When you hear the phrase “Hip-Hop”, music, dancing, rapping often come to mind. Well, it’s all of that and more…Hip-Hop is a culture. According to Webster’s dictionary, culture is defined as “the concepts, habits, skills, arts, instruments, institutions, etc. of a given people in a given period; civilization.” One artist defined Hip-Hop as “a set of expressions in vocalization, instrumentation, dancing and the visual arts.” More specifically, hip hop is a combination of graffiti, break dancing, djing and mcing (also known as rapping), that creates a lifestyle with its own language, style of dress, music and mind set that’s continuously evolving. Most of these art forms originated in New York City. Major credit is given to a man named DJ Kool Herc who along with others started the Hip-Hop culture in the south Bronx. Herc moved from Jamaica to the West Bronx area of New York. Herc’s initial style incorporated a lot of Jamaican style, but New Yorkers were not into reggae yet. He then adapted his style by chanting over the instrumental portion of the songs. Herc was then credited for developing a style of Djing that emphasized rhythm and sound.
After DJ Kool Herc began rapping the other forms of the culture began to show. For example, art has been drawn on walls since the beginning of time, but a new type of graffiti wall art came of the hip hop culture in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (when Hip-Hop was thought to have begun). Although teenagers were scribbling their names on walls, signs and other places since the 1950s, more and more kids began to write after a young messenger literally made his mark on society in the early 70s. TAKI put his name everywhere he went, and on every surface he could find. New York City’s subway walls and ten car trains started to become the perfect place for kids to get their name known all over the city. This graffiti became famous to the rest of the world in the late 1970’s. The subway movement ended in the late 1980’s, when the MCA began what is know as the clean car movement. Basically this was a policy of cleaning all train cars before they were put into service. This meant that no tagged car would ever go out. Without the opportunity to be recognized people lost interest in train cars. Graffiti was typically done by the young and oppressed youth from various ethnic backgrounds as a way of self-expression and release of creativity. Graffiti is a highly individualized style, which is name oriented and personal, and since it’s a way of artistic expression. The most basic form of graffiti is tagging, which is just writing a word or nickname in some form of fancy lettering, often a variation of script or calligraphy. Beyond that, there are many different styles that vary from writer to writer.
Break dancing is another element that makes up the culture of Hip-Hop. This form of dancing emerged in the 1970’s.. More or less any song can be broken down to a basic repeated pattern. By repeating this pattern, DJ’s could create a beat that was ideal to dance over. This is called a breakbeat. Because it is performed over a “breakbeat” the cause for the name break dancing should be obvious. Break dancing is very different from other kinds of dancing as it is performed on the street, while wearing a pair of sneakers and on a piece of cardboard. It is a form of expression by which one dancer makes a move, and then another dancer understands that body language and does a move in response. This dance form became as highly personalized and sampled as graffiti; especially as speed and determination was the goal. The kids and those in street gangs in the South Bronx are the ones who began utilizing this dance before most others. The youths in street gangs were known to have done their “battling” this way: competing through this dance instead of fighting. These competitions came to be known as “breaking” battles. Some of the characteristics of this type of dance include head spinning, back spinning and complicated leg moves at a very fast rate of speed. From here, break dancing groups (or crews as they were often called) were formed. These groups would practice and perform together. Since many of the youths didn’t have anything else to do, they would practice for hours on end developing routines to perform, and sometimes performing in front of audiences. Break dancing and graffiti have the lowest profit potential of any element of Hip-Hop, and therefore, in my opinion are the most pure forms of hip hop. Those who write’ or break dance do it not for any money, but just to do something they love.
Another element of the Hip-Hop culture is Djing. Djing is defined as “the art of blending, scratching, and making music by working with prerecorded (usually records) and making some thing new.” Djing came into play around the same time as break dancing. At this time rappers started coming into the picture. As this happened, there became a need to produce a more repetitive, beat-oriented background that people could rap over. With the need for more beats, DJ Kool Herc was the first to DJ with two turntables It didn’t take long for the DJ to become an important factor in the growth of Hip-Hop. DJ’s are looked upon to keep the crowd partying throughout the night and on the dance floor. The art of scratching is like a miracle. A DJ can grab any recorded sound and manipulate it to say whatever they want it to say. DJ’s brought into play a new musical instrument “the turntable.”
Mcing (rapping) is a very large element of Hip-Hop (if not the largest). Rap was separated from the DJ and the rappers started to create lyrics that would impress crowds of people. But they still work together to create a fresh product that the hip hop community will want to listen to. In the beginning there were no records and Mcing was just done for fun. Rap is said to have many origins and can be traced back to old Negro spirituals, Blues, and jazz. Rap is a modern form and story telling, and continues to be a part of the cultural movement. It relates the hardships, problems and triumphs of urban Americans and all people in this country. Although rap has become a worldwide and culture wide form, the core of rap is still based in urban America. More specifically, rap music is a cultural expression that gives voices to those who in the past were unheard. From the very beginning, rap music has put in words the pleasures and problems of urban life in today’s America. In general, rappers tend to rap about “how to avoid gang pressures and still earn local respect, how to deal with the loss of several friends to gunfights and drug overdoses, and tell elaborate, and sometimes violent tales. All though there are some who feel that rap music is to angry, or promotes violence, it must be realized that quite often these songs are in reality heartfelt stories about the life of those telling the story .
As time moves on, rap music continued to flourish the most within the Hip-Hop culture. It is known for bringing together a tangle of some of the most complex social, and political issues in todays American society. Rap initially caught on because of the fact that it offered young urban New Yorkers a chance to freely express themselves and it was accessible to anyone who wanted to do it. They now had a chance to tell their life stories in a way that people were not used to hearing. With rap, as well as graffiti, and break dancing, you didn’t have to invest in any type of lessons or any other training. Rapping, in essence, is a verbal skill. Rap also offered unlimited challenges as there were no real set of rules…other than it had to be original and the rhyme was to the beat of the music. Another aspect that made it so attractive was that rap could be about any and/or everything. Because there were no rules to rapping, the personality of whoever was rapping came through in the music.
As Rapping grew within the urban ghettos, artists started to evolve and record rap. From this, the music industry took hold and commercialized it as the record labels saw its money making potential . Because of this there are many who feel that rap is no longer the great cultural voice that it once was. Now that mainstream America has become used to the idea that this music that was once confined to the urban sections of our country, is now a part of everyday life, it has become easier to exploit it and make a profit off of it. The original intent of the cultural movement has been put on the back burner in many cases so that record companies, often quite ignorant to the social significance of the music, can make a profit. Because rap has evolved into such a large industry, it gives the illusion of being a quick escape from the harshness of inner city life. Rapping is very hard work as well as time consuming. It can not be done by just any one.
Not long after the emergence of the recording of rap, videos became which allowed a face to go along with the recording. It allowed the world to see who was creating it, what they looked like…this allowed hip hop to actually be seen all over the world. MTV plays Hip-Hop videos, and has prompted the creation of Hip-Hop and R ; B based video channels such as BET. Since the birth of the visual aspect of hip hop, commercialization has played a large part in the evolution of rap and hip hop. Now more then ever the effects of Hip hop can be seen in everyday America. There are rappers such as Ice cube, and Ice T starring in major motion pictures. Everywhere that you look, you can see people of all ages wearing clothing inspired by hip hop and even the very way that we speak has been affected as slang becomes a more acceptable form of expression.
In conclusion, Hip-Hop is the culture from which rap emerged but consists of the four main elements: Graffiti, Break dancing, Djing and Mcing (Rapping.) Although break dancing and graffiti are not as widespread as they once were, it should be noted that all aspects of Hip-Hop culture still exist…they’re just on new levels. Today the Hip-Hop movement is coming on strong. The movement is trying to teach people about Hip-Hop and it’s four elements. Hip-Hop has helped to shape America today. It has given a voice to people that were formerly left unheard, and given urban youths entry into a three billion dollar a year business. The Hip-Hop culture is now incorporated in everything today from movies and TV, to clothes, speech and the way we interact with each other.