Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

The Influence of Hip Hop on Zimbabwe's Urban Culture

Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

The Influence of Hip Hop on Zimbabwe's Urban Culture

Article excerpt

We live in a world that is dominated and heavily influenced by one thing that none of us can escape: mass media.

If you live in a city or town in Zimbabwe it means that on a daily basis you will be exposed to what is going on globally through newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the computer and now - your mobile phone. So you effectively have the world on tap: just a click away. And just as Western culture as a whole filters to us here in Zimbabwe through mass media, so does the sub-culture of Hip Hop.

Most of us know Hip Hop as a type of music, a dance, a style of dress, a way of speaking, an attitude. These I would say are the most obvious indicators of the sub- culture. So just how much influence does the global phenomenon of Hip Hop have on Zimbabwe's urban youth?

Well, before I get into the NOW, let's go back to the beginning of Hip Hop .

Hip Hop was birthed in the mid 1970s in the US, and as a culture it first appeared in Zimbabwe around 1980, driven primarily by rap music, which was fresh, new and sounded like nothing else that had been heard before. I'm talking about "rapping", continuous, rhythmic rhyming over a syncopated beat, which was more often than not a "sample" of a mainstream song - The Sugar Hill Gang, for example, performing " A Rappers Delight" which sampled "Good times" by Chic - and scratching a record back and forth on a turntable to create new sounds. Imagine having grown up to Thomas Mapfumo's Chimurenga music, sungura music, church music - and now THIS?

Of course, with the music came the fashion, the attitude and the dance moves - for a kid growing up in 1983 in Zimbabwe, there was no escaping the break-dance craze: movies like "Beatstreet" showing on Kine 1 & 2 cinemas, and seeing Ollie and Jerry's "There's No stopping us" video on ZTV, "Sounds on Saturday" was all you needed to get you popping and breaking. There were b-boy dance crews with their boomboxes battling on the streets of Harare, spinning on their heads just like you saw them doing on the streets of New York. We knew what graffiti was, and appreciated it, even though most of us didn't live in inner city slums or ride the subway. So instead of tagging a wall, you did it on your book cover or your bookcase!

Despite being thousands of miles away from New York, nothing was more desirable to a Zimbabwean youth in the mid 1980s than a pair of fresh new Nike or Puma sneakers - that's what we learned to call them - sneakers, not takkies from Bata - "takkies" was a played out, local, post-Rhodesian word. So if you had a cousin or uncle who could afford to fly to London or better yet, lived there, you were considered a higher form of life species by your peers, because you could get your people to hook you up with a pair of BLACK & WHITE shell-toe, Run-DMC Adidas high-tops! When our favourite rappers in the US rocked pushback hairstyles, we did too. When they had Jheri Curls... unfortunately, we did too. Well, some of us who are willing to admit it anyway! Whodini, LL Cool J, Dougie Fresh: enterprising local DJs were pumping their 12" mixes on radio and at the house parties. There was no escaping Hip Hop. Parents would just shake their heads in confusion and bewilderment: Why? Cuz "Parents just don't understand"! Just as TIME magazine and mainstream media was predicting the death of Hip Hop in 1988, calling it a flash in the pan, not even music really, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince won the first ever Hip Hop Grammy. Wow! I was excited! And in Zimbabwe we were starting to get our own rappers, actually coming out and being played on radio: the Hitman Hosiah Sengende and even African pop singers like Themba Ndlovu had rap in their songs! Hip Hop was here to stay. Thank God.

As the 1990s rolled in, Hip Hop became focused on Afrocentricity: Afro and Black Americans became African-Americans: the child was returning to the mother, and the culture was openly embracing and celebrating its African heritage. …

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