The Hip-Hip genre is a form of music used to convey different emotions, ideas and messages to its listeners through rhythmic instrumentals and creative lyrics. Its music was used to express oppression and racism within society, and to speak out against social conditions that were being neglected. From its commercial success and worldwide influence, Hip-Hop has evolved not only in its music but also as a distinct, widespread culture, which some view as way of life.
The culture of Hip-Hop began in the early 1970s, in the South Bronx of the United States amongst African-Americans who lived within poor neighbourhoods or, “ghettos”. House parties were hosted by disc jockeys throughout these neighbourhoods where the master of ceremonies, or “MC” would rap over the disc-jockey’s music. 1 The genre quickly grew successful over the following decades and so did its music and message. Hip-Hop culture promotes certain values onto its followers in response to social inequities and discrimination that many of its listeners face and experience. From the social inequality expressed through Hip-Hop music, poor inner-city communities begin to develop a strong connection amongst its residents in coping with the social challenges they are faced with.
Hip-Hop also carries a strong relationship with capitalism and consumerism, where individuals of the sub-culture are consumed with wealth from the music’s materialistic messaging, and where they look to display a sense of importance and success through trends and fashion. Hip-Hip culture serves as a distinct identity; from its unique clothing, use of language and also expression of rebellion, Hip-Hop is a culture of its very own. Hip-Hop is not only a form of music expressed through rhythmical beats and poetic lyrics, but a transcendence of a vibrant culture that brings social awareness and creative expression. Subculture The music of Hip-Hop and the pioneering of the culture began in the early 1970s in the South Bronx. It was popularized by African-Americans who lived within impoverished neighbourhoods where local house parties would be hosted by disc jockeys or “DJs”.
Amongst these disc jockeys was DJ Herc, who began as a graffiti artist, created an innovative turntable technique by stretching a drum’s break sequence simultaneously over two identical records. 2 This pro-longed break sequence in the music allowed the party’s dancers, who were known as “B-boys” and “B-girls”, to showcase their talents. The “B” standing for break, thus became known by the mainstream media as “break-dancing”. 3 The master of ceremonies or “MC”, would rap while the DJ would perform his turntable breaks. Coke La Roc, who was a close friend of Herc, would popularize this act of rapping over turntable breaks and is considered to be the first rapper or “MC”. During this pioneering stage of Hip-Hop during the early 1970s, graffiti art, break-dancing, disc-jockeys, and master of ceremonies would serve as the four elements of Hip-Hop.
Through the following decades, Hip-Hop began to popularize throughout all of North America, and even began to reach fans globally as well. Its unique style and musical appeal has plunged into the mainstream culture where it continues to be one of the most successful genres in the music industry. The majority of Hip-Hop’s content involves the social and economic inequities found within society, and creating an awareness on these issues. In spotlighting these social problems, the genre self-imposes certain values and attitudes onto to its listeners and members of its subculture; which also carries some negative connotations. These chosen topics are due to the fact the Hip-Hop culture itself originated within the poor inner-city, where many minority groups, including African and also Latino Americans, did not share the same privileges as their peers. These minority groups were subject to discrimination and racial profiling, especially by the police.
As a result, members of this subculture develop a sense of animosity towards the police or law enforcement. This is especially true amongst African-Americans as the lyrical content of racism and discrimination is frequent within Hip-Hop. The music sub-consciously exposes this fear of the police, for the messages expressed through the music is very much relatable to its listeners alike. It was also a very common reality, as seen through racial segregation during the Civil Rights Movements.
Hip-Hop began during the after-math of the Civil Rights Movement, and this police brutality toward African-Americans has had ripple effects decades after Blacks in American had won their freedom. This hatred toward the police is evident through Hip-Hops lyrics, whose groups and artists such as, N. W. A, Tupac Shakur, Cypress Hill, and Public Enemy, have spotlighted the oppression and mistreatment toward African-Americans. Hip-Hop music also imposes the value of the importance and acquisition of money. This value within Hip-Hop springs from the poor communities and living conditions in which the culture began.
Its content is filled with lavish lifestyles and the boasting of wealth. Successful Hip-Hop artists were often raised within impoverished areas, who had very little. It is understandable then how money is very much valued by these artists, and why their music contains frequent messages of attaining wealth and living lavish lifestyles that they never thought they could live. These values and attitudes constantly expressed in Hip-Hop slowly seep into the minds of its listeners and fans. From the impoverished neighborhoods where Hip-Hop began, a strong sense of community has formed.
These low-income communities are referred to as “hoods” in Hip-Hop culture, where its residence share a strong connection amongst one another. This connection is due to the fact that residents face similar challenges regarding living conditions, financial issues, and also racial profiling. Hip-Hop looks to reflect these conditions and everyday life, and as the music of Hip-Hop evolved, so did its message. Groups and artists such as, N.
W. A, Tupac Shakur, Cypress Hill, and Public Enemy, used their music to promote awareness of these social issues within these areas. Hip-Hop artists helped politicize the genre and looked to empower the voices of the urban communities and its individuals. Hip-Hop thus become a certain social awareness and way of life for many of its listeners whose artists understood their struggle.
The songs expressed by these artists describe “the system” and its prejudice found within such communities. An example of this message can be seen through the song, “Fight The Power”, by Public Enemy and its lyrics, “People, people we are the same, no we’re not the same, cause we don’t know the game, what we need is awareness, we can’t get careless. ” The song emphasizes that African-Americans must make “a stand” against racism and to not be complacent of their issues. In making such a stand, residents develop a certain sense of comradery as the challenges they face are shared with one another, and their “hood” thus becomes an exclusive community.
Culture of Capitalism Hip-Hop culture is heavily involved within the capitalist culture as well as consumerism. Its music content is filled with lyrics describing glamouros lifestyles, material possession, and the boasting of money and wealth. Hip-Hop imposes a certain ethic of this accumulation of wealth, as individuals with the most material possessions were considered “cool” or respected in their communities. This pursuit of wealth thus becomes a kind of sport amongst the members of this subculture. 5 This longing for wealth can be explained by the poor living conditions that members of the subculture experience, as money and material possessions serve as an escape or even a facade of their difficult reality.
The purchasing of high-end brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, and Ralph Lauren look to create an outward perception of confidence, composure and even success in facing their social challenges, and marginalization in society. The influence of peer groups, the mass media, and school on members of the subculture serve as an agent of socialization as well, where individuals look to emulate what they see through music videos, and the media. This materialistic consumption also serves as a way of defending oneself in the face of adversity and pressure, which is manifested through discrimination and its members poor neighbourhoods. Capitalism is very much a part of Hip-Hop culture. The concept of “cool” is highly integrated within the culture of Hip-Hop.
Hip-Hop holds a strong relationship with fashion, and often develop fashion trends that tend to drift into mainstream culture. The concept Hedonism best suites this idea of cool concept found within Hip-Hop culture. Hedonism is describes as immediate pleasure seeking without thinking through of the long-term consequences. 7 Members of the Hip-Hip subculture tend to follow fashion trends, purchase expensive clothing and brands although these members lack sufficient resources to support their personal splurges.
However, members of the subculture look to emulate the artists that they listen to as it depicts through its lyrics and music videos an alternative reality that members believe they can attain through fashion and trends. As a result, a criminal subculture within Hip-Hip emerges. Due to the impoverished communities and low-income families, individuals often resort to crime and illegal activities in order to feed their materialistic habits and to keep up with the latest fashion and styles. From the exposure and popularity of Hip-Hop’s lifestyles through the mainstream media and its musical content, material possession tends to become obsessive, and one’s individual image thus becomes paramount. The doctrines of Protestantism can be related to the capitalist culture as well, which is reflected in Hip-Hop culture. Among the doctrines of Protestantism include Calvinism.
Calvinism held the doctrine of predestination, and that the certain “elect” were destined for heaven. This created anxiety for those devout and worshippers to know God’s plan and their fate. 8 Gradually material success and material possession become the most important sign that one belongs to the elect. This concept relates to modern capitalist and Hip-Hop culture. Individuals boasting about money, materials, jewelry, were revered as important and signified social standing within their communities.
The Protestant ethic expresses how work represented devotion to god, serving as an escape from the anxieties of the doctrine of predestination. A relationship can be found within Hip-Hop culture and this concept, as material possession is looked to serve as refuge from the impoverished environments that members of this subculture experience. These possessions help comfort and allow momentary happiness in spite of the living conditions members are faced with, which coincide with the mentioned beliefs of Protestantism. Identity Through its music and culture, Hip-Hip is an identity in itself, which is manifested in many aspects. Among these aspects include the creative manipulation of language or slang.
Members of the subculture adopt certain phrases and words based from the music they listen to. These forms of slang signify certain feelings, ideas, resentment and more. Examples of this use of language and various phrases can be seen through different Hip-Hop records including, A Tribe Called Quests’, “Can I Kick it”, a common phrase meaning if one can hang out with friends, or popular Hip-Hop group, The Cool Kids, and their record “What Up Man”, which is a common greeting. Other creative expressions include, “dope”, “sick”, and “fresh” which are frequent lyrics used in Hip-Hop and which are often expressed by members of its subculture. Hip-Hop has been a culture of expressing oneself and not being afraid to do so, and its unique language and creative terminology best represents this idea of free expression. Clothing is largely an identity marker of the Hip-Hop subculture as well.
Clothing in Hip-Hop and its expressive forms of style is widely considered to be a reason for its success in crossing ethnic boundaries. 9 Gold chains, Adidas sweat suits, expensive tennis shoes, wearing baseball hats backwards, baggy clothing all represent this identity of Hip-Hop, whose fashion has evolved over the decades. These styles of clothing represent an alternative or opposition to mainstream fashion, which can also be viewed as a representation of rebellion. Urban wear often associates one belonging to the streets or violent neighbourhoods, which usually carry an interpretation of one being a renegade or rebel by those not part of the subculture. This association of violence and rebellion with urban street wear has been advertised by large corporations who have looked to glamourize the violence of the inner-cities, and its appeal has spread into the upper-class, sub-urban communities. The advertisers look to build connections with certain traits, lifestyles and attitudes with their products in Hip-Hop apparel.
This appeal to the sub-urban community as a resulted in a process of acculturation. Advertisers thus create a virtual reality which has majorly been popularized within white, sub-urban males, as they are the largest audience of gangsta rap. These white, sub-urban males look to romanticize the very idea of ghetto life and the violent environments black inner-city youth experience and which they hope to escape. 0 The concept of constructing the “self” expressed by George Mead relates to this idea of creating an identity through one’s apparel as well. The “self”, being the continuous interaction between our individual wants and society’s expectations, is represented by the white, sub-urban males who face the conflict of abiding to the image of the privileged, upper-class, and wanting to express their interest through Hip-Hop music and its culture. 11 They look to create their own self-identity but are often faced with contradicting realities during this on-going process.
Hip-Hop apparel serves as a vehicle for expression that is shared with the outside world, and is looked to identify oneself as a member of the distinct Hip-Hop culture. The genre of Hip-Hop began to express the marginalization and oppression within society, and over the passing decades it has emerged as one of the most distinct, anomalous cultures in the world. From its humbling beginnings in the South Bronx, in local house parties hosted by disc-jockeys and the master of ceremonies. Its lyrical content, lifestyles and promotion of various values and attitudes. Shared sense of community within impoverished areas. Relationship with consumerism and the capitalist culture in achieving this concept of “cool”.
And its culture and music being a vehicle in creating one’s own self-identity, all form together in creating the culture of Hip-Hop. New directions for future research on this topic can include family relations within poor urban neighbourhoods. This may include the absence of different family members during child rearing, such as father figures, as this may shed light on future attitudes and behaviours later on the child’s life. Another direction can be the causes of misogyny and its social factors in relationship with Hip-Hop subculture. Hip-Hop, with its commercial success and influence throughout the world, is a boundless culture, and through its expressive rhymes and rhythms, the culture serves to be in a class of its own.
Method In conducting this research on the subculture of Hip-Hop, the majority of sources used were online sources. These sources were found through Google scholar and the Google search engine where I discovered journal articles, academic papers, and academic website blogs. The academic papers were used for researching the various aspects within the subculture section, and the journal articles and blogs helped with research in the capitalist culture and identity sections of the paper. Obstacles that I faced during the research of this paper included finding sources that extensively elaborated on certain concepts I was searching for, such as the evolution of clothing in Hip-Hop or community relations with Hip-Hop.
Strategies to overcome this obstacle was finding multiple sources describing a specific concept rather than solely relying on one source in conducting my research.
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