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.