Introduction: Hip Hop in History: Past, Present, and Future

By Alridge, Derrick P.; Stewart, James B. | The Journal of African American History, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Hip Hop in History: Past, Present, and Future


Alridge, Derrick P., Stewart, James B., The Journal of African American History


Over the past three decades, Hip Hop has developed as a cultural and artistic phenomenon affecting youth culture around the world. For many youth, Hip Hop reflects the social, economic, political, and cultural realities and conditions of their lives, speaking to them in a language and manner they understand. As a result of both its longevity and its cogent message for many youth worldwide, Hip Hop cannot be dismissed as merely a passing fad or as a youth movement that will soon run its course. Instead, Hip Hop must be taken seriously as a cultural, political, economic, and intellectual phenomenon deserving of scholarly study, similar to previous African American artistic and cultural movements such as the Blues, Jazz, the New Negro Renaissance, and the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Arts Movements. The essays in this special issue undertake such scholarly historical analysis of Hip Hop.

According to many Hip Hop aficionados, Hip Hop culture consists of at least four fundamental elements: Disc jockeying (DJing), break dancing, graffiti art, and rapping (emceeing). (1) Since its emergence in the South Bronx and throughout the northeast during the early and mid-1970s, Hip Hop has encompassed not just a musical genre, but also a style of dress, dialect and language, way of looking at the world, and an aesthetic that reflects the sensibilities of a large population of youth born between 1965 and 1984. (2) This broad characterization of Hip Hop may seem imprecise to some, but it reflects the Hip Hop community's refusal to be singularly defined or categorized, and demonstrates the dynamic nature of Hip Hop as a phenomenon that many hip hoppers believe must be felt, experienced, and communicated.

Since Hip Hop's birth about 35 years ago, very few academic historical studies have examined the phenomenon. It has been over a decade since the publication in 1994 of Tricia Rose's now classic, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America and Robin D. G. Kelley's Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class. Rose's treatise was the first to provide an extensive historical study of Hip Hop. While focusing primarily on rap music, Rose examined the historical development of Hip Hop and its impact on youth culture, and she anticipated many of the present-day discussions about black female rappers. While Kelley's study did not focus solely on Hip Hop, he linked Hip Hop to black history and located Hip Hop along a continuum of black working-class culture. Rose and Kelley's works remain invaluable in the field of Hip Hop history and have helped lay a solid foundation for contemporary historians' investigations of Hip Hop. (3)

The most recent historical study on Hip Hop at the time of this writing is journalist Jeff Chang's huge 500-page work, Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. Literary in style, Can't Stop, Won't Stop offers an engaging text filled with valuable historical data. Based on many interviews, Chang's work offers an oral and narrative history of Hip Hop and is destined to become a classic in the field of Hip Hop studies. (4)

A number of other works have also contributed immensely to providing an historical foundation for the scholarly study of Hip Hop. David Toop's Rap Attack 3 is an updated version of his classics Rap Attack 1 and Rap Attack 2. One of the earliest historical analyses of Hip Hop, Toop's volume traces Hip Hop history through personal interviews with the movement's pioneers. Rap Attack 3 brings Toop's trilogy up to 1999 and provides a somewhat nostalgic reflection of 1970s and 1980s Hip Hop. Lacking the rich historical contextualization and insightful interpretive frameworks of Rose and Kelley's texts, Toop's volume provides an interpretation that seems in sync with Hip Hop, mainly because much of the text was written in close contact with the Hip Hop community. Another similar work is Alex Ogg's, The Hip Hop Years: A History of Rap. …

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