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Hip-Hop and Youth Culture

By — Online Journal of Urban Youth Culture
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Throughout the last twenty-five years, a new form of expression has continued to evolve despite the efforts of many in the so-called "establishment" to minimize its influence on young people. Hip-Hop, once limited to urban music and dance has become a widespread form of communication exhibited and enjoyed by young people throughout the world. Hip-Hop is no longer limited to rap music and break dancing; today it represents a multi-billion dollar industry that influences everything from automotive design and fashion to prime- time television programming, collegiate and professional sports, mass media marketing and Madison Avenue advertising. Today Hip-Hop is for many a way of life, a culture that is intricately woven into every aspect of young people's daily lives.

In contemplating this phenomenon and making an effort to understand not only its foundation but the premise that comprises the root of Hip-Hop ideology, it is important to remember that this emerging culture has similarities to other cultures that have emerged throughout history. Hip-Hop was initially born of the ability of those early practitioners of rap music, DJ wizardry and street-corner fashion creation to overcome their inability to gain acceptance and recognition by the established music, fashion and entertainment industries.

Further galvanizing the fledgling culture was the lack of acceptance by adult culture, who refused to recognize these newly emerging forms of expression as legitimate. This was particularly true where many parents were concerned. Needless to say, if parents and other authority figures didn't understand Hip-Hop, didn't like it and, in many instances, admonished young people for embracing it, young people were even more compelled to further immerse themselves in this newly developing culture.

Hip-Hop, like Rock 'n' Roll before it, is not only a genre of music, but also a complex system of ideas, values and concepts that reflect newly emerging and ever-changing creative correlative expressive mechanisms including but not limited to song, poetry, film and fashion. In the early days, Hip-Hop was primarily related to the rhyming, rhythmic spoken word art-form known as rapping. Rapping is, in fact, not a new method of creative expression. The ease with which young people can participate in this form of creativity seems to have helped the phenomenal growth of this genre of music and expression.

Review of rap music lyrics and styling from the early to mid-1970's, when Hip-Hop began, reveals several aspects of the musical genre that appear to have had significant appeal to young people, particularly those in urban communities. There has never been one all-inclusive form of rap music. It covers a broad range of ideas, styling and techniques that are unique to specific demographic areas, geographic regions and territories and locales.

The following comprises some of the hallmarks of early rap music:

Simple yet dominant percussive patterns

  • Limited reliance on traditional musical systems of chord, verse, chorus and other formal and/or traditional methods of Western musical structure
  • Non-traditional utilization of musical instruments including the human voice; i.e., the technique known as "beat boxing" where a person imitates the sounds of percussive instruments.
  • Another Hip-Hop innovation is the technique utilized by the DJ (acronym for disc jockey) known as scratching. Scratching is when DJs rhythmically drag the turntable stylus across a record, so that the needle creates unique "scratching" sounds. Over the years, it has become an art-form.
  • Rapping serves as a method of declaring pride in one's community. It also becomes a form of competition whereby a rapper can display his skills and defend his neighborhood or community. This competition was created during the early days of rap , commonly referred to as "battling"
  • Early rap relied heavily on lyrical compositions that expressed the joy of immersing oneself in the music, dancing, partying and competing in the various forms of musical expression particularly rapping, scratching and break-dancing
  • Spontaneous "rapping" (delivery of rhythmic lyrical compositions) known as "free styling" comprised many competitions between rappers from school corridors and grounds to street corners to large promoted demonstrations. Competitions have remained a mainstay of Hip-Hop culture
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