Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls, and Hip-Hop Culture in New York

Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls, and Hip-Hop Culture in New York

Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls, and Hip-Hop Culture in New York

Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls, and Hip-Hop Culture in New York


B-boying is a form of Afro-diasporic competitive dance that developed in the Bronx, NY in the early 1970s. Widely - though incorrectly - known as "breakdancing," it is often dismissed as a form of urban acrobatics set to music. In reality, however, b-boying is a deeply traditional and profoundly expressive art form that has been passed down from teacher to student for almost four decades. Foundation: B-boys, B-girls and Hip-Hop Culture in New York offers the first serious study of b-boying as both unique dance form and a manifestation of the most fundamental principles of hip-hop culture. Drawing on anthropological and historical research, interviews and personal experience as a student of the dance, Joseph Schloss presents a nuanced picture of b-boying and its social context. From the dance's distinctive musical repertoire and traditional educational approaches to its complex stylistic principles and secret battle strategies, Foundation illuminates a previously unexamined thread in the complex tapestry that is contemporary hip-hop.


Hip-hop is a problem. It is the cultural embodiment of violence, degradation, and materialism. Hip-hop is rappers exploiting women in videos and shooting each other in front of radio stations. Hip-hop is parties on $20 million yachts and Cam’ron claiming that he would never “snitch” to the police, even if he knew that a serial killer was living next door. It is a multibillion-dollar industry based on debauchery, disrespect, and self-destruction.

Yet, when I think of hip-hop, I think of shopping for rare funk records on a Saturday afternoon. I think of a 12-year-old girl defeating two older boys in a dance battle as her mother proudly videotapes her. I think of people from all over the world popping and locking in Manhattan’s Union Square as the sun sets on a hot summer evening. I think of Zulu Nation founder and deejay pioneer Afrika Bambaataa wandering around a jam, happily taking pictures of random strangers—including me—as if we were his nieces and nephews.

That, to me, is hip-hop.

So why is the hip-hop I’ve been experiencing so different from the hip-hop that I see on television and read about in books? After all, it’s not as if the hiphop portrayed in the media doesn’t really exist; it does. But hip-hop, as both a community and an art form, is far more heterogeneous than it is given credit for. Should that make its more troubling aspects immune to criticism? Not at all. If anything, hip-hop’s conceptual diversity actually encourages criticism: that’s what battling is all about. And just as it would be an insult to refuse to battle someone, it would be an insult to refuse to critique them. It would mean that you didn’t take them—or their point of view—seriously. When it comes right down to it, the most sincere, most effective, most passionate critic of hip-hop has always been hip-hop itself.

But to understand hip-hop’s powerful self-critique, we need to understand hip-hop on its own terms. Not only because it has interesting symbolic, political . . .

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