Hip-Hop: a Culture, an Expression, a Language

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What is hip-hop? Many believe hip-hop is synonymous for rap music, but it goes beyond that. Hip-hop is a form of art and culture, style, and language, and for many, a way of life (Fernando, 1994). The graffiti you see on bridges, the dances you see in the clubs, the hardened attitude that the boy who sits behind you in film class has, the slang you here kids yell at the park, this is hip-hop. In the 1980s the subculture at that time was deejaying, emceeing, graffiti, and break dancing. All played a role in hip-hop's evolution and is responsible for its strong cultural influence (Light,Alan). A hip-hop pioneer and savvy business mogul, Russell Simmons, believed that Hip-hop "speaks for the people who live in the worst economic straits since the Great Depression" (Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money, + God 26). Critics on rap music or hip-hop are fixated on the issues of violence and sex and harsh language, painting this negative picture of a beautiful art form. The media loves to headline stories of rival record labels beefing, riots that take place during concerts or shows at clubs, legal cases and arrests of artist, shoot-outs, and drug charges. No matter how much hip-hop attempts to elevate, it remains shackled to cliché (Bigger than Hip-hop, 4). Rap and violence continues to be linked in the media.

Admittedly, rap has its violence, its raw language, and its misogynistic lyrics. However, it is an art form that accurately reports "the nuances, pathology and most importantly, resilience of America's next best secret…..the black ghetto" (Dawsey, 1994). Hip-hop/rap culture is a resistance culture. Thus rap music is not only an African American expressive cultural phenomenon; it is at the same time, a resisting discourse, a set of communicative practices that constitute a text of resistance against White America's racism and its Eurocentric cultural dominance (Smitherman, 7). Graffiti, may not be considered as hip-hop culture, however, it played a significant role in helping define hip-hop culture in its early stages. Considered one of the people making graffiti famous, a person from West Chester New York named Demetrius tag name "TAKI 183" made bold statements about what was going on around him. Graffiti writing helped to give people a voice that were not heard and contributed to the visual aspect of hip-hop (About.com). After being labeled as a crime, the focus shifted from graffiti to deejaying. Deejaying played a crucial role in the development of rap music, possibly even creating rap and breaking. The act of deejaying finds its roots from DUB talk over reggae music. The "DJ" manipulates the sound of a groove by cutting, scratching, and blending over a particular record. Kool herc, a Jamaican DJ in the 1970s, developed his deejaying style by talking over the instrumental or percussion of a song. His trademark was to use an audio mixer to lengthen the break. During these breaks, people would dance, so the legendary DJ Kool Hurc coined the phrase "B-Boy" or "breakdance." After that bboys modified their style, or art of dance, into an acrobatic form. Funny enough, the style evolved from the James Brown song "Get on the good foot." A whole variation of dressing is associated with the scene, which is another characteristic of hip-hop culture. By the late 1970s the emcee would emerge (Interactive.column.edu.). MC is short for the Master of Ceremonies. The emcee has the power to move the crowd with his voice and bring the music to life (Interactive.column.edu). Not yet known as ‘rap,' emceeing emerged in the party environment as slang and recited popular phrases yelled at house parties evoked a response from the crowd to shout out their own slogans and names. This influenced the dj to create a little rhyme. It was not long before people began sampling schoolyard rhymes and obsolete dozens adding their own style, flavor, and customization in preparation for the next party (George, 1998). And the rest is history! Early Emcees...
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