The Cultural Relevance of Hip-Hop

804 words | 3 page(s)

When hip-hop emerged as a cultural phenomenon in the late 1970s, it was largely used as a synonym for rap music. However actually, the term represents a complicated culture that is comprised of four different elements: rapping, deejaying, painting graffiti, and B-boying which involves the attitude, style, and dance associated with hip-hop. Hip-hop culture has become a mainstay of contemporary society, and although it was introduced in predominantly African-American communities, it has become a widespread aspect of popular culture that crosses all ethnic and color boundaries. This paper will examine the thesis that hip-hop represents a substantial turning point in the cultural history of the United States, having a tremendous impact on the music, art, and literature of the current generation of young people.

Since its popularity has increased, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the hip-hop music culture. Because there have been many instances of violence in American culture, for years the mainstream media has linked the emergence of hip-hop culture with precipitating and maintaining a trend in youth violence (Blanchard.) Because many of the lyrics associated with rappers contain violent references and language, many critics have blamed them for reinforcing and enabling aggression. Rap music actually derives from the African oral tradition, and originally became part of the culture of young, urban, working-class African-Americans. Ultimately, it became a universally popular means of expression for a wide range of people of all racial groups, ages, national identities, and gender.

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Rap, which is such an integral part of the hip-hop culture, has also been called “CNN for Black People” because the music contains words that spread the news of the daily life of the artists, their dreams, and their dissatisfactions both within and outside of their specific neighborhoods. Artists who have become mainstays in the hip-hop culture are seen as representing poor African-American young people from the cities, whose lives had always been typically dismissed or misrepresented by the mainstream media. The impact of the hip-hop culture on contemporary American society is that it has corralled information about modern African-American working-class concerns, history, and political agendas. However, the hip-hop culture has extended far beyond the African-American population, as it has become the voice of all disenchanted youth, white, black, and from every ethnic origin and racial background.

Disparities that confront African-American communities are frequently the topic of hip-hop culture and music. The words reflect the fact that African-Americans are the most likely group in the US to reside in poor neighborhoods, to face unemployment on a long-term basis, and to be the victims of murder or HIV. In addition, they are more likely to spend time in prison at some point in their lives. The lyrics of this music have exposed an entire generation of young people to the plight of many of their fellow Americans by voicing the frustrations, violence, and criminal activity that is occurring and presenting obstacles to success, survival and happiness in life.

Hip-hop culture has also had an impact on the language of society; when society changes, so does its language (Price.) Changes in the current English language have been precipitated by words created by young people and adults who suddenly have become empowered to describe their new realities with new expressions. The language of hip-hop expresses the modern questioning of society, new desires, new concepts, and new struggles for the generation that is growing up in these times. In the US, during the 1960s and 1970s when violence and social decay along with economic failure was erupting in New York, young people in the inner cities created their own solutions to respond to the dramatic struggles that they were constantly facing. This was a turning point, not only for the music industry but for the mainstream understanding of exactly what was going on for a huge segment of the American population. Corporations such as Burger King and Nike established advertising and marketing campaigns reflecting hip-hop culture, presenting aspects of the hip-hop culture consisting of dance, fashion, and music as well as new words and phraseology reflecting the English language.

The hip-hop culture was a turning point in American cultural, social, and political history because it gave expression to voices that had previously been ignored or minimized. The struggles of inner-city, poor, African-American people became more obvious and real to a larger swath of the American population through the words of the music and other aspects of the culture. Never before in the history of the country have so many young people of all races and ethnicities been so united in expressing the frustrations and disappointments inherent in life in modern times.

  • Blanchard, Becky. “The Social Significance of Rap and Hip-Hop Culture.” 26 July 1999. Stanford.edu. Web. 30 May 2016.
  • Price, Emmett. “What’s New? The Effect of Hip-Hop Culture on Everyday English.” 11 August 2007. US Embassy.gov. Web. 30 May 2016.

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