KRS-One has described hip hop in many ways, but my favorite was on his album with Marley Marl entitled ‘Hip Hop Lives’. The song was called ‘I Come Back’ and in it he gives a couple acronyms, my favorite being ‘Holy Intergrated People Having Omnipresent Power’. That’s comforting to me. I love it. Because hip hop at its core is a movement. It’s action. It’s a culture.
You need to understand that hip hop is one of the most prominent genres of music and it is barely thirty years old. You also need to understand that it came from nothing. A few kids in the South Bronx had no instruments, but their parents had a turntable and so did their buddy’s parents. So let’s play records back to back to back. Matter of fact, let’s just play that real funky break and we can jam all night to that rhythm. That’s the birth of the DJ in a nutshell.
Fast-forward a bit and every DJ had a hype man, someone to call out to the crowd. This person was the MC. They started with the ‘heys’ and ‘hos’, getting the crowd invovled and making them dance. It didn’t take long for the MC to start shouting lines that rhymed. And it took even less time for them to compete against other DJ/MC groups. This is the fast-track history of modern day hip hop music.
‘Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live!’ That is the best one-sentence description I’ve heard. The lifestyle of hip hop has nine elements: breakdancing, rapping, graffiti art, DJing, beatboxing, street fashion, street language, street knowledge and street entrepreneurialism. The first four are central and the most well known. And if you look at all these, they cost little or nothing to the artist. Aforementioned DJing and MCing were based off household fixtures. Breaking was done on old cardboard and graf was done on public walls and trains. There is a strong minimalist theme here. (Minimalism is an art in itself.)
The true art of hip hop comes with how you flex your style within allotted space. The space for a DJ’s scratch lies in the four bar increments of a beat; same goes for MC’s rhymes. You have your space so go nuts but it has to fit. If not, you’re off beat and the lack of rhythm destroys the creation. With breaking, you have the circle of people and the beat. You modify every move to create your own style and make it unique, but within that space. Graffiti gives you a surface with limited space. (In some cases the artist has unlimited space and permission.) Again, how you draw the letters and incorporate themes is all up to you, but within that space.
Style comes from that space. Art is making the best use of it while being different. Since we are all from different places, with different experiences, our perspectives are unique. Create from that perspective.
* Unfortunately, the ‘art’ of hip hop is held up by very few people and the elements I speak of are lost in the wind. I mean, you know what they are but they haven’t made a billion dollars for a corporation yet.
Sidenote: Grand Master Flash was one of the first contributors to the invention of the mixer. A mixer allows control between two or more audio sources. You could move one level up and one down between songs to blend music. Flash was an electrician by trade, so he had an idea for an additional switch to change the songs faster. It became the crossfader, but started as a light switch. A quicker toggle between songs allowed for a smoother blend and also the ‘scratch’. Originated by DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, the scratch became king of a DJ’s arsenal.