Bigger than Hip Hop

by Adebisi Agoro

Picture Bronx, New York in the late seventies riddled with drugs, crime, gangs, and poverty. Imagine the people of that time whose lives occupy this desolate and poverty stricken scene. Hear the voices unheard and the stories untold of a people whom society has looked upon as second class and insignificant. Visualize the dreams of the ghetto youth lying beneath the rubble of this concrete jungle. With all this in mind, hear the many songs, songs of pain, poverty, oppression, and triumph all in tune with the woes of a young generation. A lost generation… ostracized by their elders… blind and seeking change. This change would be a revolution, a new way of life for many around the world. This change would be the birth of the hip hop culture. Brought about by hip hop pioneers such as Kool Herc, Afrika Bambatta, and Grandmaster Flash, hip hop was originally an outlet of self-expression for the youth of the time. Hip hop music was also commonly used as a tool for promoting social change and for increasing awareness of the inhumane conditions across the world and in local neighborhoods. Just listen to “If I Ruled the World” by Kurtis Blow or “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five for proof of past hip hop social commentary. Hip hop culture can be summed up in one phrase known to all hip hop heads, “dope” — from the style of dress, the hip in the talk, to the hop in the walk. But understanding or defining the hip hop culture is not as simple as a walk through the park. Hip hop culture is a multi-faceted matrix. It is composed of poppers, lockers, breakers, emcees, deejays, graph artists, b-boys, and b-girls, each playing a specific role in making hip hop culture what it is today. A common debate over hip hop culture is whether it is to be expressed internally or externally. This battle takes place due to the commercialization and materialization of modern hip hop. On one hand you have the kid with a platinum chain, throwback jersey, and Timberlands thinking that he or she is the epitome of hip hop. On the other hand you have an old school b-boy in Adidas and sweatpants thinking that he’s hip hop. True hip hop culture is defined in the eyes of the beholder. But there is more to hip hop culture than parties and music. It is also a social movement evoking thought and change throughout the world. The presence of hip hop culture can be found everywhere from urban street corners, to executive boardrooms. Used as a media tool to market products to urban areas, the possibilities that hip hop culture possesses in the mainstream are endless. Who would have thought that a group of African American and Latino kids from off the block could create one of the biggest culture shocks in American history? Hip hop culture is a prime example of “if you believe then you can achieve.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 8 – August 2003