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.
Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.