First of all, let me start by saying that hip-hop goes far beyond the musical aspect of the culture.
Actually, hip-hop IS culture, and culture always transcends music and the arts.
- So, what is culture ?
Culture is the sum of all the universal elements that bring people together.
It’s when our individualities work together to bring about change and evolution.
- What makes hip-hop a culture ?
Hip-hop embraces different artistic elements.
Overtime, it blended and transcended the artistic aspect of itself to become a means for seeing, celebrating, experiencing, understanding, confronting, and commenting on life and the world.
Hip-hop is also an emotion, a state of being and a frame of mind.
It’s the feeling you get from the MC, graffiti artist or DJ when they’re in their element.
It’s a long lasting feeling that lives within you, it’s ingrained in your thought process and your vision.
Hip-hop, in other words, is a way of living, a culture.
- Where and when
The elements of hip-hop came together in the Bronx borough of New York City. It was the early 1970s and times were tougher than usual for the poorer parts of urban America.
From a whole lot of nothing and a whole lot of imagination, hip-hop was born.
- Where did hip-hop get its name?
Hip-hop combines two slang terms:
The word “hip” has many plausible definitions and origins, none of which is actually official, so believe whichever one you prefer.
- Research and speculation by both amateur and professional etymologists suggest that “hip” is derived from an earlier form, “hep”. Many etymologists believe that the terms “hip”, “hep” and “hepcat” derive from the west African Wolof language word “hepicat”, which means “one who has his eyes open“.
- “Hip” also means “in the know” or “aware” (which isn’t too far off the definition above) and has been a part of African American vernacular since the late nineteenth century.
- “Hip” also means “very fashionable”.
“Hop”, on the other hand, represents the hopping or leaping movement exhibited by hip-hop performers.
- The difference between rap and hip-hop
Put simply, rap is a method of delivery, it’s the action of speaking rhythmically.
Hip-hop is the whole cultural movement behind rap (music).
Hip-hop entails business-savviness, marketing, money management, philanthropy, entrepreneurship, advertising, content, graffiti, DJing, fashion and design, not just “music”.
- Artists that shaped my frame of mind
Like many people my age (90s kids), I grew up listening to hip-hop on the radio and cassette tapes.
From KRS-One to Big L, Mos Def, Jay-Z, Pun, Wu Tang, Snoop, Ice Cube and Pac, these artists shaped my mindset and outlook on life.
Later came the likes of Eminem, 50 Cent and Ye, just to name a few.
Many (if not all) hip-hop artists come from very humble beginnings.
However, despite starting at the very bottom and with virtually all the obstacles one could face in modern society, these craftsmen honed their skills and built empires through hard work, talent and focus.
Their determination and fighting spirit are beyond admirable and I’m glad I had them to look up to as a kid.
- Hip-hop is my culture
You’ve probably heard me say this on my podcast, but I’mma say it again: hip-hop is my culture.
And I ain’t talking about the music. Hip-hop is a lifestyle.
It’s the way we talk, the way we walk, the attitude and the flavors.
It’s how people carry themselves, how Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone (KRS-ONE), the power of storytelling and communities as well.
- Let’s go deeper, though
People in the 90s used to say hip-hop (and MCing) was a fad.
Growing up in a (somewhat) conservative, immigrant family, rap music was always looked down upon.
They labeled it “gibberish”, “noise”.
My old man (and most people his age) told me this a hundred times.
They didn’t get it then and many still don’t get it now.
So let me explain hip-hop culture, once and for all, as simply as I can.
- Explaining hip-hop culture
The first thing you gotta understand is that this culture has many themes, the most common ones being knowledge, righteousness, struggle, empowerment, violence and drugs.
The best songs in hip-hop are about everyday life, struggles and change.
Hip-hop artists, whether we’re talking about musicians, DJs or graffiti artists, take cues from their lives to create art pieces.
Violence and drugs must’ve caught your attention, so let me enlighten you with an interesting fact about the progressive side of hip-hop (which mainstream media won’t tell you):
Did you know that break dancing gained popularity when Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation began using break dance battles as a substitute for gang-on-gang violence?
Note: I don’t like this dude one bit, but credit where credit is due.
Anyway, hip-hop artists have always tried to provide answers to society’s rampant problems.
They tried to change mindsets and make people visualize the change they wanted in their lives and the world.
I consider hip-hop artists to be teachers, mentors, change-makers.
Some of them used their platform to spread violence and bad behavior, but we can’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch.
The likes of RZA (artist turned philosopher, vegan), KRS (teacher, activist), Mos Def (activist, actor), Talib Kweli and Jay-Z have done more for our culture than artists of all other genres combined.
They elevate communities and give them hope.
They paved the way for future generations, gave us the blueprint.
These legends are the reason for so much positive change and wealth in the black and latino communities, something easily dismissed by the media and folks who know very little about hip-hop culture.
Hip-hop ain’t about breakdancing, fashionable clothing and dope beats anymore. It’s about business, wealth building and minority empowerment.
Last but not least, hip-hop is one of the cornerstones for so much black wealth and minority entrepreneurs.
It is the foundation of several self-made moguls and multi-million dollar businesses in minority communities.
Ye, Jay-Z, Dre, Diddy, Eminem, Birdman, Akon, 50 Cent, Rick Ross and the late Nipsey Hussle fall directly into the those categories.
- Global influence
Hip-hop is one of the few genres that you can hear everywhere you go.
Africa, South America, Asia, Europe..it’s global !
What makes hip-hop such a powerful phenomenon is the way it changed the way people dress, what they consume and the way they carry themselves in everyday life.
I look at hip-hop as a powerful tool for change, a global positive influence.
Hip-hop empowers and guides, which is the very essence of this culture. It also ignites conversations and exposes our modern society for what it really is.
Police brutality, social inequality, racism, discrimination, poverty and power are all common topics in hip-hop songs and among hip-hop heads.
Many hip-hop artists are activists themselves. They often come together during tough times to support new systems, empower communities and give back.
Hip-hop is an enlightenment for those seeking knowledge. It’s an enlightenment for people yearning for positive change.
Hip-hop ain’t “urban” culture anymore.
Hip-hop is culture, PERIODT.
Seeing the likes of DR, Snoop, Fif and Em on stage at the Super Bowl LVI brought things full circle.
It’s been a long fight but hip-hop is now undeniably one of the most important music genres in history.