The Original Elements of Hip Hop and Then Some…

Depending on who’s telling the creation-story of Hip Hop, the day of its birth ranges. Let’s just say that Hip Hop was born sometime between the late 70s and early 80s, and it began with a DJ, his break beats and some party people. The DJ was DJ Kool Herc, to be exact. And the party was on a block in the Bronx. Within moments after its birth, Hip Hop went from the DJ to the MC, from the break dancer to the graffiti artist, from the streets to the radio, from the Bronx to Tokyo. Since its post-disco birth not only has Hip Hop gone international, it has gone from rags to riches back to bandanas, to bling, and now, it’s… well it’s kind of a hodgepodge of skinny jeans, Bentleys, jerseys, big sunglasses, flashy jewery, and, thanks to Rhianna, the ladies are incorporating lots of leather. As we can see through its fashion, Hip Hop is in kind of a mess at the moment. But I think the eclectic make up of Hip Hop’s fashion symbolizes the multifaceted aspects of Hip Hop culture. Regardless of how often people try to place Hip Hop in limiting boxes, it proves its resilience by continuously transforming itself.

Exhibit A of the Mess: Lil' Wayne in WHITE baggy/skinny jeans and a red bandana. No shirt.
People expect me to hate Kanye West, but I like his music and his fashion, and I'll leave my explanations for another time. For now, let's check out those kicks.
Over night, Rihanna went from Pretty In Pink to Lady Dominatrix

In the early 80s one of Hip Hop’s founding fathers, Afrika Bambaataa, outlined the five elements of Hip Hop as MCing, DJing, breaking, grafitti writing, and producing knowledge. Hip Hop has stayed somewhat loyal to its original elements (though some would argue that the production of knowledge is limited in commercial Hip Hop), yet the elements of Hip Hop have expanded since its childhood. If I would define Hip Hop culture as it is today, in addition to its original elements, I would add music videos, swagger, ‘video girls,’ and R&B singers. These additions are necessary to recognize when addressing Hip Hop culture and its transformation process.

The ‘video girl’ and R&B singer are especially important elements to address when speaking about the role of women in Hip Hop culture, because, aside from consumers,  these are the primary arenas where we see women participate in Hip Hop culture. This is not because women are incapable or even resistant to participating in other roles in Hip Hop; they just don’t  have the same access that men do.  Women’s lack of opportunities in the fields of MCing, DJing, and breaking ( or even just straight up dancing, rather than booty dancing) is an example of the unspoken misogyny that takes place in Hip Hop culture. I would like to note that these lack of opportunities for women are not because of the rappers, but mostly because of the patriarchal industry that funds Hip Hop.  I hope that in Hip Hop’s future we will begin to see more women take on rolls such as MC’s, directors, record label execs, etc., but until this time comes, we will most likely enter women into the conversation of Hip Hop by way of R&B performers and ‘video girls,’ thus emphasizing my desire to expand the preexisting elements of Hip Hop. If we do not nuance the way we speak of Hip Hop’s essential elements, then we continue to ignore women’s participation in Hip Hop culture, and as a Hip Hop Feminist, I’m not down with that. Therefore, as well as addressing the female MC’s who are breaking through the glass ceiling, or, rather the beat box, I will also address the R&B singers and ‘video girls’ who comprise the visible women participating in Hip Hop culture.

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2 thoughts on “The Original Elements of Hip Hop and Then Some…

  1. well written post!

    Hiphop is resilient and seems to be evolving but you always know a real record when your hear/feel it no matter how many bgrade ‘hiphop’ releases there are these days.
    + I have to say I still love it when I see DJ’s like Herc playing Hip Hop packed with Disco and Funk in their sets and the crowds getting into it.

    1. I agree– when DJ’s like Herc (or DJ’s emulating his legacy) get behind the turntables, the listeners are humbled and brought back to the simple essence of Hip Hop– having a good time and simply dancing. These elements are sometimes forgotten in mainstream Hip Hop, but we mustn’t lose the essence of the culture.

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