Like many other music genres, t­he roots of hip-hop music stem from a variety of elements that made the culture a reality. Along with the cultural elements a variety of hip-hop artists also shaped the musical genre throughout the decades.

Since its inception in the Bronx in 1973, the hip-hop culture was about bringing the community together and it still holds true to this day. The birth of hip-hop came from a back-to-school block party held by Cindy Campbell. Cindy then got her brother Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc, to DJ for the party and the rest as they say is hip-hop history. 

DJ Kool Herc pioneered the first sounds and style of hip-hop music. Turntable techniques along with Jamaican, funk, and disco beats are the reasons for DJ Kool Herc’s unique sounds that left people wanting more. 

Since then, the rise of DJ block parties rose, and new elements of the hip-hop culture were discovered. The introduction of sampling and distribution helped the music genre spread across different music genres, the country, and the world.  

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Elements of the Hip Hop Culture

Hip-hop does not just represent the music genre that has become a global phenomenon it represents much more. Hip-hop is a phrase that encompasses a whole culture with four essential elements that are still represented today. The four elements of the hip-hop lifestyle include emceeing, DJing, breakdancing, and visual arts.  

Emceeing, also known as rapping, is derived from the letters M.C. which is the abbreviation for the phrase Master of Ceremonies. A Master of Ceremonies stems from the practice of oral history a tradition dating back to a West African practice known as nommo

hip-hop dance form
Breakdancing is made up of moves from a variety of cultures including Asian martial arts, Brazilian Capoeira, and more. (Photo by Ilja Tulit on Unsplash)

The practice of nommo gave power to communities by way of words, concepts, and most importantly knowledge. It was the practice of this oral tradition that allowed communities to learn about places and ideas outside of their surroundings. If more information was needed to be passed around the practice of nommo would create mnemonic rhymes to make the oral message easier to recite and remember. From these best practices of oral tradition stems the essence of what the hip-hop culture is.

The next element of hip-hop is DJing, which is the art of beat production. Some would say that this is the hip-hop element that gave birth to the hip-hop culture. The art of DJing started with DJ Kool Herc’s Jamaican roots and the evolution of sound systems. Yet, the evolution of DJ techniques and individual musical interests also gave flight to the unique sensibilities of the hip-hop sound. 

B-boying/B-Girling is the next element, also known as breakdancing. Breakdancing is the byproduct of both block parties and DJing. As hip-hop artists got more diligent with their craft, they started creating new techniques, the most famous technique known as beat breaks. Beat breaks were first introduced by DJ Kool Herc and were the practice of isolating and repeating track breaks, which are the most danceable portions of a song. This is how the art of hip-hop dance began, by breaking into explosive moves when the DJ would execute beat breaks. 

The final element is the visual arts which are composed of graffiti/tagging and hip-hop fashion. This element allowed expression through visual art in the streets. Graffiti started as the art of tagging on walls throughout the city to modern-day murals and wall masterpieces all over the world. Although hip-hop fashion took a slower route it was the Golden 80s of rap that solidified the expression. Nowadays hip-hop fashion is essential and has infiltrated the world’s everyday fashion styles. 

Hip Hop Evolution

The sound of hip-hop has evolved drastically over the years by way of technology. The early forms of hip-hop sound systems only included a turntable, vinyl discs, speakers, and an emcee mic. But by the 1980s the sound system was revolutionized by the readily assessable and cheap new equipment that consisted of synthesizers, samplers, and drumbeats. 

synthesizer made hip-hop evolve
Synthesizers, samplers, and drumbeats made hip-hop evolve in the 1980s. (Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash)

The introduction of the Roland TR-808 allowed DJs to auto program their original drum beat patterns along with song sequences of their liking. Yet the introduction of the samplers which emerged in the early1980s took hip-hop music to new heights and gave the genre its unique backbeat. Samplers allowed music producers and DJs the way to make music arrangements and mixes with tracks from any genre or era, which is what hip-hop music is all about. 

The technology was not the only aspect of the hip-hop lifestyle that evolved. Rapping also shifted and started taking the hip-hop music reigns from the DJs. Hip-hop rappers started to evolve their messaging and started to speak out about the social and political issues affecting inner-city communities in the US.

Hip Hop: The Social Impact

Since its inception, hip-hop was an outlet for community gathering, a source for entertainment, and a way of expression for Black and Latino youth. The rise of hip-hop impacted not just the music industry, but a whole diverse community that once did not have a platform to speak up and speak out. 

By the early 1980s, the shift of hip-hop messaging started to take root. The release of The Message by Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five provided the first hip-hop hit single to be prominent across the country to provide a social commentary about the stress and grimy realities of poverty in New York City ghettos. Since this single, issue-based rap just kept its rise and prominence in the hip-hop music genre.

Issue-based rap gave way to the rise of gangsta rap in the late 1980s to early1990s. Hip-hop artists including Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. became famous for their raps focusing on social issues like drugs, sex, violence, police brutality, and mass incarceration. All of these issues were never before touched in the mainstream media until then. 

Hip Hop Artists Through the Years

Over the years hip-hop music and its artists have evolved. At the start of the musical genre were hip-hop’s pioneers known as The Holy Trinity. The pioneers known as The Holy Trinity included DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash. All of whom had major roles in hip-hop music production, community organization, breakthrough raps, and sound system techniques. 

The Golden Age of Hip Hop came next which is also known as the 1980s of hip-hop. The 1980s brought hip-hop fashion into the limelight with global sportswear brands like Adidas making a close connection with the growing community of hip-hop. 

Artist collectives also started to emerge with the Native Tongues collective being at the forefront. The Native Tongues collective included new faces in hip-hop like Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and Da La Soul. Other 80s hip-hop masterminds included Big Daddy Kane, L.L. Cool J, and Public Enemy. 

Yet, the hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. with band members Russell Simmons and Larry Smith gave way to the phrase Golden Age to describe the hip-hop 80s. Run-D.M.C.’s self-titled debut album released in 1984 was the first hip-hop record to go gold.  

revolutionary hip-hop artist
Before his death in 1996 Tupac's debut album went gold selling over 500K copies. (Photo by vwcampin on VisualHunt)

By the 1990s the hip-hop culture was a world phenomenon with the rise of West Coast hip-hop artists dominating the music genre. Los Angeles-based hip-hop artist Tupac took widespread fame with his first debut album 2Pacalyps Now in 1991. The record hit number #64 on the US Billboard 200 and #13 on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Chart. By 1995 the album had surpassed 500K sold copies and was certified gold. 

The 2000s brought hip-hop into the Bling Era, where the rise of Sean “P Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records took hip-hop music into an even more commercialized realm. Although gangsta rap dominated the whole of the 1990s, it started to shift into new messaging that included more materialistic subject matter.

The 2000s also introduced more 70s and 80s pop and soul songs for their backbeats and productions which soon was the staple of the new hip-hop era. Artists that were in the forefront were Jay-Z, Nelly, Eminem, and 50 Cent along with the rise of alternative hip-hop artists including Outkast, Kanye West, and Gnarls Barkley. To this day Outkast’s album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has been the best-selling hip-hop album of all time being certified diamond due to selling 11-times platinum and over 11 million copies sold. 

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Denise

A California desert-native who has a passion for baking from scratch, reading 1950-era novels, listening to soul/jazz, and learning about different cultures through travel.