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Hip Hop

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Hip hop has permeated popular culture in an unprecedented fashion. Because of its crossover appeal, it is a great unifier of diverse populations. Although created by black youth on the streets, hip hop's influence has become well received by a number of different races in this country. A large number of the rap and hip hop audience is non-black. It has gone from the fringes, to the suburbs, and into the corporate boardrooms. Because it has become the fastest growing music genre in the U.S., companies and corporate giants have used its appeal to capitalize on it. Although critics of rap music and hip hop seem to be fixated on the messages of sex, violence, and harsh language, this genre offers a new paradigm of what can be (Lewis, 1998.) The potential of this art form to mend ethnic relations is substantial. Hip hop has challenged the system in ways that have unified individuals across a rich ethnic spectrum. This art form was once considered a fad has kept going strong for more than three decades. Generations consisting of Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and Asians have grown up immersed in hip-hop. Hip hop represents a realignment of America's cultural aesthetics. Rap songs deliver a message, again and again, to keep it real. It has influenced young people of all races to search for excitement, artistic fulfillment, and a sense of identity by exploring the black underclass (Foreman, 2002). Though it is music, many people do not realize that it is much more than that. Hip hop is a form of art and culture, style, and language, and extension of commerce, and for many, a natural means of living. The purpose of this paper is to examine hip hop and its effect on American culture. Different aspects of hip hop will also be examined to shed some light that helps readers to what hip hop actually is. In order to see hip hop as a cultural influence we need to take a look at its history.

Throughout American history there has always been some form of verbal acrobatics or jousting involving rhymes within the Afro-American community. Signifying, testifying, shining of the Titanic, the Dozens, school yard rhymes, prison Ð''jail house' rhymes and double Dutch jump rope rhymes, are some of the names and ways that various forms of raps have manifested. Modern day rap music finds its immediate roots in the toasting and dub talk over elements of reggae music (George, 1998). Busy Bee Starski, D.J. Hollywood, and African Bambaataa are the three New York artists credited for coining the term hip hop (Alexander, 1998). It began in the Ð''70s with funky beats resonating at house parties, at basement parties, and the streets of New York (Fernando, 1994.)

In the early Ð''70s, a Jamaican d.j. known as Kool Herc moved from Kingston to NY's West Bronx. He attempted to incorporate his Jamaican style of dj, which involved reciting improvised rhymes over the dub versions of his reggae records. Unfortunately New Yorkers were not into reggae at this time. Because of this, he adapted his style by chanting over instrumental percussion sections of the day's popular songs. Since these breaks were relatively short, he learned to extend them indefinitely by using an audio mixer and two identical records in which he continuously replaced the desires segment.

In those early days, young partygoers initially recited popular phrases and used the slang of the day. This would usually evoke a response from the crowd, who began to call out their own names and slogans. As this culture evolved, the party shouts became more elaborate as the dj, in an effort to be different, began to incorporate little rhymes. It was not long before people began drawing upon outdated dozens and schoolyard rhymes. Many would add their own twist and customize these rhymes to make them suitable for the party environment (George, 1998).

At that time it was not yet known as Ð''rap' but called emceeing. As the interest in rap music grew, so did its message. Rap caught on because it offered young urban New Yorkers a chance to freely express themselves. The messages included candid stories of the urban streets, stories of drugs, violence, and crime. No matter how hedonistic the message, urban youth found a platform to outwardly express their rage towards the system.

To them, the police embodied the system. They were indeed a reflection of America's attitude towards them. Hence, vicious verbal attacks on police behavior reflected urban youths' most intimate conceptualization of the system.

Rapping was a verbal skill that could be practiced, and molded to perfection at almost anytime. Rap also became popular because it offered unlimited challenges (Foreman, 2002). There were no set rules, except to be original and to rhyme on time to the beat of the music. Anything was possible. One can trace the commercial history of hip hop back to 1979, when the Sugar Hill Gang produced the enormously successful song entitled, Rapper's Delight. Hip hop music continued to blossom after the release of Rapper's Delight. The music industry, the film industry, and the print media discovered this art form. Artist such as Run DMC, Whoodini, and the Fat boys helped what seemed like a fleeting phenomenon persists in changing American culture. Krush Groove, a highly successful movie depicting the life of rap music, further elevated rap music into the mainstream. This movie earned Warner Brothers $17 million world wide, a gold soundtrack, and most importantly, highlighted the potential of this art form (Rose, 1991). By taking a glimpse of hip hop's history, it seems clear that it has been defining African-American cultural movement for the past three decades. In order to obtain a better understanding a look at the different aspects of hip hop needs to be made.

The first aspect that needs to be looked at is the language associated with hip hop. There is no denying that it has had an influence on a wider American culture. Everyone from television personalities of different races to product copywriters frequently use elements of it, suggesting, of course, that it is understood across the board. But how did the widespread understanding of this language come about? In order to answer this question the language needs to be examined to gain some insight. Cultural groups for years have used many forms to unify themselves and exclude outsiders from their conversations. The most effective and expressive technique was the use of jargon. These are a set of words that only people of that cultural group understand. One group that gave a rise to jargon on a daily basis is the hip hop culture. They used this jargon to create a street language that expressed their meanings in a quick and colorful



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