Hip hop is a form of musical expression and artistic subculture that originated in African-American and Hispanic-American communities during the 1970s in New York City, specifically within the Bronx. The term often refers to hip hop music, which consists of poetry that is spoken – rather than sung – over either original or sampled instrumental recordings mixed with new original sounds from drum machines, and/or other instruments. However, the culture has expanded far beyond its original roots, and now is considered a worldwide subculture comprising rapping, DJing, hip hop dance, and graffiti art – known collectively as “Four Pillars of Hip Hop”.
The block parties of DJ Kool Herc at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, where Herc would mix samples of existing records with his own shouts to the crowd and dancers, are generally considered the birthplace of hip hop. Kool Herc is credited as the ‘father’ of the art form. DJ Afrika Bambaataa of the hip-hop collective Zulu Nation outlined the four pillars of hip hop culture: MCing, DJing, B-boying and graffiti writing. Since its emergence in the South Bronx, hip hop culture has spread to both urban and suburban communities throughout the world. Hip hop music first emerged with Kool Herc and contemporary disc jockeys and imitators creating rhythmic beats by looping breaks (small portions of songs emphasizing a percussive pattern) on two turntables, more commonly referred to as sampling. This was later accompanied by “rap”, a rhythmic style of chanting or poetry presented in 16 bar measures or time frames, and beatboxing, a vocal technique mainly used to imitate percussive elements of the music and various technical effects of hip hop DJ’s. An original form of dancing and particular styles of dress arose among fans of this new music. These elements experienced considerable refinement and development over the course of the history of the culture.
The relationship between graffiti and hip hop culture arises from the appearance of new and increasingly elaborate and pervasive forms of the practice in areas where other elements of hip hop were evolving as art forms, with a heavy overlap between those who wrote graffiti and those who practiced other elements of the culture. Today, graffiti remains part of hip hop, while crossing into the mainstream art world with renowned exhibits in galleries throughout the world.
Hip Hop is simultaneously a new and old phenomenon. It follows in the footsteps of previous American musical genres like Blues, and its equivalents jazz and rock roll. Where it differs from its predecessors is in the range of distinct art forms (MC-ing, DJ-ing, B-Boying, Graffiti and their derivatives) generated in the culture, and in the fact that, for the first time, its architects control its dissemination, whereas its predecessors have been integrated into the mainstream, the most pertinent example being Rock & Roll. At its best, Hip Hop has given a voice to the voiceless & showcased their artistic ingenuity and talent on a global scale; at its worst Hip Hop has mirrored the worst aspects of the mainstream culture that it once challenged: materialism, sexism, homophobia, an internalized racism and an apathy towards intellectualism (the most crucial element in the culture according to its most celebrated founder Afrika Bambataa).