Hip Hop Culture and Its 5 Major Elements

Hip Hop Culture

DJ Kool Herc hosted a back-to-school celebration in the Bronx on August 11, 1973. As people from all cultures got together to have fun, they helped create hip-hop, an innovative cultural trend that would have a lasting impact on popular culture.

In 1973, the term “hip-hop” had not yet been created, and neither the event nor the ones that ensued in New York were seen as the coming together of “elements” to form a movement in culture. A number of events combined on that day in 1973 to develop hip-hop as we know it today.

Though the precise count of hip-hop components is up for debate, these five are commonly mentioned:

  1. MCing
  2. DJing
  3. Breakdancing
  4. Graffiti
  5. Knowledge

While we’ll focus on these five, we recognize that there are other potential elements. Some examples include fashion, beatboxing, and theater.

1.  MCing (Oral)

The speaking part of hip-hop is called MCing or rapping. MC stands for master of ceremonies and is sometimes written as emcee. In hip-hop, MCing involves singing or rhythmically rhyming while a DJ plays beats.

MCing is believed to have started in the 1970s, but it has roots in African culture and oral traditions. It might also have been influenced by practices like Jamaican toasting (giving shout-outs and talking over the music).

2.  DJing (Aural)

DJ is a short form of disc jockey, a term from the 1940s. In hip-hop, a DJ is an artist who uses turntables and mixing techniques to create music and beats. An MC or rapper (who could also be the DJ) adds rhymes and vocals to this music.

DJ Kool Herc, often called “the Father of Hip-Hop,” is credited with inventing hip-hop music. He was the DJ at the 1973 party that gave birth to hip-hop, using turntables and mixers to create breakbeats from funk and soul music.

According to Herc, DJing is “having the insight to motivate the crowd, to have the crowd at your fingertips.”

3.  Breakdancing (Physical)

It is thought that New York City is where breakdancing, also known as breaking or b-boying/b-girling, first appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In breakdancing, the term “break” alludes to the breaks and breakbeats that early hip-hop DJs like DJ Kool Herc developed in their music. A very dynamic and acrobatic dance style, breakdancing frequently entails complex footwork, moves, and choreography.
Breakdancing is becoming more and more popular, and in 2024 it will even be an Olympic sport.

4.  Graffiti (Visual)

Graffiti is the act of writing or painting symbols, markings, writing, or other things on walls or buildings, as you likely know. While graffiti has been seen as an act of vandalism since ancient times, modern artistic graffiti, also known as tagging or writing, is said to have originated in the 1960s in Philadelphia.

Darryl “Cornbread” McCray wrote his nickname on walls and buildings across Philadelphia, inspiring other artists to do the same and sparking what McCray describes as a “social uprising.”

Over time, this artistic movement spread to neighborhoods in New York City, where it blended with the other elements of hip-hop that also encouraged expressing oneself through art. McCray stresses the significance of graffiti in hip-hop culture, asserting that tagging is the oldest and most important element of hip-hop, without which there would be no hip-hop artists before him.

“New York put a title on it and called it hip-hop, but the foundations were already established.”

5.  Knowledge (Mental)

In hip-hop, the first four components are often discussed. Knowledge is the most often cited “fifth element” of hip-hop, however several authors have listed other possible components as well. Knowing how to rap, DJ, breakdance, or create graffiti is just one aspect of knowledge in the hip-hop world. Other information required to participate in the scene is self-awareness and a grasp of social and political issues.
Knowledge is the fifth ingredient, a concept that is credited to legendary hip-hop DJ Afrika Bambaataa for introducing. Since knowledge is the fifth part that “brings it all together,” he views it as the most important component and claims that without it, one cannot MC, DJ, breakdance, or create graffiti.

Many people have agreed on the importance of knowledge in hip-hop culture. Hip-hop is often a tool for social change and giving a voice to oppressed people.

Without knowledge of the world and their role in it, individuals may struggle to express themselves or effectively convey their message.

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