Hip Hop… what’s it all about?

Those of you who read my earlier outfit post inspired by street wear and hip hop may remember that I promised a post on hip hop. So the idea may have changed, with a distinct lack of style appearing in this post, but it’s been a revealing one to write. This is a complete novice of an article and if you want to know more I would point you towards the wikipedia article. This particular article has ended up looking briefly at the origins of the sub culture and it’s place in society today. But before reading please enjoy the clips from two of my favourite street dance films.

You ask most people what they know about hip hop and they tell you a range of things. If they’re from a white upper/middle class background they’ll probably look down on it as the sub-culture of the  minorities from down-trodden inner cities.  Ask most of the pupils from my old secondary and they’ll list various rappers and R’n’B artists, particularly if they fall into the ‘chav’ category. The average Joe on the street will have probably not heard of it apart from Diversity and Flawless from Britain’s Got TalentBut ask someone involved with the sub culture and they’ll give you a completely different idea of how the aspects of hip hop allows them to express themselves.

So where did hip hop come from? Because films like Street Dance and Honey (see above clips) didn’t come from nowhere. The style of dance, music and clothes all came out of the same culture, from the Afro-American, Caribbean and Latino communities found in places like the Bronx in New York City. And hip hop isn’t just about the way you look or move, but was originally a way to react against the poverty and violence that predominated many of these areas. The film 8 Mile,  which starred Eminem, captures this less glamorous side of hip hop, specifically rap. The other side of hip hop preserves the cultural traditions of the communities’ ‘home nations’. Jamaican traditions of boasting and toasting through rhythmic speech inspired the nature of rap, which in turn affected ‘turntabling’ and ‘breakdancing’.

The question is where does hip hop stand in 21st century society and culture? Popularised through dance classes and films, like the two clips above, it could be argued that hip hop has entered mainstream culture. Even the style that accompanies it is influencing designers and the catwalk. Think Kenzo with their snapbacks and sweatshirts.

Equally it still retains something of the violent, poverty-ridden culture that it came from. Artists like Eminem are examples of this with their use of violent imagery and swearing. So are those the only options for people who find themselves drawn towards hip hop?
As a Christian, I don’t want to have to listening to violent rap because I’m drawn to a particular rhythm or beat. But neither do I want to join in with mainstream society and accept the cleaned-up, prettified version of a sub-culture. So where does someone like me stand? Fortunately, particularly in regards to the music, there are Christians who have fallen in love with hip hop but have chosen to use it to serve God. Two groups spring to my mind; 29th Chapter, loved by sister and her friends, and LZ7, who are linked with the Message Trust in Manchester. My favourite LZ7 song (see below) is This Little Light, partly because he’s taken a song from my childhood and rewritten to reach people that most ‘polite, white’ churches would ignore. 
However, with the groups like LZ7 and 29th Chapter it isn’t the music that gives them purpose or excited them. It’s the reason why they’re singing and dancing and rapping an everything else. Their passion comes from a desire to use the gifts that God has given them to spread His Kingdom further and to tell people about the Gospel. To take a sub-culture that was born out of poverty-ridden violent areas where minorities were downtrodden and inject a message of hope and and salvation into it is courageous and inspiring. There’s only one word for it… Respect!

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