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Federica Meghnagi
Professor A. Pacor
English Composition

The Essentiality of Hip-Hop in Popular Culture: the Influence of Music on the Late
Century and Young Generation
We all listen to music, the means through which pop music, rock, jazz, hip-hop and other
genres explicates. Each person relate to music differently, which as well may depend on each
individual's cultural background. In some cultures, country music resembles the core of the
cultural values such as Texas in the United States for instance, in other cultures, or more
specifically, areas it is more likely to listen to hip-hop music, such as the Bronx, New York.
This paper will provide an examination of the music genre of Hip-hop according to its main
features and characteristics related to the different meanings it takes depending on the different
cultures which will be considered. Moreover, the analysis carried out will prove the influence
that Hip-Hop happens to have on the youth, and how it may affect their lives according to both
positive and negative aspects. The analysis which will be held will prove hip-hop as a powerful
tool whose positive characteristics surpass the overall negative conception related to the music
According to Watkins, the term hip-hop is linked to the youth culture that lives in
America: the South Bronx is considered to be the place of birth of hip-hop as a cultural tool
within the worldwide sphere. The vast majority of historians, researchers and critics trace its
origin to the early and middle 1970s, in the affectionate place called Boogie Down Bronx. The
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genre of hip-hop can be considered as unique according to its features, for it consists of a vital
root of creativity for the young generation, who attains from such a source in order to learn and
grasp life knowledge.
Watkins also argues that the popularity of Block parties has developed amongst the
African American culture which has mainly spread in New York City. This city, where the youth
lived specifically in the Bronx, is considered as the core place where the hip-hop genre has
brought a great innovative boost. Hip-hop culture is commonly acknowledged by its main
elements: graffiti, DJ-ing, break dancing, MC-ing (rapping), and beat boxing. Graffiti is a style
of writing that is sprayed illegally or written on the walls or on any public places. DJs play
songs and break dancing is a style of street dancing or the human movements to the beats.
Nevertheless, these elements are simply forms of art designed to express a deeper meaning. At
its core, hip-hop is so much more than mere art and entertainment. "What began in basements, on
street corners, in public parks, and throughout the still of the night would furnish young people
fertile spaces for crafting new identities, explosive art forms, and later, whole industries"
(Watkins 9). Block parties or also called street parties became gradually more popular in New
York City, specifically amongst African American youth living in the Bronx, consequently
forming hip-hop as music as well as a culture. "As terms like innercity and underclass were
reinventing Americas racial vocabulary, a thriving cultural underworld began to bustle with
energy and innovation" (Watkins 9).

Hip-hop today is no longer simply a culture or a music genre; it is a business and a
cultural expression, the brand of todays black youth. "The hip in the term hip-hop came to
define the growing subculture as something cool, and eventually hip-hop itself came to refer to
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dance, music, dress, and even speech" (Rajakumar 10).
The language and music content play an essential key role within the sphere of the music
genre values. As a matter of fact, hip-hop in popular music has always had a strong impact on the
way American youth talk, dress and behave. Firstly, the way they talk can be seen in the concept
of youths creating a second language slang. The language of hip-hop in African American
language, also known as Black English, African American vernacular English, and Ebonics,
from ebony, for Black, and phonics, for sound. Although slang has been around forever, a
lot of todays slang comes from hip-hop culture. Secondly, hip-hop culture has an effect on the
way youth dress. Wearing clothes like big coats, baggy clothes, and sports jerseys are all
common in hip-hop culture. With the clothes and the slang comes the hip-hop attitude. The hip-
hop attitude further enlarges the generational gap, giving todays youth their own ways of life
and identities. In regard to hip-hop attitudes, any effort to simplify that aspect would be
problematic. Within each generation, the desire toward being cool, for example, having an
affected, detached air, serves as an effective shaper of behavior. "Specifically, within hip-hop, a
marked shifting to the hard-edged attitude among performers occurred with Run-D.M.C. during
the 1980s; then, with the advent of gangsta rap, a group such as N.W.A. modeled a more
aggressive, potentially violent disposition" (Donalson 5).
Just as the one of the most famous rapper Jay Z asserts, the songs content is extremely
explicative as a way of showing and sharing the rappers personal stories of grief with the rest of
the world:
You could name practically any problem in the hood and there'd be a rap song
for you. Jay Z, Decoded
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The negative results that the music genre has achieved, will be sustained according to
suitable research and case study. Killion shows that several studies have been carried out
concerning the negative effects that hip-hop as a music genre happens to have in relation to the
youth and the way they interpret the music content they encounter. Amongst the studies, Killion
proposes the one which deals with "correlation between rap music and increased criminal
behavior, sexual activity and drug use". Along with that, a group of American researchers was
interested in studying how the exposure to the rap or hip-hop music genre had an impact on the
African-American females health condition: the examination consisted in dividing the African
American female section into two groups, respectively subdivided into a "high exposure group"
and an "average-to-low exposure group". The analysis outcome lead to the theorization of the
idea that the low exposure to hip-hop music group, did not change the habits of the participants
considered and those in the high exposure group were "more likely to be sexually active and
were less likely to use a condom". Also the subjects were "also more likely to have sexually-
transmitted diseases, being drinkers and use more drugs". Therefore, critics say that hip-hop
evokes a violent lifestyle and promotes not only street gangs and crime, as well, sex addiction,
rape, drug dealing, and alcohol abuse. Another good example of why hip-hop may be considered
in this manner is the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry, which was a battle in the 1990s
between artists of the East Coast hip-hop and West Coast hip-hop scenes in the United States.
Specifically, it is considered the battle between East Coast-based rapper Notorious B.I.G. and
West Coast-based rapper 2Pac: such a phenomenon is not only conceived as a battle between the
two artists, but as well as a battle between the fans of the two scenes, due to high media
involvement, continually reporting on it. "Killed in a hail of bullets fires by unknown gunmen,
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both rappers were deemed by countless critics as irresponsible, self-centered thugs who sowed
the seeds of their own destruction" (Kitwana, 12). Both rappers, like their peers who saw hope
and promise in their short lives, were hip-hop generationers those young African Americans
born between 1965 and 1984 who came of age in the eighties and nineties and who share a
specific set of values and attitudes (Kitwana, 270). It was a battle between lyrics as can be seen
in 2Pacs Hit Em Up and Biggies Who Shot Ya?:

Come here come here open your fucking mouth Didn't I tell you not to fuck with me/Can't
talk with a gun in your mouth huh/Bitch-ass nigga, what
- The Notorios B.I.G., Who Shot Ya

Biggie Smalls and Junior Mafia some mark ass bitches/This aint no freestyle battle all you
niggas getting killed/You better back the fuckup before you get smacked the fuck up, this is how
we do it on our side/Who shot me, but your punks didnt finish, now you bout to feel the wrath
of your menace
- 2Pac, Hit Em Up
Besides the battle between Biggie and 2Pac there have been multiple battles between
different rap artists throughout the years. Such lyrics can have a great impact on their fans and
other artists that continually listen to their music and might take this attitude and consequently
behave accordingly.
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Hip-hop music and culture have caused levels of controversy and built their way into a
secondary position alongside that of popular culture. Through rhythm and poetry, hip-hop has
made an effort to address racism, education, sexism, drug use, and spiritual uplift. It has been
argued that hip-hop can have negative effects as well as positive effects on people, particularly
youth. Hip-hop criticism, however, has mainly concentrated on the musics negative and anti-
social qualities, and has rarely brought information about hip-hops positive characteristics. In
this paper I will argue that although hip-hop culture can have negative effects on youth, the
positive effects are certainly surpassing; it is a resolution to replace violence and a creative outlet
for youth.
Throughout the past thirty years, there has been much discussion about how negative hip-
hop music is and how it affects the youth in a negative manner. There exist many controversial
issues regarding hip-hop music that has been portrayed negatively by the media innumerable
times. Due to this, much of the older generation today has always had a negative viewpoint on
hip-hop music. According to Smitherman "Hip-hop music became popular in the mid-to-late 70's
when it still was harmless, fun and it made you feel good. Interestingly enough, the term rap was
originally used in the African American speech community to refer to romantic, sexualized
interaction, usually originated by a man for purposes of winning the affection and sexual favors
of a woman" (Smitherman 12). More specifically, with the introduction of gangster rap in the 90s
it started to have a negative impact on youth, consequently given negative accusations and harsh
criticism by the media. It has been criticized by the media, accusing the music of affecting the
youth that sexism and other such forms of oppression are acceptable to youth. Moreover, when a
child sees a big rap star on MTV, with expensive cars, gorgeous and half-naked women,
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expensive jewelry and living the thug lifestyle, they want to be just like them. In addition,
gangster rap provokes violence by means of glorifying and supporting for a life of crime and
violence. For instance, rappers may rap about shooting their enemies, as a result that young
people may learn to shoot people instead of trying to resolve battles in a nonviolent manner.
However, there are some good influences that keep teens from getting involved in the
negativity who live in poor suburban areas. Few would go so far as to say that hip-hop in and of
itself could actually make you a better person. One of these positive influences of hip-hop is that
it serves as an elevated unifier of different populations. It started as a subculture in the Bronx in
the midst of African American communities, however changed to be a phenomenon of global
culture. "Dyson condemns the sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic content as depressing and
argues that under the right conditions a person can make rap lyrics meaningful in the context of
the black community" (Tyson 134). Moreover, whether the power in its messages can be used for
good or bad, few can argue the impact of hip-hop culture on the lives of working class urban
"There appears to be a consensus that there are positive rap and negative rap music songs that
have been created by rap artists" (Henederson et. al 135). Along with that, Smitherman asserts
that rapping about individuals' own suffering and the difficulties they lived and faced, has saved
multiple rappers from thug life and has also given them productive. Giving this fact, it surely
will have a positive effect on their fans, giving them courage to establish a career, those who
come from similar backgrounds. In addition, the artists may depict everyday conversational talk
as a story in their lyrics.

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In addition, hip-hop has managed to replace the act of physical violence with dance
battles and graffiti artwork battles. Bronx teenagers found their voices through their bodies. The
increasingly innovative dance moves and battles, fashion and graffiti serve as a creative outlet
for young people. They built up and perfected a large vocabulary of hip-hop moves to
communicate a wide variety of emotions and messages. One of the many proves why hip-hop
indeed can have this positive effect and replaces physical violence with dance battles can be seen
in the documentary Rize.
Rize is a documentary following an interview schedule of two related dance styles and
subcultures of Los Angeles: krumping and clowning. The first part of the documentary
introduces the dance style clowning, followed by the introduction of the dance style krumping,
which evolved from the original clowning and developed into its own identity. By watching the
documentary, it is apparent to see that these two dance styles have saved a lot of lives, the lives
of those that are being interviewed. Many people that are either keen on the dance style clowning
or into the dance style krumping now live completely different lives then before they got
involved in it. As one of the main characters, Tommy Johnson, also known as Tommy the
Clown, explains how he used to be a former drug dealer, went to jail, yet realized he had to
change his live and started to dance. The third part of the documentary is a dance battle between
the clowners and the krumpers. It is patent to see how these dance battles have replaced
violence, consequently that hip-hop can be seen as positive:
Anything that has happened in your live, the anger, you can channel that in your dancing and
release it in a positive way, because you release it through art the art of dance/Krumpness is the
close chapter of your life, of hurt, sorrow, anguish that people dont know about/Doing
something positive and not going negative/It is like a getaway, you meet new people/A battle
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zone its like fighting, getting out your anger, but with dancing/Fighting is the last thing on our
mind when we are dancing.
The African American culture can be taken as an example in order to show how hip-hop
serves as a tool for expressing ones values. "Rap music has had a profound impact on the
African American community in the United States. Its greatest significance, to my mind, derives
from the fact that it has fostered a profound nationalism in the youth of black America"
(Henderson 309). Because Rap music consists of a fundamental basis of African America
cultural background, youth's cultural values have been shaped by the significance of hip-hop
music as a communicative vehicle of expressing life's experiences. Break dancing and graffiti
writing can be found anywhere, from street corners to public parks to subway stations. As a
matter of fact, rap music through break-dancing has served youth as a cultural tool and has
managed to achieve a broader sense of awareness. Mainly, hip-hop was a means for youth who
were otherwise ignored by the institutions, together with government and schools. "Hip-hop
dancing is, essentially, a battle. It is a translation of gang warfare into the language of dance and
physical expression." (LaBoskey 114).
As I argued that although hip-hop culture can have negative effects on youth, the positive
effects are certainly surpassing; it is a resolution to replace violence and a creative outlet for
youth. I certainly believe that this thesis is true. It is no secret that a lot of negativity has come
out of the hip-hop genre, nevertheless one cannot minimize the positive effects that hip-hop has
had and still has on youth all over the world. Hip-hop is a global phenomenon and a million
dollar industry that has not only given a voice to minorities; moreover, physical harm and violent
actions have been with the activity of dance battles and dance moves, while graffiti and the
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related artworks have enabled to express and liberate ones internal emotions. Possibly the
reason that hip-hop is controversial is due to the fact that it is believed by many to be a new art
form or genre of music and one has never been too good with relating to the idea of change. I
believe hip-hop culture should be conceived according to positive connotations and since the
music and the whole culture surround it has high influence on youth today all over the world it
should be thought of hip-hop as a considerable manner of communicating with the new

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Gladney, M. J, "The Black Arts Moevement and Hip Hop" African American University, 29.2
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Henderson E. A, "Black Nationalism and Rap Music" Journal of Black Studies, 26.3 (Jan. 1996):
308-339 Web
Killion C., Murrock CJ, Higgins PA, Dance and peer support to improve diabetes outcomes in
African American women, University of Akron, USA.
Kitwana, Bakari. The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American
Culture, Basic Civitas Books: 2003 Web.
LaBoskey S, "Getting off. Portrayals of masculinity in hip hop dance in film" Dance
Research Journal, 33.2 (Winter 2001): 112-120 Web
Rajakumar M, Hip-Hop Dance, (2012) ABC-CLIO.
Smitherman G, "'The Chain Remain the Same': Communicative Practices in the Hip-Hop"
Journal of Black Studies, 28.1 (Febraury 1997): 3-25 Web
Tyson, E. Hip Hop Therapy: An Exploratory Study of a Rap Music Intervention with At-Risk
and Delinquent Youth1, Journal of Poetry Therapy, 15.3 (Spring 2002): 131-144- Web.
Watkins, S. Craig. Hip Hop Matters : Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a
Movement, (2006): 9-267. Web
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