Over the years words such as Dope, No doubt, Yo and Bootylicous just to name a few have infiltrated the English language even outside of the immediate Hip-Hop culture. Language appears to be most often influenced by pop culture. With the development of this genre in the late 1970s and the mainstreaming of it that began in the early 1980s a new cultural shift began.
Where as many thought it may just be a fad, it has prevailed and dominated pop culture ever since. This genre of music and lifestyle has influenced American youth for over twenty years. The culture and sound of Hip-Hop music has even infiltrated other genres of music, forever changing the way we speak.
The exact date can be disputed, but it for the most part is agreed that Hip-Hop culture saw its rise in the 1980s. With a new catchy style of music that stemmed from street culture and urban story telling. Hip-Hop began in the inner cities, mainly New York City, and spread into every corner of the United States.
While its growth was slow going at first, mostly spreading through the country by word of mouth and tapes. The major cultural onslaught came in 1988 with the pilot episode of YO! MTV Raps. This brought Hip-Hop culture into the living rooms of every adolescent in America.
At first the music was catchy and fun who doesn’t know the opening lyrics to Sugarhill Gangs “Rappers Delight”? “I said a hip hop, the hippie the hippie, to the hip, hip hop, and you don’t stop, the rockin till the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie the beat.”
The term Hip-Hop itself is believed to be a product of slang of past generations. The term hip is widely debated but some believe it came from the opium dens of the early 1900s where users would lie on their sides(aka hips) to smoke. Thus making them “Hipsters”. At the time they were looked upon as the trendsetters. The validity of this is questionable but isn’t the best cultural slang always a mystery?
The term hop is a little easier to figure out it’s from the 1940s and meant informal dance parties. Thus the term Hip-Hop may mean something close to “really cool and trendy people at groovy parties” or any other version of that, pick your poison. The fun and light hearted start to Hip-Hop is also evident in Kurtis Blows song “The Breaks”
These songs will forever inspire people of all ages and races to get funky at a back yard barbeque. Urban youth in the late 1970s grasped onto this music which was one of the first genres that appeared to be theirs. Moving out of disco and transitioning into Hip-Hop was a defining moment in musical history.
As the music developed so did the style, culture, and the language of American youth. From the fun party music it began as, it slowly started to change. In the early 1980s acts such as RUN DMC, LL Cool J, and The Beastie Boys came to be.
The beats became harder and less in the style of Disco and the lyrics became a version of “telling the dozens” Rappers would brag about their rhyming and story telling skills and challenging others to compete. The term “Sucka MCs” came out of this time.
“I cold chill at a party in my B-Boy stance and rock on the mic and make the girls want to dance…”
Who to this day doesn’t occasionally call someone a “sucka”, “chills” at a party or hears some “def” music? If not you may be illin’. As we say these words we rarely think or the origin.
They have been in our language since the 1980s at least. Why is “def’ a good thing? If you are definitive of something you are a representation of it. So a great rapper is “def.” The cultural influences of 1980s Hip-Hop are probably one of the most influential in mainstreaming the genres slang.
While Run DMC and LL Cool J were influencing the cultural movement and mainstreaming the slang, with their heavy beat and rock laden styles another form of Hip-Hop was emerging.
This Hip-Hop wasn’t as widely accepted by the masses as it had been up to this point. The late 1980s to the mid 1990s was often hailed as the golden era of Hip-Hop for its experimentation with jazz and eclectic sounds. The music also moved into “militant” and a political direction as well.
Noted artist of this time, are Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Boogie Down Productions, among many others. Public Enemy was very political and this was new for the genre. People may wonder why this shift, at this time. As Chuck D of Public Enemy stated in his song “The Long and Whining Road”
“I was told I spit lyrics with politics why wouldn’t I? It says Negro on my birth certificate…”
These rappers were mostly born in the 1960s. They grew up through the civil rights movement and the black power movement that followed. The story telling that they developed was based on this.
The earlier rappers were also of this generation but with the music being so new they did not transition the Disco era Hip-Hop directly into the militancy of this era.
One of the iconic songs of this time is Public Enemy “Fight The Power” This song was a rallying cry for urban youth. If Chuck D was running for office, this could be his campaign song, it was so influential and political. It is at times racially controversial but they, as a group were speaking on the reality of what they saw, a perfect example is this line,
“Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps, sample a look back, you look and find nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check…”
This whole era wasn’t defined by politics of the time, artists like De La Soul gave us songs like “Ring Ring Ring” which wasn’t a political song but it criticized the rappers with no depth and substance.
This was the time of being authentic and “keeping it real.” Not as much language influence appears to come out of this time but it still influenced the youth and young adult’s culture. More awareness of self came out of this era. It was a lyrical time for Hip-Hop and probably the most educational era.
Throughout these developments of the genre some subgenres were emerging. Gangsta rap was one of these.
Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, and most notably N.W.A.
On the lighter side of Gangsta Rap were songs like Dr Dre’s“Aint nothin’ but a G thang” this song title alone have become an influence on our language. To this day it is one of my Fathers favorite sayings.
People don’t even think about the origin of the saying. I’ve heard people say things like “you did really well on your test to day.” With the joking response being “It aint nothing but a G thang.” This sub-genre was so catchy on the appearance of it being on the lighthearted side, that it also influenced our language.
The trend seems to be that the party songs whether, Gansta Rap or the original Hip-Hop, had the more widespread cultural and language effects. To the dismay of some parents I’m sure the popularization of the term and use of “Chronic” rose as well. “Three wheel motion” became a desire for many of a suburban and urban young man as well.The originally Latin, and also gang culture of hydraulics had become mainstream.
A negative turning point also took place with this subgenre. Glorifying gang life affected the country in a way it may have never seen if it wasn’t for the country wide popularity of this music in the 1990s.
N.W.A with their song “Fuck Tha Police” with lyrics like
“…on a warpath, and when I’m finished it’s gonna be a bloodbath of cops dying in LA…”
This song struck so many chords in the law enforcement world that the assistant director of the F.B.I, Milt Ahlerich penned a letter on behalf of law enforcement objecting to the content. This was also a divisive subgenre racially as well.
In the past Hip-Hop had been somewhat racially ambiguous but this was not the case within this subgenre. Also emerging was misogynistic views of women.
Videos with visuals of a 40 oz being poured on a woman’s head, bikini tops being ripped off among other things was a detrimental influence. This has been the downside of the musical culture and many people have objected to the influence songs and videos like this have had over the treatment of young women in our modern culture.
Also objectionable to many is another subgenre that has become very materialistic. It has given the youth culture a desire to live in a way few realistically can. When I was in my teens and twenties I couldn’t name any name brands that cost anything more than a few hundred dollars.
The youth of today know what Gucci, Prada, Versace and other high end lines are and many of them strive to have them. Hip-Hop purists have argued against this glamorous and decadent lifestyle but it has remained prevalent in the music to this day.
Business Week David Kiley alludes in his article titled “Hip-Hop Two Step Over Product Placement” That this is for profit to the rappers and is little know to the fans. Whether this is true or not isn’t proven but it is a determent to the art in many people’s opinions.
Whether you are a fan of Hip-Hop or not the journey of this art can not be denied. Even today it is constantly evolving. Examples of this is the “Swagg” movement where it’s less materialistic but more about a lifestyle.It’s become all encompassing of the culture. A little more “Nerd and Rock” inspired.
A young people’s version of the De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest in their early years. Not as socially conscious but not of the Puffy and the “Bling” era either. Also newly developing is the Shock Rap as some call it.
An example of this is Odd Future and the song “Bastard” Tyler The Creator rhymes “My Fathers dead, well I don’t know, we will never meet, I cut my wrists and play piano cuz I’m so depressed, somebody call the pastor cuz this bastard is so depressed…”
This new genre is very dark but very musically and lyrically driven. Further evidence that this may be one of the most constantly developing and influential modern genres of music.
From the Disco driven start in the 1970s to the battle rhymes of the 1980s, the 1990s which gave us so many subgenres, Politics to socially conscious to the much maligned gangsta rap and “Product placement rap, to current day where the music is taking a turn back to the days past while still developing into new subgenres.
Hip-Hop is an art form, a lifestyle and is very much culturally relevant movement. It has forever changed the face of this country. You see its influence in clothes, hairstyles, jewelry. You hear it on Television shows, the radio, in commercials, sportscasters use the slang while doing play by plays during games.
It’s everywhere. One thing is for certain it is much deeper than what is on the surface. Those who know it intimately know this while those that don’t still try to brush it off as rhyming words over samples
. As Adam Bradley said in his “Book of Rhymes the Poetics of Hip-Hop,” Rap is a public art, and rappers are perhaps the greatest public poets, extending a tradition of lyricism that spans continents and stretches back thousands of years.” This makes it apparent why it has been so influential in America.
You hear it everywhere because it is a public art that you can not avoid hearing. It pours out of speakers everywhere and whether everyone realizes it or not it has change the way we all speak, live and think.