‘Hip hop’s origins’

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On Thursday evening, the Encounters Series virtually hosted “Encounters: Origins of Hip Hop” with the Hartford History Center at the Hartford Public Library. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On Thursday evening, the Encounters Series virtually hosted “Encounters: Origins of Hip Hop” with the Hartford History Center at the Hartford Public Library. 

Though we live in an era with an abundance of flourishing musical genres, the hip hop genre has dominated the charts, as well as youth culture. Hip hop owes its cultural domination to its wild popularity and global mass consumption, yet its grip on the minds of the masses has also resulted in a reductionist understanding of its values. Owing this lack of comprehension to growing trends of historical ignorance in society, the event facilitated dialogues between attendees to clarify the incendiary genre’s early history and hip hop’s ethos. 

The historical pedagogy of the event was conducted through the sharing of educational modules that elucidated hip hop’s rise. In a time marked by socioeconomic discrimination through dilapidated housing, overcriminalization, poorly funded institutions and overall neglect, a largely Black and Latino youth response to such rose in the form of hip hop. This act of rebellion against inequality deemed hip hop as not only a transgressive art, but also a lifestyle paralleling that of religion through “The Gospel of Hip Hop: The First Instrument” opus that was shared with attendees. 

“[Hip hop] is to be done; not just watched,” the document read. “It is to be expressed; not just studied and taught to others. For when you ARE Hip Hop you FEEL Hip Hop … Studying Hip Hop, debating Hip Hop and writing about Hip Hop are like observing a fashionable suit in the window of a clothing store; while doing Hip Hop, being Hip Hop and living Hip Hop are like putting the suit on and walking around town.” 

““It [Hip-Hop] is to be expressed; not just studied and taught to others. For when you ARE Hip Hop you FEEL Hip Hop … Studying Hip Hop, debating Hip Hop and writing about Hip Hop are like observing a fashionable suit in the window of a clothing store; while doing Hip Hop, being Hip Hop and living Hip Hop are like putting the suit on and walking around town.” 

Encounters: Origins of Hip-Hop

Additionally, this creed distinguished the core values of hip hop: b-boying (break dancing), MC-ing (rap), aerosol art (graffiti writing) and DJ-ing (the mixing and scratching of recorded material). These core elements were encapsulated through the historical modules shared with the audience. 

man with dreadlocks and sunglasses poses near tupac shakur portrait
Adult man in front of a mural of late rapper Tupac. Hip Hop has distinguished itself through its core values of b-boying (break dancing), MC-ing (rap), aerosol art (graffiti writing), and DJ-ing (the mixing and scratching of recorded material). Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

One such module featured music contemporary to the rise of hip hop in the 1970s and 1980s. The first song played was Lady G’s 1979 release “To The Beat Y’all”, followed by The Sugar Hill Gang’s 1980 release “Rapper’s Delight.” Through the shared music’s rhythmic beats and entrancing grooves, it was impossible for the event’s participants to refrain from dancing — and this compulsion to abandon stasis to dance best demonstrates how hip hop culture exhorts people to not merely consume hip hop music, but express hip hop culture. 

“It’s a serious art form, as well as a serious field of study. I’m kind of approaching that a little as an academic fighting within these spaces, [talking to] people who just hear hip hop and it conjures up all of these negative images and messages for them, and it shocks me sometimes that I have to say that this is a global movement … [Hip hop] has produced scholars and books, and a lot of people just don’t know that because of [their] dismissive nature.” 

Seth Markle, Event Panelist and Professor at Trinity College

Still, hip hop culture is often misunderstood within its original context of youthful jubilance. The barriers to its understanding as defined by the panelists are often its commodification and racism by those outside of the culture, yielding a need for hip hop to be placed within a historical, critical context by those who can. 

“The message we try to send is that hip is inclusive and that hip hop is for everybody,” Seth Markle, an event panelist and professor at Trinity College, said. “And we also try to send the message that it can educate. It’s a serious art form, as well as a serious field of study. I’m kind of approaching that a little as an academic fighting within these spaces, [talking to] people who just hear hip hop and it conjures up all of these negative images and messages for them, and it shocks me sometimes that I have to say that this is a global movement … [Hip hop] has produced scholars and books, and a lot of people just don’t know that because of [their] dismissive nature.” 

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