The Hip in Hip Hop: Toward a Discipline of Hip Hop Studies

By Miller, Monica; Hodge, Daniel White et al. | The Journal of Hip Hop Studies, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Hip in Hip Hop: Toward a Discipline of Hip Hop Studies


Miller, Monica, Hodge, Daniel White, Coleman, Jeffrey, Chaney, Cassandra D., The Journal of Hip Hop Studies


For nearly four decades now, Hip Hop culture, something that was expected to only last a few years as a "fad," has developed into a trans-global phenomenon in almost every industrialized nation in the Western world. By securing its position through the five cultural modes of rap music (oral), turntablism or "DJing" (aural), breaking (physical), graffiti art (visual) and knowledge (mental),1 Hip Hop has become an astute public teacher to those who cared to listen to its weighty messages and learn from its many lessons. That is, Hip Hop necessitates anything but 'easy' listening and passive consumption. Moreover, its messages of resistance, social awareness, personal consciousness, activism, pleasure and power, and community engagement have transcended its early days of locality in the Bronx and West Coast cities against the turmoil of post-industrialism. In 2013, Hip Hop remains a sustained voice for many and a space and place to express oneself in a manner that is both contextualized and legitimate. Furthermore, Hip Hop culture has seemingly transcended its initial "fad" trope and developed into more than just a musical genre; it is a voice; it is an identity; it is a movement; it is a force; it is a community of people seeking justice and higher learning; it is an environment for those seeking spiritual solace and cathartic release; it is performance art; it is, as KRS-One has argued, a place where both marginal and mainstream voices can be heard and flourish.

For many, Hip Hop emerged as a vehicle of artistic discourse which echoed the concerns, anger, hate, love, pain, hope, vision, anxiety, desire, and joy which had gone unheard in the public sphere known as the American media. Hip Hop was, as Chuck D once said, "Our CNN." It was the voice of a generation that had gone unheard for far too long, a voice that expressed and dramatized the turmoil being lived out in ghettos across the United States.2 Through Hip Hop, one was able to discover the shared experiences and crises taking place in various urban cities, and realize that he or she was not alone or singled out. It was a narrative that needed to be heard and explained- one that would ultimately lay the ground for postmodern and post-soul3 expression in the years to come.4 Hip Hop was and still is a way to construct knowledge and find a way to release and come to terms with anger, frustration, hate, social revolutionary worldviews, the questioning of authority, and rebellion. The field of Hip Hop studies is, arguably, a palpable growing field of study. Much like the advent of film studies during the late 1970s in which established disciplines asked, "Why do we even need to study film?" Hip Hop studies, over the years, has sought to embody the answer to that question and fill a void in scholarship across disciplines. Furthermore, when universities such as Harvard, Penn State, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Duke, Princeton, and NYU offer a variety of courses on the subject of Hip Hop culture specifically and conjoin that with the 2012 announcement by the University of Arizona about a Hip Hop Studies minor along with rap artists and journalists now doubling as visiting scholars and lecturers and co-teaching courses with academics (i.e. Anthony B. Pinn and rapper Bun-B at Rice University and formative Hip Hop journalist Jeff Chang who is also The executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts + Committee on Black Performing Arts at Stanford University, among a host of other examples, you indeed have a field of study that is both growing and strong.

Until it became mainstream5, Hip Hop's independent lyrical prophets predicted that years of racial animus and societal lethargy would not remain indefinitely and would one day be met by racial retribution. For example, in 1982, Hip Hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash released the culturally-poignant work The Message. In this piece, Flash articulated a multitude of ugly realities in the "jungle," his metaphor for chaotic life in the inner-city and warned, "Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge, we're trying not to lose our heads. …

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