AN INTRODUCTION TO HIP HOP Presented By Master Teacher, KRS-One


When people think of hip-hop they tend to think of rap music and its related activities. For most people hip-hop is a popular music genre, and this is how most people approach hip-hop. Regardless as to how the original founders of Hip Hop depict and interpret THEIR culture, most professors and activists alike approach hip-hop in the way that mainstream corporations approach it—as a product to be bought and sold. Because of this, those who practice the artistic elements of Hip Hop as well as those who may teach some aspect of hip-hop limit themselves to a corporate point of view where hip-hop is approached as an object to be sold, and not as a subject to be learned


Such a limited view of Hip Hop is then perpetuated in the academic arena where objectivity sets the foundation for how anyone approaches anything. As a result, when it comes to the actual teaching of real Hip Hop, many professors fall short because they don’t actually LIVE Hiphop; they are still objective with it, they are still observing it as opposed to being it; they are still reading about it as opposed to actually doing it. They may teach a history of hip-hop, or they may have even been a Hip Hop pioneer themselves, but when it comes to actually being Hiphop and then imparting useful Hip Hop knowledge and techniques designed to enhance and empower the actual lives of real people, many hip-hop courses remain wholly inadequate .


This short introduction to Hip Hop is designed to get you prepared for the deeper lessons on Hiphop that must be experienced in order to be known. These lessons are for those who are serious about the teaching of Hip Hop and its needed preservation. Before we begin, let us first go over the basics.


                                                                        AN INTRODUCTION TO HIP HOP—LESSON ONE


Hiphop = our unique Spirit, our unique collective consciousness; the creative, causative force behind Hip Hop’s elements. Hiphop is the name of our lifestyle and collective consciousness. It is a perceptual ability that causes one to self-create and raises one’s self-worth. (represented by Kool DJ Herc)


Hip Hop = the creation and development of Breakin, Emceein, Graffiti Art, Deejayin, Beat Boxin, Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge, and Street Entrepreneurialism. It is what we call ourselves and our activity in the World. Hip Hop is the name of our culture. (represented by Afrika Bambaataa)



Traditionally, Hip Hop is first approached as an art form that consists of four core elements; B-Boyin (break dancing), MC-ing (rap), Aerosol Art (graffiti writing) and DJ-ing (the cutting, mixing and scratching of recorded materials). These are called the “core four” elements of Hip Hop. However, Hip Hop’s “core four” elements also encompass specific and unique urban clothing styles, language styles, business and trade techniques as well as a collective body of knowledge derived from its internal experiences with itself and the world. Therefore, from our initial “core four” elements we get our nine cultural elements; Breakin, Emceein, Graffiti Art, Deejayin, Beat Boxin, Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge and Street Entrepreneurialism.


These cultural activities have created uniquely rich Hip Hop stories, Hip Hop tragedies and triumphs, Hip Hop legends and myths, original Hip Hop arts, popular Hip Hop music and thought provoking Hip Hop poetry that critiques and interprets the world in which the Hip Hop community exists. The music and dances of Hip Hop come from our collective urban view of the world which inspires such music and dance to occur. It is Hip Hop’s cultural worldview that inspires (or rather causes) its music, arts and dances to occur .


We are uniquely Hip Hop because the repetition of such a unique being and seeing has created our specific Hip Hop way of life. And the Hip Hop way of life is what we call Hip Hop’s culture or Hiphop Kulture. As culture, Hip Hop is the specific behaviors, traits, expressions, patterns and institutions of OUR unique collective consciousness. It (Hip Hop) is OUR intellectual and artistic activity as well as the works produced by it .


According to the Hip Hoptionary: The Dictionary Of Hip Hop Terminology by Alonso Westbrook, Hip Hop is defined as the artistic response to oppression. A way of expression in dance, music, word/song. A culture that thrives on creativity and nostalgia. As a musical art form it is the stories of inner-city life, often with a message, spoken over beats of music. The culture includes Rap and any other venture spawned from the Hip Hop style and culture.


The Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip Hop Cultureby Yvonne Bynoe confirms that Afrika Bambaataa credits DJ Love Bug Starski with first using the term Hip Hop to describe the new music and subculture. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition records hip hop as a popular urban youth culture, closely associated with rap music and with the style and fashions of African-American inner-city residents. The Modern Oxford English Dictionary displays a bit more cultural literacy in its record of hip hop: a style of popular music of U.S. black and Hispanic origin, featuring rap with an electronic backing. The sub-culture associated with this, including graffiti art, break-dancing, etc.


The Oxford American Dictionary & Thesaurus actually confirms hip-hop-per as a derivative of hip-hop and states that the origin of the word Hip Hop probably comes from hip meaning ‘very fashionable’. However, the first phrase recorded in the English language regarding hip hop was in 1672 by the second Duke of Buckingham (George Villiers 1628-1687). As he was being dismissed from the ministry of Charles II for misconduct, he is said to have stated; To go off hip hop, hip hop, upon this occasion is a thousand times better than any conclusion in the world, I gad. The last part I gad means here to go from one place to another, to wander about without any serious object, stopping here and there.


Hip Hop itself is not a person, a place or a physical thing; it is an awareness. You cannot actually go to Hip Hop, or wear Hip Hop, or eat Hip Hop. Hip Hop exists as a shared idea; it never enters physical reality, it is a way to be. You cannot drink a can of Hip Hop and suddenly know how to rap. You cannot put Hip Hop on as clothing, or read a book in order to understand Hip Hop. Hip Hop begins as an awareness; as an alternative behavior that causes one to rap, or break (dance), or write graffiti, or deejay. Hip Hop, in its true essence, is a shared urban idea—a unified feel. Rapping, breakin, graffiti writing, beat-boxin and deejayin are all expressions OF this collective urban idea commonly called Hip Hop.


We (Hiphop) are a very real People with a very real and specific cultural identity. When you say “Hip Hop” in the world today every urbanized person knows what you are talking about and can describe our cultural characteristics instantly. In light of this, Hip Hop becomes a proper noun and should be treated as such grammatically. It is a common linguistic rule of the English language that the titles or names of all cultures, nations, civilizations, ethnicities, etc., be spelled beginning with a capital (upper case) letter. Hip Hop is our culture, therefore it must always be spelled with the same grammatical respect one would give any other culture in the English language. Unless the term Hip Hop is being displayed in an art presentation or if translated into another language or culture where the grammatical rules of the English language do not apply, it (Hip Hop) should be spelled beginning with a capital H as Hip Hop or Hiphop .


Those who show little respect for Hip Hop still spell Hip Hop as hip-hop, even though Hip Hop is a proper noun. True Hiphoppas are advised to spell Hiphop with a capital H as it is the name of our collective consciousness; it is the force that animates our way of life, our culture, our tribe, our nation. When Hip Hop is spelled as hip-hop it refers to rap music product and its related activities. Even our dance moves come from our collective cultural worldview; our dances explain something very deep about our divinity as well as our natural experiences in our present time and space.


Those who approach Hip Hop like it is exclusively a trendy dance (or entertainment) are usually those who repeatedly speak and spell the term incorrectly and care little for Hiphop as a community of real people. To spell Hip Hop or Hiphop incorrectly as hip-hop is to deny our right to exist as a People. The use of the term hip-hop to describe real people reduces those people to products .


Those using the English language to describe Hip Hop while misspelling Hiphop and/or Hip Hop as hip-hop are not only grammatically incorrect; they also undermine the importance of what Hiphop really is to Hiphoppas. They participate in Hip Hop’s enslavement by reducing our culture and way of life to a music genre and product to be bought and sold. Again, Hiphop is not a product to be bought and sold; it is the inalienable right of all Hiphoppas. Hip Hop is OUR name.!!


Pronounced with alternated vowels—drip drop, tick tock, tip top, flip flop, etc., Hip Hop as Hiphop is a form of intelligence; a knowing. The word hip has several definitions to it, but the definition that most Hip Hop scholars are concerned with regarding Hip Hop is hip meaning to have knowledge of, and to be informed or to be up to date, even in style and fashionable. Hip, in a social sense, can mean keenly aware of what is new and in style. Here, the word hip is applied to Hip Hop as a form of knowing; a kind of intelligence, being keenly aware. Such knowing is not necessarily an educated style of knowing, but more of an intuit knowing. It is the ability to know without being taught, it is your genetic memory; it is the consciousness of your innate cultural identity.


The word hop also has a variety of definitions as well, but the main definition we are concerned with here regarding hop is as a form of movement. Hop is an act or the action of hopping; a short springing or leaping especially upon one foot. Hop has also been associated with dancing as well as a dance like an informal, nonceremonial party. But, generally as it pertains to Hip Hop, Hop means to move by leaps with both feet or by one foot as opposed to walking or running .


Together, hip (informed/in style) as a form of intelligence, and hop (leaping/dancing) as a form of movement when associated with Hip Hop literally means intelligent movement, even in formed dancing aswellas an informed dance or party/gathering. Applying the simplest definitions of hip and hop to the term Hip Hop we find Hip Hop to literally mean intelligence moving, conscious movement or a movement aware of itself—“I am hip to my hop”, I know why I move. Here, we can see Hip Hop emerging as a form of self-awareness, and this is exactly how it is practiced in real life. Rap is something that is done, while Hip Hop is something that is lived.


Looking at the possible English etymology of Hiphoppa we come to the Old Icelandic term hoppa (meaning: to spring upward). The way in which we describe and spell Hiphoppa in the English language is influenced by the two terms hip and hoppa. The term hip meaning; keenly aware of what is new and in style, and hoppa meaning to spring upward or to hop reveals the hip-hoppa (Hiphoppa) as the actual intelligence that is springing forward. The hip-hoppa can be said to be a conscious mover,or one who moves with cultural awareness.


Such an awareness can never be known objectively. We are not just doing Hip Hop; we are Hiphop! And because we ARE what we are learning and ultimately teaching, our perspective on Hip Hop begins subjectively as opposed to being exclusively academic and/or objective in nature. Living Hiphop requires that you know it intimately, that you meditate daily upon its existence and practice its elements to the peak of perfection; that you actually care for the existence of Hiphop as yourself and seek to further its development with your actual being.


The true Hip Hop scholar/apprentice is studying to become Hiphop; not to just observe Hip Hop. How can anyone claim any authentic scholarship on something that they themselves are not and equally cannot actually produce? Where then is your authority to teach? Our perspective on Hip Hop and its culture is not an objective one; we seek to perfect our knowledge of Hip Hop because WE ARE HIP HOP! This is a true Hip Hop scholar—an attuned Hiphoppa, a cultural family member.



                                                          AN INTRODUCTION TO HIP HOP—LESSON TWO


You cannot actually know Hip Hop objectively; to truly comprehend Hip Hop you have to become it; you have to become Hiphop. This, of course, is true of any living culture. Here, the true practice of Hiphop begins with an anthropological approach to Hip Hop’s culture; apprentices/students are urged to live the culture for a while in order to truly understand it. Approaching Hip Hop first as a cultural anthropologist gives the apprentice a firsthand experience as to the very real and empowering nature of Hip Hop.


When Hip Hop is real to you, when it is fixed and immovable from your being; YOU ARE PRACTICING REAL HIP HOP. When something is real it is considered to be genuine and/or authentic; it is what it proposes to be, it is not imaginary it is actually existing and occurring to your physical senses. The term real Hip Hop relates to the fixed conditions and genuine nature of Hip Hop as it appears to our physical senses today. Breakin, Emceein, Graffiti Art, Deejayin, Beat Boxin, Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge and Street Entrepreneurialism are all fixed conditions of Hip Hop. These elements are permanent and immoveable from the existence of real Hip Hop. These elements are real Hip Hop, and those who promote and preserve these elements promote and preserve real Hip Hop. If one or more of these elements are not present in one’s self-expression one is not doing or being real Hip Hop.


Hiphop is a new global urban understanding that communicates an alternative reality through art. Again, Hiphop is a perceptual ability that transforms intellectual subjects and physical objects in an effort to express the character of one’s inner-being in Nature. Most people don’t and/or can’t approach Hip Hop like this because most people are still using hip-hop to escape poverty as opposed to being Hiphop to gain its cultural awareness. Of course, those who only use hip-hop to escape poverty can never call themselves real “scholars” of the Hip Hop arts and sciences, and this is why such knowledge is simply out of their intellectual reach. However, for Hip Hop’s true scholars, Hip Hop is far more than a popular mode of entertainment.


Hip Hop appears to us today as rap music entertainment because of how American Black and Latino youths were discriminated against in the early 1960s and 1970s. The only way to be heard or even survive in the American society at that time was to either join the military, play sports, or entertain in some way or another. Even if you had any aspirations to be a doctor, a lawyer, an architect, an engineer, etc., you were either discouraged from pursuing such professions, or even if you managed to secure a degree in these professions, you were still not hired or even trusted. No matter what your academic credentials were in a racist and discriminatory society, you were still deemed a second or third class citizen; a nigger.!


As a result, many young minds with great capacities for careers in the medical, engineering and law professions put their talents to simply surviving in the very violent and lawless streets of New York. Many did not survive; others repurposed themselves into b-boys and b-girls, graffiti writers, deejays and emcees; and still, many were even discouraged from pursuing these arts. Hip Hop has never been taken seriously because organic Black urban intelligence has never been taken seriously in the United States. This is simply the painful truth, and this is why the correct teaching of Hip Hop is so important.


The teaching of Hip Hop begins with two simple questions; why is it important to teach Hip Hop, and why is Hip Hop important to know? The quick answer to the first question is simply because no one else is going to correctly do this for us. The preservation of Hip Hop is connected to the teaching of Hip Hop. If you care at all for the culture you claim, the teaching of Hip Hop becomes simply a matter of self-respect and self-preservation. Why would you not want to preserve, teach and improve your own craft and culture? This is the short answer to the first question—care. Only those who care about the existence and preservation of Hip Hop can correctly teach it.


But now the second question; why is Hip Hop important to know? Most people feel that if they do not rap, or break, or do aerosol art that they have no need to understand Hip Hop. And they are partially correct until they are reminded that Hip Hop is one of last of the human skills. It doesn’t matter what you may think of rap music or rappers; rapping itself is still a human skill. In fact, rapping is one of the last things modern humans can still do today without technological dependency. Plus, rap (rhythmic speech) and its brother breakin (rhythmic dance) are both physically healthy and mentally stimulating. Breakin is physical exercise and emceein is mental exercise. It doesn’t matter what these activities are in the music and theatre industries, breakin and emceein as human exercises for both mind and body are simply healthy.


The dance styles of modern Breakin are used in aerobics and other exercises that refine the body and relieve stress. Dance appears at the genesis of human awareness and remains at the center of good health. Breakin gets our hearts pumping at about 120 beats per minute, and if we can break or dance at least three times a week for only 20 minutes we would have enhanced our physical health and prolonged our very lives by years.


Emceein is the mastery of the spoken word. It is in the mastering of emceein that we also express our inherit understanding of rhythm, linguistics, physics, mathematics, memory, logical reasoning and high communication skills. Emceein expresses a total integration of right and left brain co-ordination. It doesn’t matter what we may think of certain b-boys, b-girls and/or rappers, breakin and emceein are simply healthy human skills.


In a world that is becoming more and more technologically dependant, it is healthy to practice the elements of Hip Hop as human skills, not just as artistic performances. Breakin’, rappin’, drawing, writin’, and beat boxin’ are all human skills; they can be produced with no technological assistance at all. Respect is also a human skill, and the more we show respect to one another the more humane we actually are. Communication with one’s perceived higher source is a human skill; weaving and sowing are human skills; swimming, running, fighting, speaking, imagination and sexual intercourse are all human skills.


This is important because in a world of text messaging and emailing, people seem to be losing their ability to communicate face-to-face as well as correctly apply their own human skills. The skills that it once took to think and then convey one’s thoughts to another person in person are fading fast. People are forgetting how to actually write with their hands, or express their emotions, or even feel the same of others. Privacy is becoming a thing of the past, while people actually laugh less writing LOL as oppose to actually laughing out loud. Imagine that, some have allowed technology to interpret their very laughter—originally a human thing to do. The teaching of Hip Hop restores all of this.


Hip Hop reminds us of our humanity. Everything about Hip Hop is human. Besides the commercial or even aesthetic value of Hip Hop’s core elements, Hip Hop is simply a useful and safe way for humans to spend their time. Simple and plain; Hip Hop enhances human life. This is real! And this is why it is not only important to know Hip Hop, but to also teach it correctly. Hip Hop is a human skill that raises one’s self-worth.


But another thought on this question, why is it important to teach Hip Hop, brings us to the fact that in this day and age in any modern urban American community to not know what Hip Hop is, is to be illiterate of American society. Hip Hop is everywhere and enjoyed on several levels by everyone. How can anyone remain ignorant of Hip Hop, yet claim to be informed on American society and culture? 10 or 20 years ago you might have been able to get away with such ignorance, but today in 2013 to live in any urban environment on the Earth and not be familiar with Hip Hop is simply UNACCEPTABLE.


Here, we can see that Breakin, Emceein, Graffiti art and Deejayin are far more than entertainment pastimes. These artistic elements when seen as human abilities points us toward our ancient human origins. Breakin is dance, emceein is speech, graffiti art is writing, and deejayin is the manipulation and repurposing of the objects in one’s environment. Cutting, mixing and scratching is deejayin; not turntables, microphones and computers. Looking at deejayin more closely we can see that deejayin is not about the technology used to produce music; it is more about what humans do with that technology to produce their ideas which may include music. Music is vibrational communication; it is the display of organized sounds.


None of this would mean anything if Hip Hop’s artistic elements were simply new versions of modern art. Like our unique dance styles were simply updated versions of the Waltz, or even the Hustle. Or, if our graphic art was done in the tradition of Michelangelo or in some other classical European style. Or, if our style of poetry was similar to others, and our modes of music production was done exclusively with a live band. If our artistic self-expressions were even similar to modern art none of this would matter. But the fact that Breakin, Emceein, Graffiti Art and Deejayin individually and combined can be traced back to the self-expressions of early humans demands some investigation as to where our self-expressions come from and why.


Graffiti Art alone is more ancient and more human than any other graphic art in human history, and an investigation into OUR Graffiti Art is sure to reveal the truth about our being and character as Hip Hop human beings; Hiphopians. Six times older than the Pyramids in Egypt and eight times older than Stone Hedge in Europe, stenciled human hands were found in 1905 in Toulouse France dating back some 30,000 ys ago.


Graffiti art is the earliest form of human writing in human history. Some of the most ancient forms of art and art as a means of learning, communication and identity can be found at stone-age cave sites and on ancient rock art. Scientists still call these writings graffiti.


Emceein, or utterance, is also has its origin at the birth of human expression and awareness. Not so much the ability to speak through organized language but in fact, the ability to make sounds with one’s mouth or body; we call this particular self-expression beat boxin. All creatures beat box as a form of emceein. All creatures make some kind of communicative utterance that carries the intent of that being. Vibrational tones (singing) not speaking, but vibrating to express intent is also at the genesis of human awareness and self-expression.


Breakin, or dance, or rather moving one’s body in rhythmic/vibrational motion is one of the most common characteristics of being Human and one of the very first things Humans did to communicate and express their ideas to one another. Before language and before writing there were other descriptive ways of communicating ideas; sign language leading to dance was one such idea. Many ancient cultures danced or moved descriptively according to the wind, the water, the swaying of trees; even the movements and characteristics of certain animals and insects.


The idea of moving rhythmically like the creatures and objects in your natural environment appears at the origins of human self-expression. This is important to us because our main dance style (breakin) is not like other modern dances of our time; neither is our graffiti art and emceein. Breakin imitates early rhythmic movements as well as the way in which these movements came about—through subjective observation; we became what we saw. Like early humans, we too expressed our rhythmic dances by imitating our natural environments as well as the events such environments produced. Like most of our artistic expressions, we learned them by being them.


Approaching breakin, emceein, graffiti writing, deejayin, beat boxin, street fashion, street language, street knowledge and street entrepreneurialism as stages in human development we can begin to see the evolution of the Hiphoppa.


Breakin—dance/synchronization with Nature’s rhythm.

Emceein—utterance of existence/communication with Nature.

Graffiti Art—art, writing, and the symbolization of Nature.

Deejayin—manipulation of Nature/tool making.

Beat Boxin—imitation of Nature and Nature’s sounds. Street Fashion—tribal clothing, body art, hairstyling.

Street Language—tribal communication.

Street Knowledge—tribal wisdom/survival skills.

Street Entrepreneurialism—tribal trade.


A scientific academic understanding of “hip-hop” is good for classrooms objectively reviewing rap music and its impact upon mainstream society—this is a good thing for first-time students of Hip Hop. But for those seeking to actually create rap music, or create breakin, or graffiti writing, or deejayin, etc., and then have successful careers performing these arts in real life, knowing and being the cultural essence of Hip Hop outside of whatever commercial gain can be achieved through the performance of Hip Hop’s artistic elements is the key to a successfully lived Hip Hop life. For the Hiphoppa, it is Hip Hop’s culture that produces Hip Hop’s arts.


Approaching Hip Hop in this way, as a living culture, expands ones perception and thus one’s abilities in Nature. Here, it is first one’s cultural understanding that empowers one’s artistic, and even academic, understanding. Without cultural literacy which includes spiritual literacy Hip Hop can only be intellectually known; it cannot be lived. Teaching Hip Hop void of its cultural principles and the miraculous events that actually occurred for Hip Hop to exist, denies the apprentice the real power and protection that accompanies one’s overstanding of Hip Hop. Remember, we are not teaching the techniques of rapping or deejayin only, we are teaching Hiphop; the cause of rapping and deejayin.


Here, the teaching of Hip Hop is all about the teaching of our cultural perception. Hip Hop is a perceptual ability that helps the apprentice see more opportunities in his/her world than those ‘seeing’ through the paradigm of a basic education. Hip Hop introduces a new way to function in urban environments, and teaches the apprentice how to create opportunities where there appears to be none. Again, the teaching of real Hip Hop is not only about the teaching of rap music, graffiti art, and break dancing, it’s more about teaching the perception that caused these artistic activities to exist. Here, we remind the apprentice that Hip Hop was first an original way to think and act before it became commercially successful, and if you can perfect and present Hip Hop in its original form you can actually raise your self-worth and self-awareness as an attuned Hiphoppa.













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