Hip hop

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A b-boy in an elevated freeze

Hip hop is a broad conglomerate of artistic forms that originated within a marginalized subculture in the South Bronx and Harlem in New York City among black and Latino youth during the 1970s.[1][2][3][4][5][6] It is characterized by four distinct elements, all of which represent the different manifestations of the culture: rap music (oral), turntablism or "DJing" (aural), breaking (physical) and graffiti art (visual). Despite their contrasting methods of execution, they find unity in their common association to the poverty and violence underlying the historical context that birthed the culture. It was as a means of providing a reactionary outlet from such urban hardship that "hip hop" initially functioned, a form of self-expression that could reflect upon, proclaim an alternative to, try to challenge or merely evoke the mood of the circumstances of such an environment. Even while it continues in contemporary history to develop globally in a flourishing myriad of diverse styles, these foundational elements provide stability and coherence to the culture.[1] The term is frequently used mistakenly to refer in a confining fashion to the mere practice of rap music.

The origin of the culture stems from the block parties of the Ghetto Brothers when they plugged the amps for their instruments and speakers into the lampposts on 163rd Street and Prospect Avenue, and from DJ Kool Herc at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, where Herc mixed samples of existing records with his own shouts to the crowd and dancers. Kool Herc is credited as the "father" of hip hop. DJ Afrika Bambaataa of the hip hop collective Zulu Nation outlined the pillars of hip hop culture, to which he coined the terms: MCing or "Emceein", DJing or "Deejayin", B-boying and graffiti writing or "Aerosol Writin".[7][8][9][10][11]

Since its evolution throughout the South Bronx, hip hop culture has spread to both urban and suburban communities throughout the world.[12] Hip hop music first emerged with Kool Herc and contemporary disc jockeys and imitators creating rhythmic beats by looping breaks (small portions of songs emphasizing a percussive pattern) on two turntables. This was later accompanied by "rap", a rhythmic style of chanting or poetry often presented in 16-bar measures or time frames, and beatboxing, a vocal technique mainly used to provide percussive elements of music and various technical effects of hip hop DJs. An original form of dancing and particular styles of dress arose among fans of this new music. These elements experienced considerable adaptation and development over the course of the history of the culture.

Hip hop is simultaneously a new and old phenomenon; the importance of sampling to the art form means that much of the culture has revolved around the idea of updating classic recordings, attitudes, and experiences for modern audiences—called "flipping" within the culture. It follows in the footsteps of earlier American musical genres such as blues, salsa, jazz, and rock and roll in having become one of the most practiced genres of music in existence worldwide, and also takes additional inspiration regularly from soul music, funk, and rhythm and blues.


"Hip hop" is the combination of two separate slang terms: hip, used in African American English as early as 1898, meaning "current" or "in the now", and hop, for the hopping movement.[citation needed]

Keith "Cowboy" Wiggins, a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, has been credited with coining the term[13] in 1978 while teasing a friend who had just joined the US Army, by scat singing the words "hip/hop/hip/hop" in a way that mimicked the rhythmic cadence of marching soldiers.Cowboy later worked the "hip hop" cadence into his stage performance.[14][15] The group frequently performed with disco artists who would refer to this new type of music by calling them "hip hoppers". The name was originally meant as a sign of disrespect, but soon came to identify this new music and culture.

The song "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang, released in 1979, begins with the scat phrase, "I said a hip, hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don't stop." Lovebug Starski, a Bronx DJ who put out a single called "The Positive Life" in 1981, and DJ Hollywood then began using the term when referring to this new disco rap music. Hip hop pioneer and South Bronx community leader Afrika Bambaataa also credits Lovebug Starski as the first to use the term "hip hop", as it relates to the culture. Bambaataa, former leader of the Black Spades gang, also did much to further popularize the term. The words "hip hop" first appeared in print on September 21, 1981, in the Village Voice in a profile of Bambaataa written by Steven Hager, who also published the first comprehensive history of the culture with St. Martins' Press.[14][16][17]


In the 1970s, an underground urban movement known as "Hip Hop" began to develop in the South Bronx area of New York City focusing on emceeing (or MCing), breakbeats, and house parties. Jamaican-born DJ Clive "Kool Herc" Campbell is credited as being highly influential in the pioneering stage of hip hop music. Starting at Kool Herc's home in a high-rise apartment at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the movement later spread across the entire borough. Rap developed both inside and outside of Hip Hop culture, and began in America in earnest with the street parties thrown in the Bronx by Herc and others.[18] Herc created the blueprint for hip hop music and culture by building upon the Jamaican tradition of impromptu toasting, boastful poetry and speech over music.[19]

This became emceeing—the rhythmic spoken delivery of rhymes and wordplay, delivered over a beat or without accompaniment—taking inspiration from the rapping derived from the griots (folk poets) of West Africa, and Jamaican-style toasting. The basic elements of hip hop—boasting raps, rival posses, uptown throw-downs, and political commentary—were all present in Trinidadan music as long ago as the 1800s, though they did not reach the form of commercial recordings until the 1920s and 1930s.[20] Calypso music—like other forms of music—continued to evolve through the 1950s and '60s. When rock steady and reggae bands looked to make their music a form of national and even international Black resistance, they took Calypso's example. Calypso itself, like Jamaican music, moved back and forth between the predominance of boasting and toasting songs packed with 'slackness' and sexual innuendo and a more topical, political, 'conscious' style.

Melle Mel, a rapper-lyricist with The Furious Five, is often credited with being the first rap lyricist to call himself an "MC".[21]

DJ Kool Herc is credited as being highly influential in the pioneering stage of hip hop music.

Herc also developed upon break-beat deejaying,[22] where the breaks of funk songs—the part most suited to dance, usually percussion-based—were isolated and repeated for the purpose of all-night dance parties. This form of music playback, using hard funk and rock, formed the basis of hip hop music. Campbell's announcements and exhortations to dancers would lead to the syncopated, rhymed spoken accompaniment now known as rapping. He dubbed his dancers break-boys and break-girls, or simply b-boys and b-girls. According to Herc, "breaking" was also street slang for "getting excited" and "acting energetically".[23]

DJs such as Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and Jazzy Jay refined and developed the use of breakbeats, including cutting and scratching.[24] The approach used by Herc was soon widely copied, and by the late 1970s, DJs were releasing 12-inch records where they would rap to the beat. Popular tunes included Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" and The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight".[25] Herc and other DJs would connect their equipment to power lines and perform at venues such as public basketball courts and at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Bronx, New York, now officially a historic building.[26] The equipment consisted of numerous speakers, turntables, and one or more microphones.[27] By using this technique, DJs could create a variety of music, but according to Rap Attack by David Toop “At its worst the technique could turn the night into one endless and inevitably boring song”.[28] Nevertheless, the popularity of rap steadily increased.

Street gangs were prevalent in the poverty of the South Bronx, and much of the graffiti, rapping, and b-boying at these parties were all artistic variations on the competition and one-upmanship of street gangs. Sensing that gang members' often violent urges could be turned into creative ones, Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation, a loose confederation of street-dance crews, graffiti artists, and rap musicians. By the late 1970s, the culture had gained media attention, with Billboard magazine printing an article titled "B Beats Bombarding Bronx", commenting on the local phenomenon and mentioning influential figures such as Kool Herc.[29]

In late 1979, Debbie Harry of Blondie took Nile Rodgers of Chic to such an event, as the main backing track used was the break from Chic's "Good Times".[25] The new style influenced Harry, and Blondie's later hit single from 1981 "Rapture" became the first major single containing hip hop elements by a white group or artist to hit number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100—the song itself is usually considered new wave and fuses heavy pop music elements, but there is an extended rap by Harry near the end.

Hip hop as a culture was further defined in 1982, when Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force released the electro-funk track "Planet Rock". Instead of simply rapping over disco beats, Bambaataa created an electronic sound, taking advantage of the rapidly improving drum machine Roland TB-303 synthesizer technology, as well as sampling from Kraftwerk.[30]

Encompassing graffiti art, MCing/rapping, DJing and b-boying, hip hop became the dominant cultural movement of the minority-populated urban communities in the 1980s.[31] The 1980s also saw many artists make social statements through hip hop. In 1982, Melle Mel and Duke Bootee recorded "The Message" (officially credited to Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five),[32] a song that foreshadowed the socially conscious statements of Run-DMC's "It's like That" and Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos".[33] During the 1980s, hip hop also embraced the creation of rhythm by using the human body, via the vocal percussion technique of beatboxing. Pioneers such as Doug E. Fresh,[34] Biz Markie and Buffy from the Fat Boys made beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using their mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and other body parts. "Human Beatbox" artists would also sing or imitate turntablism scratching or other instrument sounds.

The appearance of music videos changed entertainment: they often glorified urban neighborhoods.[35] The music video for "Planet Rock" showcased the subculture of hip hop musicians, graffiti artists, and b-boys/b-girls. Many hip hop-related films were released between 1982 and 1985, among them Wild Style, Beat Street, Krush Groove, Breakin, and the documentary Style Wars. These films expanded the appeal of hip hop beyond the boundaries of New York. By 1985, youth worldwide were embracing the hip hop culture. The hip hop artwork and "slang" of US urban communities quickly found its way to Europe, as the culture's global appeal took root.[citation needed]

American society[edit]

Afrika Bambaataa with DJ Yutaka of Universal Zulu Nation in 2004

DJ Kool Herc's house parties gained popularity and later moved to outdoor venues in order to accommodate more people. Hosted in parks, these outdoor parties became a means of expression and an outlet for teenagers, where "instead of getting into trouble on the streets, teens now had a place to expend their pent-up energy."[36]

Tony Tone, a member of the Cold Crush Brothers, noted that "hip hop saved a lot of lives".[36] Hip hop culture became a way of dealing with the hardships of life as minorities within America, and an outlet to deal with violence and gang culture. MC Kid Lucky mentions that "people used to break-dance against each other instead of fighting".[37][broken citation] Inspired by DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa created a street organization called Universal Zulu Nation, centered around Hip Hop, as a means to draw teenagers out of gang life and violence.[36]

The lyrical content of many early rap groups focused on social issues, most notably in the seminal track "The Message", which discussed the realities of life in the housing projects.[38] "Young black Americans coming out of the civil rights movement have used hip hop culture in the 1980s and 1990s to show the limitations of the movement."[39] Hip hop gave young African Americans a voice to let their issues be heard; "Like rock-and-roll, hip hop is vigorously opposed by conservatives because it romanticises violence, law-breaking, and gangs".[39] It also gave people a chance for financial gain by "reducing the rest of the world to consumers of its social concerns."[39]

However, with the commercial success of gangsta rap in the early 1990s, the emphasis shifted to drugs, violence, and misogyny. Early proponents of gangsta rap included groups and artists such as Ice-T, who recorded what some consider to be the first gangster rap record, 6 in the Mornin',[40] and N.W.A. whose second album Efil4zaggin became the first gangsta rap album to enter the charts at number one.[41] Gangsta rap also played an important part in hip hop becoming a mainstream commodity. That albums such as N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It, and Ice Cube's Amerikkka's Most Wanted were selling in such high numbers meant that black teens were no longer hip hop’s sole buying audience.[42]

As a result, gangsta rap became a platform for artists who chose to use their music to spread political and social messages to parts of the country that were previously unaware of the conditions of ghettos.[40] While hip hop music now appeals to a broader demographic, media critics argue that socially and politically conscious hip hop has been largely disregarded by mainstream America.[43]

Global innovations[edit]

According to the U.S. Department of State, hip hop is "now the center of a mega music and fashion industry around the world" that crosses social barriers and cuts across racial lines.[44] National Geographic recognizes hip hop as "the world's favorite youth culture" in which "just about every country on the planet seems to have developed its own local rap scene."[45] Through its international travels, hip hop is now considered a “global musical epidemic”.[46]

According to The Village Voice, hip hop is “custom-made to combat the anomie that preys on adolescents wherever nobody knows their name.”[47]

Hip hop sounds and styles differ from region to region, but there are also instances of fusion genres.[48]

Not all countries have embraced hip hop, where "as can be expected in countries with strong local culture, the interloping wildstyle of hip hop is not always welcomed".[49] This is somewhat the case in Jamaica, the homeland of the culture's father, DJ Kool Herc. However, despite hip hop music produced on the island lacking widespread local and international recognition, artistes such as Five Steez have defied the odds by impressing online hip hop taste-makers and even reggae critics.[50]

Hartwig Vens argues that hip hop can also be viewed as a global learning experience.[51] Author Jeff Chang argues that "the essence of hip hop is the cipher, born in the Bronx, where competition and community feed each other."[52]

He also adds: "Thousands of organizers from Cape Town to Paris use hip hop in their communities to address environmental justice, policing and prisons, media justice, and education.".[53]

While hip hop music has been criticized as a music which creates a divide between western music and music from the rest of the world, a musical "cross pollination" has taken place, which strengthens the power of hip hop to influence different communities.[54] Hip hop's messages allow the under-privileged and the mistreated to be heard.[51] These cultural translations cross borders.[53] While the music may be from a foreign country, the message is something that many people can relate to- something not "foreign" at all.[55]

Even when hip hop is transplanted to other countries, it often retains its "vital progressive agenda that challenges the status quo."[53] In Gothenburg, Sweden, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) incorporate graffiti and dance to engage disaffected immigrant and working class youths.

Hip hop has played a small but distinct role as the musical face of revolution in the Arab Spring, one example being an anonymous Libyan musician, Ibn Thabit, whose anti-government songs fuel the rebellion.[56]


A documentary called The Commodification of Hip Hop, directed by Brooke Daniel, interviews students at Satellite Academy in New York City. One girl talks about the epidemic of crime that she sees in urban minority communities, relating it directly to the hip hop industry, saying: “When they can’t afford these kind of things, these things that celebrities have like jewelry and clothes and all that, they’ll go and sell drugs, some people will steal it....”[57]

In an article for Village Voice, Greg Tate argues that the commercialization of hip hop is a negative and pervasive phenomenon, writing that "what we call hiphop is now inseparable from what we call the hip hop industry, in which the nouveau riche and the super-rich employers get richer".[39] Ironically, this commercialization coincides with a decline in rap sales and pressure from critics of the genre.[58] Even other musicians, like Nas and KRS-ONE have claimed "hip hop is dead" in that it has changed so much over the years to cater to the consumer that it has lost the essence for which it was originally created. However, in his book In Search Of Africa, Manthia Diawara explains that hip hop is really a voice of people who are down and out in modern society. He argues that the "worldwide spread of hip hop as a market revolution" is actually global "expression of poor people’s desire for the good life," and that this struggle aligns with "the nationalist struggle for citizenship and belonging, but also reveals the need to go beyond such struggles and celebrate the redemption of the black individual through tradition."

As the genre has evolved over the past forty or so years, the “tradition” that Diawara describes has lost its strength in hip hop’s mainstream artists and their messages. The push toward materialism by contemporary rappers such as Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and Kanye West has irked older hip hop fans and artists, as they see the genre losing its community-based feel that focused more on black empowerment than wealth. The commercialization of the genre has in turn stripped it of its earlier political nature and the politics of major record labels have forced rappers to craft their music and images to appeal to white, affluent and suburban audiences. This hyper-commercialization has made hip hop less edgy and authentic than it originally was, but it also has made some artists reach unprecedented heights of success.[59] The increase in rappers growing wealthier and engaging themselves in far more outside business ventures shows that this seemingly shallow trend can also indicate a stronger sense of black aspirationalism. As rappers such as Jay-Z and Kanye West establish themselves as elite artists and businessmen, more young black people have stronger physical embodiments of success to look up to in the hopes that one day they can achieve goals of the same magnitude.[60] The lens through which one views the genre’s commercialization ultimately makes the greatest impact on whether they view the popularization of hip hop as positive or negative.[61]



DJ Hypnotize and Baby Cee, two disc jockeys

Turntablism is the technique of manipulating sounds and creating music using phonograph turntables and a DJ mixer.[62] One of the first few hip hop DJs was Kool DJ Herc, who created hip hop through the isolation of "breaks" (the parts of albums that focused solely on the beat). In addition to developing Herc's techniques, DJs Grandmaster Flowers, Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore, and Grandmaster Caz made further innovations with the introduction of scratching.

Traditionally, a DJ will use two turntables simultaneously. These are connected to a DJ mixer, an amplifier, speakers, and various other pieces of electronic music equipment. The DJ will then perform various tricks between the two albums currently in rotation using the above listed methods. The result is a unique sound created by the seemingly combined sound of two separate songs into one song. Although there is considerable overlap between the two roles, a DJ is not the same as a producer of a music track.[63]

In the early years of hip hop, the DJs were the stars, but that has been taken by MCs since 1978, thanks largely to Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash's crew, the Furious Five. However, a number of DJs have gained stardom nonetheless in recent years. Famous DJs include Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Mr. Magic, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Scratch from EPMD, DJ Premier from Gang Starr, DJ Scott La Rock from Boogie Down Productions, DJ Pete Rock of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill, Jam Master Jay from Run-DMC, Eric B., DJ Screw from the Screwed Up Click and the inventor of the Chopped & Screwed style of mixing music, Funkmaster Flex, Tony Touch, DJ Clue, Mix Master Mike and DJ Q-Bert. The underground movement of turntablism has also emerged to focus on the skills of the DJ.


Rapper Busta Rhymes performs in Las Vegas for a BET party

Rapping (also known as emceeing,[64] MCing,[64] spitting (bars),[65] or just rhyming[66]) refers to "spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics with a strong rhythmic accompaniment".[67] It can be broken down into different components, such as “content”, “flow” (rhythm and rhyme), and “delivery”.[68] Rapping is distinct from spoken word poetry in that is it performed in time to the beat of the music.[69][70][71] The use of the word "rap" to describe quick and slangy speech or repartee long predates the musical form.[72] MCing is a form of expression that is embedded within ancient African culture and oral tradition as throughout history verbal acrobatics or jousting involving rhymes were common within the Afro-American community.[73]


An aerosol paint can, a common tool used in modern graffiti

In America around the late 1960s, graffiti was used as a form of expression by political activists, and also by gangs such as the Savage Skulls, La Familia, and Savage Nomads to mark territory. Towards the end of the 1960s, the signatures—tags—of Philadelphia graffiti writers Top Cat,[74] Cool Earl and Cornbread started to appear.[75] Around 1970–71, the center of graffiti innovation moved to New York City, where writers following in the wake of TAKI 183 and Tracy 168 would add their street number to their nickname, "bomb" a train with their work, and let the subway take it—and their fame, if it was impressive, or simply pervasive, enough—"all city". Bubble lettering held sway initially among writers from the Bronx, though the elaborate Brooklyn style Tracy 168 dubbed "wildstyle" would come to define the art.[74][76] The early trend-setters were joined in the 1970s by artists like Dondi, Futura 2000, Daze, Blade, Lee, Fab Five Freddy, Zephyr, Rammellzee, Crash, Kel, NOC 167 and Lady Pink.[74]

The relationship between graffiti and hip hop culture arises both from early graffiti artists engaging in other aspects of hip hop culture,[77] Graffiti is understood as a visual expression of rap music, just as breaking is viewed as a physical expression. The 1983 film Wild Style is widely regarded as the first hip hop motion picture, which featured prominent figures within the New York graffiti scene during the said period. The book Subway Art and the documentary Style Wars were also among the first ways the mainstream public were introduced to hip hop graffiti. Graffiti remains part of hip hop, while crossing into the mainstream art world with renowned exhibits in galleries throughout the world.


Breaking, an early form of hip hop dance, often involves battles, showing off technical skills as well as displaying tongue-in-cheek bravado.

Breaking, also called B-boying or breakdancing, is a dynamic style of dance which developed as part of the hip hop culture. Breaking is one of the major elements of hip hop culture. Like many aspects of hip hop culture, breakdance borrows heavily from many cultures, including 1930s-era street dancing,[78][79] Afro-Brazilian and Asian Martial arts, Russian folk dance,[80] and the dance moves of James Brown, Michael Jackson, and California Funk styles. Breaking took form in the South Bronx alongside the other elements of hip hop.

According to the 2002 documentary film The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy, DJ Kool Herc describes the "B" in B-boy as short for breaking, which at the time was slang for "going off", also one of the original names for the dance. However, early on the dance was known as the "boing" (the sound a spring makes). Dancers at DJ Kool Herc's parties, who saved their best dance moves for the break section of the song, getting in front of the audience to dance in a distinctive, frenetic style. The "B" in B-boy also stands simply for break, as in break-boy (or girl). Breaking was documented in Style Wars, and was later given more focus in fictional films such as Wild Style and Beat Street. Early acts include the Rock Steady Crew and New York City Breakers.


Beatboxing, popularized by Doug E. Fresh,[81] is the technique of vocal percussion. It is primarily concerned with the art of creating beats or rhythms using the human mouth.[82] The term beatboxing is derived from the mimicry of the first generation of drum machines, then known as beatboxes. As it is a way of creating hip hop music, it can be categorized under the production element of hip hop, though it does sometimes include a type of rapping intersected with the human-created beat. It is generally considered to be part of the same "Pillar" of hip hop as DJing—in other words, providing a musical backdrop or foundation for MC's to rap,over.

Beatboxing was quite popular in the 1980s with prominent artists like the Darren "Buffy, the Human Beat Box" Robinson of the Fat Boys and Biz Markie displaying their skills within the media. It declined in popularity along with b-boying in the late 1980s, but has undergone a resurgence since the late 1990s, marked by the release of "Make the Music 2000." by Rahzel of The Roots.

Social impact[edit]


A b-boy performing in San Francisco

Hip hop has made a considerable social impact since its inception in the 1970s.[83] Orlando Patterson, a sociology professor at Harvard University, helps describe the phenomenon of how hip hop spread rapidly around the world. Professor Patterson argues that mass communication is controlled by the wealthy, government, and businesses in Third World nations and countries around the world.[84] He also credits mass communication with creating a global cultural hip hop scene. As a result, the youth absorb and are influenced by the American hip hop scene and start their own form of hip hop. Patterson believes that revitalization of hip hop music will occur around the world as traditional values are mixed with American hip hop musical forms,[84] and ultimately a global exchange process will develop that brings youth around the world to listen to a common musical form known as hip hop. It has also been argued that rap music formed as a "cultural response to historic oppression and racism, a system for communication among black communities throughout the United States".[85] This is due to the fact that the culture reflected the social, economic and political realities of the disenfranchised youth.[86] In the Arab Spring hip hop played a significant role in providing a channel for the youth to express their ideas.[87]


The development of hip hop linguistics is complex. Source material include the spirituals of slaves arriving in the new world, Jamaican dub music, the laments of jazz and blues singers, patterned cockney slang and radio deejays hyping their audience in rhyme.[88]

Hip hop has a distinctive associated slang.[89] It is also known by alternate names, such as "Black English", or "Ebonics". Academics suggest its development stems from a rejection of the racial hierarchy of language, which held "White English" as the superior form of educated speech.[90] Due to hip hop's commercial success in the late nineties and early 21st century, many of these words have been assimilated into the cultural discourse of several different dialects across America and the world and even to non-hip hop fans.[91] The word dis for example is particularly prolific. There are also a number of words which predate hip hop, but are often associated with the culture, with homie being a notable example.

Sometimes, terms like what the dilly, yo are popularized by a single song (in this case, "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" by Busta Rhymes) and are only used briefly. One particular example is the rule-based slang of Snoop Dogg and E-40, who add -izzle or -izz to the end or middle of words.

Hip hop lyricism has gained a measure of legitimacy in academic and literary circles. Studies of hip hop linguistics are now offered at institutions such as the University of Toronto, where poet and author George Eliot Clarke has (in the past) taught the potential power of hip hop music to promote social change.[88] Greg Thomas of the University of Miami offers courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level studying the feminist and assertive nature of Lil' Kim's lyrics.[92]

Some academics, including Ernest Morrell and Jeffery Duncan Andrade, compare hip hop to the satirical works of great “canon” poets of the modern era, who use imagery and mood to directly criticize society. As quoted in their work "Promoting Academic Literacy with Urban Youth Through Engaging Hip Hop Culture":

Hip hop texts are rich in imagery and metaphor and can be used to teach irony, tone, diction, and point of view. Hip hop texts can be analyzed for theme, motif, plot, and character development. Both Grand Master Flash and T.S. Eliot gazed out into their rapidly deteriorating societies and saw a "wasteland." Both poets were essentially apocalyptic in nature as they witnessed death, disease, and decay.[93]


A graffiti artist uses his artwork to make a satirical social statement on censorship: "Don't blame yourself... blame hip hop"

Hip hop has met with significant problems vis-à-vis censorship due to the explicit nature of certain genres. Many songs have been criticized for anti-establishment and sometimes violent overtones. For example, Public Enemy's "Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need" was censored on MTV, removing the words "free Mumia".[94]

After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Oakland, California group The Coup was under fire for the cover art on their Party Music, which featured the group's two members holding a detonator as the Twin Towers exploded behind them despite the fact that it was created months before the actual event. The group, having politically radical and Marxist lyrical content, said the cover meant to symbolize the destruction of capitalism. Their record label pulled the album until a new cover could be designed.

The use of profanity as well as graphic depictions of violence and sex creates challenges in the broadcast of such material both on television stations such as MTV, in music video form, and on radio. As a result, many hip hop recordings are broadcast in censored form, with offending language "bleeped" or blanked out of the soundtrack, or replaced with "clean" lyrics. The result – which sometimes renders the remaining lyrics unintelligible or contradictory to the original recording – has become almost as widely identified with the genre as any other aspect of the music, and has been parodied in films such as Austin Powers in Goldmember, in which Mike Myers' character Dr. Evil – performing in a parody of a hip hop music video ("Hard Knock Life" by Jay-Z) – performs an entire verse that is blanked out. In 1995, Roger Ebert wrote:[95]

Rap has a bad reputation in white circles, where many people believe it consists of obscene and violent anti-white and anti-female guttural. Some of it does. Most does not. Most white listeners don't care; they hear black voices in a litany of discontent, and tune out. Yet rap plays the same role today as Bob Dylan did in 1960, giving voice to the hopes and angers of a generation, and a lot of rap is powerful writing.

In 1990, Luther Campbell and his group 2 Live Crew filed a lawsuit against Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro, because Navarro wanted to prosecute stores that sold the group's album As Nasty As They Wanna Be because of its obscene and vulgar lyrics. In June 1990, a U.S. district court judge labeled the album obscene and illegal to sell. However, in 1992, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned the obscenity ruling from Judge Gonzalez, and the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear Broward County's appeal. Professor Louis Gates testified on behalf of The 2 Live Crew, arguing that the material that the county alleged was profane actually had important roots in African American vernacular, games, and literary traditions and should be protected.[96]

Many black rappers--including Ice-T and Sister Souljah--contend that they are being unfairly singled out because their music reflects deep changes in society not being addressed anywhere else in the public forum. The white politicians, the artists complain, neither understand the music nor desire to hear what's going on in the devastated communities that gave birth to the art form.

Chuck Philips, Los Angeles Times, 1992 [97]

Gangsta rap is a subgenre of hip hop that reflects the violent lifestyles of inner-city American black youths.[98] The genre was pioneered in the mid-1980s by rappers such as Schoolly D and Ice-T, and was popularized in the later part of the 1980s by groups such as N.W.A. Ice-T released "6 in the Mornin'", which is often regarded as the first gangsta rap song, in 1986. After the national attention that Ice-T and N.W.A created in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gangsta rap became the most commercially lucrative subgenre of hip hop.

N.W.A is the group most frequently associated with the founding of gangsta rap. Their lyrics were more violent, openly confrontational, and shocking than those of established rap acts, featuring incessant profanity and, controversially, use of the word "nigger". These lyrics were placed over rough, rock guitar-driven beats, contributing to the music's hard-edged feel. The first blockbuster gangsta rap album was N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton, released in 1988. Straight Outta Compton would establish West Coast hip hop as a vital genre, and establish Los Angeles as a legitimate rival to hip hop's long-time capital, New York City. Straight Outta Compton sparked the first major controversy regarding hip hop lyrics when their song "Fuck tha Police" earned a letter from FBI Assistant Director Milt Ahlerich, strongly expressing law enforcement's resentment of the song.[99][100]

Controversy surrounded Ice-T's song "Cop Killer" from the album Body Count. The song was intended to speak from the viewpoint of a criminal getting revenge on racist, brutal cops. Ice-T's rock song infuriated government officials, the National Rifle Association and various police advocacy groups.[101] Consequently, Time Warner Music refused to release Ice-T's upcoming album Home Invasion because of the controversy surrounding "Cop Killer". Ice-T suggested that the furor over the song was an overreaction, telling journalist Chuck Philips "...they've done movies about nurse killers and teacher killers and student killers. Arnold Schwarzenegger blew away dozens of cops as the Terminator. But I don't hear anybody complaining about that." Ice-T suggested to Philips that the misunderstanding of "Cop Killer" and the attempts to censor it had racial overtones: "The Supreme Court says it's OK for a white man to burn a cross in public. But nobody wants a black man to write a record about a cop killer." [101]

The White House administrations of both George Bush senior and Bill Clinton criticized the genre.[97] "The reason why rap is under attack is because it exposes all the contradictions of American culture ...What started out as an underground art form has become a vehicle to expose a lot of critical issues that are not usually discussed in American politics. The problem here is that the White House and wanna-bes like Bill Clinton represent a political system that never intends to deal with inner city urban chaos," Sister Souljah told The Times.[97]

Until its discontinuation on July 8, 2006, BET ran a late-night segment titled BET: Uncut to air nearly-uncensored videos. The show was exemplified by music videos such as "Tip Drill" by Nelly, which was criticized for what many viewed as an exploitative depiction of women, particularly images of a man swiping a credit card between a stripper's buttocks.

Product placement[edit]

Potato chip packages featuring hip hop-design images (showing Lil Romeo and based on the film Honey)

Critics such as Businessweek's David Kiley argue that the discussion of products within hip hop culture may actually be the result of undisclosed product placement deals.[102] Such critics allege that shilling or product placement takes place in commercial rap music, and that lyrical references to products are actually paid endorsements.[102] In 2005, a proposed plan by McDonalds to pay rappers to advertise McDonalds products in their music was leaked to the press.[102] After Russell Simmons made a deal with Courvoisier to promote the brand among hip hop fans, Busta Rhymes recorded the song "Pass the Courvoisier".[102] Simmons insists that no money changed hands in the deal.[102]

The symbiotic relationship has also stretched to include car manufacturers, clothing designers and sneaker companies,[103] and many other companies have used the hip hop community to make their name or to give them credibility. One such beneficiary was Jacob the Jeweler, a diamond merchant from New York. Jacob Arabo's clientele included Sean Combs, Lil' Kim and Nas. He created jewelery pieces from precious metals that were heavily loaded with diamond and gemstones. As his name was mentioned in the song lyrics of his hip hop customers, his profile quickly rose. Arabo expanded his brand to include gem-encrusted watches that retail for hundreds of thousands of dollars, gaining so much attention that Cartier filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit against him for putting diamonds on the faces of their watches and reselling them without permission.[104] Arabo's profile increased steadily until his June 2006 arrest by the FBI on money laundering charges.[105]

While some brands welcome the support of the hip hop community, one brand that did not was Cristal champagne maker Louis Roederer. A 2006 article from The Economist magazine featured remarks from managing director Frederic Rouzaud about whether the brand's identification with rap stars could affect their company negatively. His answer was dismissive in tone: "That's a good question, but what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." In retaliation, many hip hop icons such as Jay-Z and Sean Combs, who previously included references to "Cris", ceased all mentions and purchases of the champagne. 50 Cent's merge with Vitamin Water, Dr. Dre's promotion of his Beats by Dr. Dre headphone line and Dr. Pepper, and Drake's commercial with Sprite all act to illustrate successful mergers.

Although not popular at the time, MC Hammer was an early predecessor of product placement. With merchandise such as dolls, commercials and numerous television show appearances, Hammer began the trend of rap artists being accepted as mainstream pitchmen.[106]


Hip hop culture has had extensive coverage in the media, especially in relation to television; there have been a number of television shows devoted to or about hip hop. For many years, BET was the only television channel likely to play hip hop, but in recent years[when?] the channels VH1 and MTV have added a significant amount of hip hop to their play list. Run DMC became the first African American group to appear on MTV.[107][108] With the emergence of the Internet, a number of online sites began to offer hip hop related video content.

There have also been a number of hip hop films, movies which focused on hip hop as a subject. Some of these films include: Boyz n the Hood, Juice, Menace II Society, Notorious, and Get Rich Or Die Tryin'.


Hip hop magazines have long detailed hip hop lifestyle and history, including the first known published hip hop publication The Hip Hop Hit List, which also contained the very first rap music record chart. Published in the early 1980s by two brothers from Newark, New Jersey, Vincent and Charles Carroll, who was also a hip hop group known as The Nastee Boyz who knew the art form very well and noticed the void and the fact that DJs then did not recognize that there was a standard and shouldn't just be playing anything just because it was rap. The periodical began as the first Rap record chart and tip sheet for DJs and was distributed through national record pools and record stores throughout the New York City Tri-State area. One of the founding publishers Charles Carroll noted, "Back then, all DJs came into New York City to buy their records but most of them did not know what was hot enough to spend money on, so we charted it." Jae Burnett became Vincent Carroll's partner and played a very instrumental role in its later development.

Many New York tourists took the publication back home with them to other countries to share it, creating worldwide interest in the culture and new art form.[citation needed] It had a printed distribution of 50,000, a circulation rate of 200,000 with well over 25,000 subscribers. The "Hip Hop Hit List" was also the first to define hip hop as a culture introducing the many aspects of the art form such as fashion, music, dance, the arts and most importantly the language. For instance, on the cover the headliner included the tag "All Literature was Produced to Meet Street Comprehension!" which proved their loyalty not only to the culture but also to the streets. Most interviews were written verbatim which included their innovative broken English style of writing. Some of the early charts were written in the graffiti format tag style but was made legible enough for the masses.[citation needed]

The Carroll Brothers were also consultants to the many record companies who had no idea how to market the music. Vincent Carroll, the magazine's creator-publisher, went on to become a huge source for marketing and promoting the culture of hip hop, starting Blow-Up Media, the first hip hop marketing firm with offices in NYC's Tribeca district. At the age of 21, Vincent employed a staff of 15 and assisted in launching some of the culture's biggest and brightest stars (the Fugees, Nelly, the Outzidaz, feat. Eminem and many more).[citation needed] Later other publications spawned up including: Hip Hop Connection, XXL, Scratch, The Source and Vibe.[109] Many individual cities have also produced their own local hip hop newsletters, while hip hop magazines with national distribution are found in a few other countries. The 21st century also ushered in the rise of online media, and hip hop fan sites now offer comprehensive hip hop coverage on a daily basis.


Clothing has always been a big part of hip hop’s social and cultural impact and as the genre’s popularity increased, so did the effect of its fashion. While there were early items synonymous with hip hop that crossed over into the mainstream culture, like Run-DMC’s affinity for Adidas or the Wu-Tang Clan’s championing of Clarks’ Wallabees, it wasn’t until its commercial peak that hip hop fashion became truly influential and inescapable. Starting in the mid- to late 1990s, hip-hop culture embraced some major designers and established a new connection with classic fashion. Brands such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger all gained an economic boost from tapping into hip hop culture and gave up very little in return. Moving into the new millennium, hip hop fashion consisted of baggy shirts, jeans, and jerseys. As names like Pharrell and Jay-Z headed their own clothing lines and still others like Kanye West linked up with designers like Louis Vuiton, the clothes got tighter, more classically fashionable, and expensive. Hip hop culture’s new-found emphasis on designer goods led to a redefinition of masculinity in hip-hop culture and a major decrease in the genre’s homophobia.[citation needed]

As hip hop has a seen a shift in the means by which its artists express their masculinity, from violence and intimidation to wealth flaunting and entrepreneurship, it has also seen the emergence of rapper branding.[110] The modern day hip hop artist is no longer limited to music serving as their sole occupation or source of income. By the early 1990s, major apparel companies “[had] realized the economic potential of tapping into hip-hop culture...Tommy Hilfiger was one of the first major fashion designer[s] who actively courted rappers as a way of promoting his street wear”.[111] By joining forces, the artist and the corporation are able to jointly benefit from each other's resources. Hip Hop artists are trend-setters and taste-makers. Their fans range from minority groups who can relate to their professed struggles to majority groups who cannot truly relate but like to "consume the fantasy of living a more masculine life,".[112] The rappers provide the "cool, hip" factor while the corporations deliver the product, advertising, and financial assets. Tommy Hilfiger, one of the first mainstream designers to actively court rappers as a way of promoting his street wear, serves a prototypical example of the hip hip/fashion collaborations:

In exchange for giving artists free wardrobes, Hilfiger found its name mentioned in both rhyming verses of rap songs and their ‘shout-out’ lyrics, in which rap artists chant out thanks to friends and sponsors for their support. Hilfiger's success convinced other large mainstream American fashion design companies, like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, to tailor lines to the lucrative market of hip-hop artists and fans.[113]

Artists now use brands as a means of supplemental income to their music or are creating and expanding their own brands that become their primary source of income. As Harry Elam explains, there has been a movement "from the incorporation and redefinition of existing trends to actually designing and marketing products as hip-hop fashion”.[113]


Breaking in Ljubljana, Slovenia
South Sudanese musician Emmanuel Jal uses hip hop to heal war torn African youth. Jal pictured at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York

Hip hop music has spawned dozens of sub-genres which incorporate a domineering style of music production or rapping. The diversification process stems from the appropriation of hip hop culture by other ethnic groups.

There are many varying social influences that affect hip hop's message in different nations. It is frequently used as a musical response to perceived political and/or social injustices. In South Africa the largest form of hip hop is called Kwaito, which has had a growth similar to American hip hop. Kwaito is a direct reflection of a post apartheid South Africa and is a voice for the voiceless; a term that U.S. hip hop is often referred to. Kwaito is even perceived as a lifestyle, encompassing many aspects of life, including language and fashion.[114]

Kwaito is a political and party-driven genre, as performers use the music to express their political views, and also to express their desire to have a good time. Kwaito is a music that came from a once hated and oppressed people, but it is now sweeping the nation. The main consumers of Kwaito are adolescents and half of the South African population is under 21. Some of the large Kwaito artists have sold over 100,000 albums, and in an industry where 25,000 albums sold is considered a gold record, those are impressive numbers.[115] Kwaito allows the participation and creative engagement of otherwise socially excluded peoples in the generation of popular media.[116] South African hip hop is more diverse lately and there are hip hop acts in South Africa that have made an impact and continue making impact worldwide. These include Tumi, Ben Sharpa, HipHop Pantsula, Tuks Senganga.[117]

In Jamaica, the sounds of hip hop are derived from American and Jamaican influences. Jamaican hip hop is defined both through dancehall and reggae music. Jamaican Kool Herc brought the sound systems, technology, and techniques of reggae music to New York during the 1970s. Jamaican hip hop artists often rap in both Brooklyn and Jamaican accents. Jamaican hip hop subject matter is often influenced by outside and internal forces. Outside forces such as the bling-bling era of today's modern hip hop and internal influences coming from the use of anti-colonialism and marijuana or "ganja" references which Rastafarians believe bring them closer to God.[118][119][120]

Author Wayne Marshall argues that "Hip hop, as with any number of African-American cultural forms before it, offers a range of compelling and contradictory significations to Jamaican artist and audiences. From "modern blackness" to "foreign mind", transnational cosmopolitanism to militant pan-Africanism, radical remixology to outright mimicry, hip hop in Jamaica embodies the myriad ways that Jamaicans embrace, reject, and incorporate foreign yet familiar forms."[121]

In the developing world, hip hop has made a considerable impact in the social context. Despite the lack of resources, hip hop has made considerable inroads.[49] Due to limited funds, hip hop artists are forced to use very basic tools, and even graffiti, an important aspect of the hip hop culture, is constrained due to its unavailability to the average person. Many hip hop artists that make it out of the developing world come to places like the United States in hopes of improving their situations. Maya Arulpragasm (AKA M.I.A.) is a Sri Lanka-born hip hop artist in this situation. She claims, "I'm just trying to build some sort of bridge, I'm trying to create a third place, somewhere in between the developed world and the developing world.".[122] Another music artist using hip hop to provide a positive message to young Africans is Emmanuel Jal, who is a former child soldier from South Sudan. Jal is one of the few South Sudanese music artists to have broken through on an international level[123] with his unique form of hip hop and a positive message in his lyrics.[124] Jal has attracted the attention of mainstream media and academics with his story and use of hip hop as a healing medium for war-afflicted people in Africa and has also been sought out for the international lecture circuit with major talks at popular talkfests like TED.[125]


Many organizations and facilities are providing spaces and programs for communities to explore making and learning about hip hop. An example is the IMP Labs in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Many dance studios and colleges now offer lessons in hip hop alongside tap and ballet, as well as KRS-ONE teaching hip hop lectures at Harvard University.

Hip hop producer 9th Wonder and former rapper-actor Christopher "Play" Martin from the hip hop group Kid-n-Play have both taught hip hop history classes at North Carolina Central University[126] and 9th Wonder has also taught a "Hip Hop Sampling Soul" class at Duke University.[127] In 2007, the Cornell University Library established the Hip Hop Collection to collect and make accessible the historical artifacts of hip hop culture and to ensure their preservation for future generations.[128]


Having its roots in reggae, disco and funk, hip hop has since expanded into a widely accepted form of representation world wide. It expansion includes events like Afrika Bambaataa in 1982 releasing Planet Rock, which tried to establish a more global harmony in hip hop. In the 1980s, the British Slick Rick became the first international hit hip hop artist not native to America. From the 1980s onward, television became the major source of widespread outsourcing of hip hop to the global world. From Yo! MTV Raps to Public Enemy's world tour, hip hop spread further to Latin America and became a mainstream culture within the given context. As follows, hip hop has been cut mixed and changed to the areas that adapt to it.[129][unreliable source?]

Early hip hop has often been credited with helping to reduce inner-city gang violence by replacing physical violence with hip hop battles of dance and artwork. However, with the emergence of commercial and crime-related rap during the early 1990s, an emphasis on violence was incorporated, with many rappers boasting about drugs, weapons, misogyny, and violence. While hip hop music now appeals to a broader demographic, media critics argue that socially and politically conscious hip hop has long been disregarded by mainstream America in favor of its media-baiting sibling, gangsta rap.[130]

Many artists are now considered[by whom?] to be alternative hip hop when they attempt to reflect what they believe to be the original elements of the culture. Artists/groups such as Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique, Lowkey, Brother Ali, The Roots, Shing02, Jay Electronica, Nas, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dilated Peoples, Dead Prez, Blackalicious, Jurassic 5, Jeru the Damaja, Kendrick Lamar, Gangstarr, KRS-One, Living Legends and hundreds more emphasize messages of verbal skill, internal/external conflicts, life lessons, unity, social issues, or activism.


Authenticity is a significant and enduring trope within hip hop. The music industry itself, as well as the political discourses surrounding it, has been making claims for and denials of hip hop's authenticity--both as artistic object and expressive, cultural form--since its emergence in New York's Bronx neighborhoods in the 1970's. For many, hip hop endures as an ongoing response to the violence suffered by black people since the emergence of the colonial slave trade. Important to these debates around authenticity, the work of writers such as Paul Gilroy and Alexander Weheliye, contends that unlike disco, jazz, R&B, house, and other black created genres that have seen quick, if not immediate, appropriation by whites, hip hop has been largely controlled by African Americans for decades.[131] In his book, “Phonographies,” Weheliye describes the political and cultural affiliations enabled through hip hop.[132] In contrast, Greg Tate (among many others) argues that market-driven, commodity forms have uprooted hip hop from the celebration and protest from which it originated.[133] Tate articulates how the commodification of hip hop culture undermines the dynamism the genre once represented.

These two dissenting understandings of hip hop's scope and influence frame discourses that revolve around hip hop's (lost) authenticity.[134] Anticipating the market-logic arguments of Tate and others, both Gilroy and Weheliye assert that hip hop has always had a different function that Western popular music writ large, a function that exceeds the constraints of market capitalism. Weheliye notes, “Popular music, generally in the form of recordings, has and still continues to function as one of the main channels of communication between the different geographical and cultural points in the African diaspora, allowing artists to articulate and perform their diasporic citizenship to international audiences and establish conversations with other diasporic communities.” [135]

For Paul Gilroy, hip hop proves an outlet of articulation and sonic space in which African Americans can exert the control and influence often lacking in other sociopolitical and economic domains.[136] In “Phonographies” Weheyliye explains the confluence between emergent sonic technologies and the articulation of imagined forms of “diasporic citizenship.” Specifically, it focusses on the culturopolitical practices initiated and made possible by sonic technologies.[137] Gilroy writes that the "power of music [lies] in developing black struggles by communicating information, organizing consciousness, and testing out or deploying the forms of subjectivity which are required by political agency, whether individual or collective," [138] Specifically, in the third chapter of "The Black Atlantic"—Jewels Brought from Bondage: Black Music and the Politics of Authenticity—Gilroy confronts the issues that have arisen in debates about what precisely constitutes authenticity. Gilroy asserts that these discourses get infused into both the production of and the interpretation of black cultural production. Music of the black Atlantic, with its rituals and traditions, usefully triangulates a more expansive way of thinking about blackness, a way that moves beyond contemporary debates around essentialist and anti-essentialist positions. As such, music has been and remains a central staging ground for debates over the work, responsibility, and futurity of black cultural production.[139]


Given its extensive roots in underground music, many hip hop and rap pioneers decry the modern messages portrayed in hip hop.[140] In particular, seminal figures in the early shift to the mainstream label modern hip hop artists as more concerned with image over substance.[141] This has led some critics to ridicule hip hop for the cultural stereotyping and faux gangster stylings portrayed by its current leading artists.

Hip hop, along with many other Black music genres, receive criticism from rock-centric critics that hip hop is not a true art form and that rock and roll music is more authentic. This "rockism" favors the individual artist and is against the digital, producer-heavy aspects of hip hop. Hip hop is seen as being too violent, explicit, and not involving much effort and talent compared to rock. Rappers and hip hop producers are rarely considered[by whom?] to be on the same talent level as rock and roll superstars. Many criticisms have racial undertones, going against the black art form of hip hop and praising the genre of rock that prominently features white males.[142]

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