The spirit and philosophy of Hip Hop

Hip Hop has no bible - it is best thought about in the same way as radical western philosophical mov

Definitions of Hip Hop written by academics who are not engaged in cultural and artistic fashions have led to much confusion of what Hip Hop is. Most definitions that exist have attempted to limit definitions of Hip Hop to the artistic movements of street youth in the 1980’s breakdancing, graffiti, turntablism and rap.

However such definitions do not account for the rise of the economic, political and intellectual movements that consider themselves to be Hip Hop, the advancement and expansion of the creative elements of the culture such as film, music production and fashion and the significant group that takes part in none of the artistic elements but still relates to Hip Hop as an identity.

In moving toward a new and improved analysis of Hip Hop it is best defined as

'The cognitive, creative and emotive expression of Western youth of African descent who attempt to find success and meaning within the social realities of their lives that are characterised by poverty, racism and urban decay.'

Hip Hop unlike other ways of life does not have a single text that lays out the tenets of culture it does not have a bible, Koran, Torah or Bhagavad Gita, it is not a religion. Philosophically Hip Hop is best thought about in the same way as radical western philosophical movements like existentialism and libertarianism that promote freedom of thought and expression. It is built upon the notion of the open society, there are no fixed moral or cultural codes. Hip Hop does however have a set of central doctrines.

1) Keep it real

Notions of authenticity are central to the spirit of Hip Hop. A Hip Hop driven life is about striving to be authentic, to find an original voice and express the reality of your situation. Hip Hop wants you to listen to that inner voice, that inner self and be yourself at all costs.

2) Speak truth to power

The need to tell the truth is fundamental to Hip Hop. Telling the truth is the element that gets Hip Hop into the most controversy but it also serves to highlight the nature of life for the streetz and the poor. It tells the stories through rap music that others are afraid to touch. The stories of inner city life, crack addiction, prostitution, cocaine, gangsterism, violence, police brutality and the effects of policy wonks' disconnected policy. Hip Hoppas consider those that want to silence Hip Hop as enemies of the truth.

3) Change the game

Hip Hop is a revolutionary culture that revels in its irreverence. A Hip Hop driven life has no time for tradition, Hip Hop is a culture of permanent rebellion, a constant challenge to the status quo making it a culture of outsiders. Hence Hip Hop is in a constant state of flux and becoming. As soon as Hip Hop appears to be fixed it shifts.

4) Represent your hood

Hip Hop’s notion of family extends beyond your blood relatives and immediate family into your neighbourhood. Rappers who express Hip Hop culture through their music consider themselves to be the voices and spokesmen and women of the ‘hood’ that they have grown up in. Responsibility to your ‘hood’ means that when people become successful they are obligated to bring their family through to share the spoils of their success or face hate, beef or even violence.

5) Express your self

Creative expression is where much of Hip Hop as we know it stems from. It is the creative expression of Hip Hop that has made it the global youth cultural phenomenon that it is today. Although the creative element of Hip Hop had its beginnings in Rap, Breakdancing, Turntablism and Graffitti it is by no means limited to these forms of artistic expression. The Hip Hop community have long since expanded into multiple art forms and forms of expression. Expression in Hip Hop is not, contrary to popular belief limited to art Hip Hop is now expressing itself politically, economically and intellectually.

Anthony Thomas is the founder and CEO of Hip Hop Generation. He is a philosopher,organiser and entrepreneur. He is a director of London Citizens and the Black Londoners Forum.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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