more idealized fashion style. A number of well-known designers produce fancy and exclusive hip-hop style ware, which is often very expensive. Universalism of hip-hop clothes attracts a big number of young people not only in America but also around the world. Today a number of clothing companies specialize only on hip-hop style clothes: Karl Kani and FUBU, Willie Esco, Ecko, and Mecca USA. In addition a number of hip-hop artists had also started their own exclusive fashion labels: Russell Simmons (Phat Farm), Damon Dash and Jay-Z (Roc-a-Wear), and OutKast (OutKast Clothing).

The success of hip hop fashion and hip hop music is resulted by the influence of today’s
Media; a lot of African American actors are hip-hopers, a number of athletes are hip-hopers. They demonstrate their clothes style setting an example for imitations for millions of young sport fans and youth in general:

“If kids are wearing oversized jeans with the tops of their boxers showing, oversized athletic jerseys, tennis shoes like Air Force Ones, or long chains around their necks, this is hip-hop. White girls on a youth group bus braiding their hair in the style of an Ethiopian queen, that’s hip-hop. There are things around you that daily scream at you, “long live hip-hop!” It’s important if you want to understand the culture teens live in today, to understand hip hop and understand it as culture, not just a music form.” (Efrern Smith Hip-hop as culture)


Smith, Efrern Hip hop as culture, Article Youthworker August, 2004
Nelson, George Hip-Hop America Penguin, 1999
Parker, Kris Ruminations, Welcome Rain, 2003
The American Heritage College Dictionary
Bakari Kitwana The Hip-Hop Generation Basic Civitas Books, 2003
Hip hop culture, Article from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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