Setting the Record Straight: These are the Breaks
Recently, amidst a spirited debate, someone asked me “what is Hip Hop and what is the difference between Hip Hop and Pop?” Now I could’ve easily ask them to exit my car on that note, but it's Black History Month, so why not educate 'em? I was inspired to transcend the traditional “this guy did this” piece. As important and incredible as many of the figures in the history of black people are, no one person can contest the impact of an entire culture. Cultures spark minds, not just evoking thought, but effecting the way one thinks and views the world around him. That being said, I thought it was only right that I provide clarity and insight to a highly powerful cultural institution created by black people, Hip Hop. Hip Hop is one of the most misunderstood, trendsetting, captivating, controversial, widely adopted, stupefying, inspiring, important cultures ever developed.
First, let's set the record straight, “Hip Hop” refers to the culture, while “hip-hop” refers to a product of the culture, such as a genre of music or dance. Merriam-Webster defines Hip Hop as the culture associated with rap music. You could say that, but that's like saying that your father looks like you when, in actuality, you look like him because you come from him. Hip Hop is a cultural movement emphasizing individuality and promoting the consciousness of our fellow people. Hip Hop is often manifested through rap music, break dancing, DJing, and graffiti art. Hip is to be aware and Hop is to move (the movement), ergo, Hip Hop.
In 1967, Clive Campbell migrated to The Bronx. Campbell would eventually become DJ Kool Herc, widely regarded as The Father of Hip Hop. Campbell was an MC, graffiti artist, break dancer, and DJ that popularized “breaking” which is the continual loop of the highly percussive part of a song. This style caught on because the beat break [introduced by James Brown and drummer Clayton Fillyau] of a song, is what people preferred to dance and eventually rap to, thus giving birth to hip-hop. In 1970, The Last Poets (the grandfathers of rap) released their self-titled debut album featuring heartfelt spoken word over jazz instrumentation, providing the blueprints to the art of rapping. In 1973, DJ Afrika Bambaataa formed The Zulu Nation, a hip-hop awareness group, and began organizing events combining dancing and musical performances. The Zulu Nation, Kool Herc, and others began playing at parties all over the Bronx, and MC Lovebug Starski started referring to this culture as “Hip Hop.”
The Hip Hop movement was started for the betterment and uplifting of a people [with all the social issues and injustices going on at that time], but now the idea of what Hip Hop really is often gets misconstrued. Rapping is a product of Hip Hop culture, it started when Coke La Rock and Clark Kent decided to team up with Kool Herc and please the crowd with rhyming words, becoming the first rappers(it wasn't Kurtis Blow, he was the first rapper to sign with a major record company). Rapping has since been used by “Corporate America” as a means to products and make money, thus establishing many songs and popular artists that do not reflect the Hip Hop culture. An artist, often a rapper, that embodies the culture is considered an MC, a rapper that fails to reflect what the culture represents is just a rapper. The distinction between an MC and a rapper must be made to establish the barrier between Popular music, which is very much a money-based institution, and Hip Hop. Someone who is an MC can be a rapper, but someone who is simply a rapper is not an MC. I'm not knocking anyone, you can very well be a great rapper without truly being an MC, but I am hip hop, so I had to drop knowledge.
Hip Hop is a way of life, the way you walk, talk, think, eat and sleep. It's a prosperous culture and it effects so many people all over the globe. Effects so large, the economy had to capitalize on it. Hip Hop has assisted many people in acquiring and maintaining riches. Hip-hop artists have done a lot for fashion, ushering in styles and trends, as well as “shouting out” brands. Some of those in the Hip Hop nation are skilled entrepreneurs, but most benefiting from Hip Hop are not of that lifestyle. With the ones benefiting the most being outside the culture, messages that have nothing to do with it become over saturated; individuality starts being compromised, and, in some cases, it completely disappears; eventually, life choices become highly questionable. It's hard to escape with 90 percent of what we watch, read, and hear being governed by six major corporations: Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, CBS, GE, and News-Corp.
The key is progression, that is how movements stay alive, that is what Hip Hop is all about. You don't have to be an artist to embody Hip Hop. All it takes, is the courage to be yourself and uplift those around you. Hip Hop has been alive for almost 50 years, with constant innovations and globalization. Hip Hop is worldwide, but it varies from nation to nation, city to city, block to block, school to school, from the projects to the suburbs, Hip Hop is very much alive, but the artistry and the societal views may vary. We must strive toward progression by boosting our own awareness as well as that of those around us. With that, we will be able to overcome and conquer anything. Rapper Nas said “The World is Yours” and Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” I think Hip Hop, I am Hip Hop, my world is Hip Hop. I am Hip Hop.
“When will you be it?
When will you see it?
That thoughts and things,
They manifest when you decree it.”
Derrick Spikes II