hipp hop music

12 Mar 2024

Photo by Olanma Etigwe-uwa
One of Hip Hop’s most powerful attributes is its ability to exist as a platform for people to share their voice and story through one or more of four primary elements of creative self-expression: MCing, DJing, Breakin’, and Writing (Graffiti).
If you’re a Hip Hop artist, or even just a fan of Hip Hop, learning about the history of the culture can create a greater understanding of how these four elements have the power to create social change. Each element is an opportunity for a person to engage in the creative arts with the understanding there is a community that supports and protects their self-expression.
In Hip Hop music today, however, it seems the importance of showcasing one’s personality supersedes having the intention of social impact within the art. What personality traits are our MCs communicating to the public? Is it strictly for entertainment? If so, that’s fine. But there’s room for a lot more.
Hip Hop is not obligated to the expectations of the music and entertainment industries and their desire to encourage sales, views, and revenue around imagery that is antithetical to the culture’s core principals.
If an artist is calling their work “Hip Hop”, then by definition it should be an expression of MCing, DJing, Breakin’, or Writing (Graffiti) that represents any or all facets of peace, unity, love, and having fun. More Hip Hop artists would know this if they had a greater understanding of how the culture started.
When you do, you gain an awareness and understanding of the desire for social change among Black, Caribbean, and Puerto Rican teenagers in the Bronx in the 1970s that paved the way for the culture’s inception.
We rightfully credit DJ Kool Herc as the “Father of Hip Hop” for throwing the first recognized Hip Hop party at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, NY. He was also an innovator of the art of DJing when he created the “Merry-Go-Round” technique, with one of the many important records in his rotation being James Brown & The J.B.’s “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose” (shout out to Bootsy Collins on bass and Clyde Stubblefield on drums).
However, the establishment of Hip Hop as a culture was done by the Universal Zulu Nation, led by Afrika Bambaataa. They saw what kids were doing around the Bronx and named the culture Hip Hop as defined by the four elements of MCing, DJing, Breakin’, and Writing (Graffiti) to express the principles of peace, unity, love, and having fun.
Afrika Bambaataa (n. Lance Taylor) was a leader in the Black Spades, who was inspired to turn the gang into an organization that could create more positive action in the community. He was inspired to create this shift in their mission after attending the Hoe Ave. Peace Meeting in the Bronx on December 8, 1971.
The Hoe Ave. Peace Meeting was an inter-gang summit primarily led by Benjamin “Yellow Benjy” Melendez and Charlie “Karate Charlie” Suarez who were the leaders of a gang called the Ghetto Brothers. The meeting existed because these two young men made the conscious decision to not declare war against several gangs over the murder of their Peace Counselor, Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin.
Over forty leaders of the Bronx’s largest gangs, including the Black Spades, signed an inter-gang peace treaty at the conclusion of the summit. This new shift in perspective was met with a decrease in violence and an increase in neighborhood block parties, house parties, park jams, writer’s benches, and other collective spaces that previously didn’t exist due to the strict turf wars among gangs. These places were the incubators of the four elements of Hip Hop culture.
The Black Spades were first renamed the Bronx River Organization. But when Lance Taylor changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa, he changed the name of the organization to the Universal Zulu Nation.
Unfortunately, in 2016, Afrika Bambaataa was accused of serious allegations of sexual assault dating back to the 1980s. As a result, he was removed from the Universal Zulu Nation and any mention of his establishment of the organization and their defining of Hip Hop as a culture, in addition to his pioneering role in innovating early Hip Hop and electronic music, was overlooked and largely unacknowledged during the numerous 50th anniversary celebrations of Hip Hop.

“When we made Hip Hop, we made it hoping it would be about peace, love, unity and having fun so that people could get away from the negativity that was plaguing our streets — gang violence, drug abuse, self hate, violence among those of African and Latino descent. Even though this negativity still happens here and there, as the culture progresses, we play a big role in conflict resolution and enforcing positivity.”
Afrika Bambaataa, Infinity Lesson Six of the Universal Zulu Nation’s “The Green Book: Infinity Lessons Archive”

A monumental way Hip Hop can grow over the next 50 years is for people to gain a more informed awareness of the multifaceted origins of the culture. For the world to understand how it is a means of artistic self-expression through the elements of MCing, DJing, Breakin’, or Writing (Graffiti) and most importantly, as an opportunity to showcase “peace, unity, love, and having fun” through each of those elements.
Learning about Hip Hop history and leaning into the principles established by its founders can provide us with a collective opportunity for us to think more deeply and more introspectively to create meaningful positive change for the entire world.
And that first starts individually with the person “in the mirror”, as Michael Jackson sang. There can be no greater social impact without artists first engaging in self-reflection. To use Hip Hop and Five Percent Nation terminology, this is known as gaining “knowledge of self”.
Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to gain a more knowledgeable collective understanding of Hip Hop and how impactful we can be to the world, by leaning into the revolutionary principles the culture was founded upon.

Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York :St. Martin’s Press, 2005.
Nicholson, Shan, director. Rubble Kings, 2015.
Luv, King Mark and Malika Saphire, eds. The Green Book: Universal Zulu Nation, Infinity Lessons Archive. 2000.

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