The Democratic Sphere of Hip Hop

During Thursday’s co-laboratory I realized how many pathways there are through this project and my focus of hip hop. Each student provided key terms for exploring their cultural production along with relevant quotes from a readings done in earlier weeks. Ambiguous terms such as culture, education, sustainability, identity, and tradition were applied in the context of each student’s focus for this project. Quotations from philosophers, poets, activists, and artists further unpacked these terms, providing a better understanding of the goals for individual projects. The forty or so terms we came up with filled a whiteboard, and outside of the context of our discussion probably looked like random words. But to apply them to hip hop, to food, to public art, to architecture is to breathe life into them. Any of the terms on our board can be interpreted in so many ways that they are practically indefinable, but through cultural productions we are able to better understand these daunting, ethereal terms. We may also come to better understand these cultural productions, and the cultures that they come from.

The daunting and ethereal terms I want to focus on through hip hop are identity, culture, art, education, and perspective. Hip hop is not only a democratic practice or cultural production, but a culture in itself. The culture of hip hop has its own cultural productions; rapping, graffiti writing, breakdancing, and DJing. These forms of expression(art) create the foundation for hip hop culture, forging an identity for participants(artists) and fans(audience). From African-American communities in New York City, hip hop emerged. Young artists were (and are) the catalyst for the blossoming culture; hip hop came to represent the collective perspective of young, black Americans. Their art served to educate an audience about this perspective, to “reframe experience, offset prejudice, and refresh our perception of what exists so that it seems new and worthy of attention” (The Work of Art in the World, Sommer, 10).

Just like culture, art, or identity, hip hop is a vague term. To many it is interchangeable with ‘rap music’; certain sonic qualities and lyrical themes identify what is and isn’t hip hop. Music is certainly hip hop’s best-known export but it is much more than that. In the song “Hip Hop Lives” by KRS-One describes hip hop as an informed movement,

Hip means to know, it’s a form of intelligence
To be hip is to be update and relevant
Hop is a form of movement
You can’t just observe a hop, you gotta hop up and do it

Hip and hop is more than music
Hip is the knowledge, hop is the movement
Hip and Hop is intelligent movement

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