Featured Image: “The Shiva of the 5 Elements of Hip-hop” by O.T. Pasha aka PASHA
I recently received some awesome questions from the BYU (Brigham-Young University) Hip-hop Club about the origins, dissemination, and current state of Hip-hop culture and Street/Club dances. I want to share it as I believe it can be a great resource for other fans of the culture/communities.
1. Q: What are common misperceptions about graffiti, breaking, DJ, and MC?
A: I think one common misperception about the foundational manifestations of the communal consciousness is that they should live separately from one another. At this point of Hip-hop culture’s evolution, many students of mine have been introduced to an elements’ sub-culture as a way into the greater Hip-hop culture. This is great as we all need a way in. However, because the sub-cultures themselves are so complex, fascinating, and often independent of the other elements, people can be a part of dance and never be introduced to tagging, turntablism, or rapping when many practitioners who grew up in the beginnings of Hip-hop culture did it all.
2. Q: What are the origins of hip hop and these 4 elements?
A: I believe there are significant minds who can articulate the origins of Hip-hop culture better than I can so I’ll use this platform to uplift scholars Moncell Durden and Jeff Chang. Chang’s book “Can’t stop won’t stop” is a great first step to understanding origins. Also check out Moncell Durden’s “Intangible Roots” series to help understand how the origins of Hip-hop were able to be created.
3. Q: Through the ages, how have different styles of dance been adopted into and continue to be apart of Hip Hop?
A: The only form of dance that I have heard the words “adopted into Hip-hop culture” were funk dances being practiced on the west coast i.e: popping and locking. Hip-hop culture began in NYC, but black-and-brown urban youth were all over the country also finding ways to express themselves and elevate through their situations. So there was a great sharing of information between east coast breakers and west coast poppers and lockers. Check this video out of Mr. Wiggles (breaking and boogie dancer in the 80s) telling the story of how he met Suga Pop (popper in the 80s) as it encapsulates how a form can be adopted into Hip-hop culture.
Beyond this example and Hip-hop Party Rocking, the labelization of Street/Club dance forms under the term “Hip-hop”, in my opinion, seem to come from ignorant outside communities who stereotype all black/brown urban creations as being a part of the same culture. To that ignorance I have to say that even in the Mecca of Hip-hop culture, there are dance forms that are highly integrated with it, yet distinct from it. Club dances such as house and vogue would be examples. Although they grew up during similar times as Breaking, the demographic of people who were going to the clubs were often different than the kids who were dancing on the streets. So I personally enjoy using the term “Street/Club dances” to honor the black/brown urban dance forms that were created from the funk styles until now (a term I got from Terry “Cebo” Carr).
4. Q: Why are these styles hard to identify in media? Why are these styles considered “hip hop”? And what is appropriation’s impact on the perception of the community and culture?
A: The reasons as to why Street/Club dance forms are hard to recognize within mainstream media are numerous. In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Ma says, “They don’t care nothing about me. All they want is my voice. As soon as they get my voice down on one of’em recording machines, then just like I be some whore and they’ll role over and put their pants on. They ain’t got no use for me then.” Mainstream media industries don’t care about black people. They care about the money we can make for them. So, they regurgitate Street/Club dance forms in their own image, develop their own community that rarely- if ever- looks like the Street/Club dance community, and make their money that is rarely-if ever- invested back into the Street/Club dance communities they were inspired by. Resultantly, the average person is indoctrinated to believe that “Hip-hop” is this commercialized stereotype rather than one of the many complex communal creations from black and brown people in the United States.
5. Q: What gender boundaries have there been in hip hop and how are girls/women overcoming them?
A: From my understanding of the origins, and from my experience today, Hip-hop cultural practices have always been heavily practiced, carried on, and passed down by men. As such, patriarchal boundaries that we see in our country are innately existing in Hip-hop culture as well. Because of the Hip-hop elements emphasizing a skill-over-all-else philosophy- at least on an ideal level- I have a sense that there has also always been an opportunity for women, and people who don’t identify on the gender spectrum, to stretch those patriarchal boundaries through their art. My sense comes from the stories of female practitioners such as Robin Dunn, Beverly Bond, Swatch, Tweet Boogie, Michele Byrd, and B-girl Rokafella who have helped to shape Street/Club dance culture as we know it today (shoutout to Streetdancestry by Sekou Heru and Buddha Stretch for holding platforms for many of these stories to be told). These women have pressed boundaries by constantly showing up when they’ve been shunned by their brethren, creating new spaces within entertainment and art industries to provide opportunities for practitioners, and much more.
6. Q: What ways would you suggest to get involved and better understand and appreciate the hip hop culture?
A: For people who have any interest in Hip-hop culture, I would suggest that you seek a mentor who is committed to the Hip-hop community. In my experience, finding mentors is a whole journey in-of-itself. It takes work like any relationship does. I encourage you to research the gatekeepers, introduce yourself, continuously show up, stay a humble student, ask how you can serve considering your role in the culture at the moment, and commit to the craft. With time and with this stance, I believe any community would be willing to begin a dialogue and a relationship with an interested party.
7. In three words, what core message or values was the hip hop community founded on and continue to perpetuate today?
A: Sorry- I can’t do it in three words without dishonoring what I was taught/what I believe… Love, peace, unity, and have fun through individuality, innovation, and inter-dependence (shoutout to Afrika Bambaataa and Rennie Harris).