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A subculture created in 1970’s South Bronx of New York, sparked a worldwide change in the perception of the Black individual. Created out of a need for self-expression, freedom and a longing for lack of restrictions that was not often found in a society created against them. Black people find themselves in a constant struggle against racism, poverty, and lack of opportunity. Treated as the own reason for their suffering, Hip Hop became an escape from the chains of subjugation and inequality.
Within the culture of Hip Hop dance you will find infinite varieties of movement and expression because Hip Hop was created around the individual instead of through them. Contrary to how many European styles may be perceived. It is not about fitting a mold, but breaking one. Or many. There is significance behind each of the varied styles and I have categorized them in a way I feel embraces the basics of what Hip Hop is truthfully about.
The first category is exploration, which can be seen in styles such as popping, locking, and boogaloo. Styles that break the body down into segments and isolations in a scientifically human manner. Viewing the human form in segments and attempting to discover all the different ways each segment can move. It is especially significant if you view this through the context of the outside world perceiving the Black form as inhuman. By separating the body through exploration you visually surpass simple human mechanics and the body seems to move in a way described “more than human” by many.
The second category is risk, seen through the original style of Hip Hop: breaking. Know for it’s big tricks, gravity defying moves and crowd pleasing stunts in current day competitions, it began as a community bonding activity in the streets of New York. However, the evolution of this style has not taken from it’s original statement. The movement acts as a middle finger to societies face. Saying “you’re telling me I am inferior yet I am accomplishing feats that you would never think of.” It’s about destroying any outside ego and thoughts of superiority with every move and edging on the constant drive to create something no one has ever seen before with a humbling quality.
The third and final category I’ve created is release, I also believe it to be one of the most influential. Krump evolved from Clowning which originated in Compton California and was a less aggressive predecessor. Krumping is thought of as a spiritual dance, sometimes resembling sacrificial or animalistic qualities. The word krump itself stands for Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise and the dancers do often seem to be in a sort of trance or possessed state when competing or performing. The style is meant “to release anger, aggression and frustration positively, in a non-violent way”, exploring the feelings that (Black people especially) are told to keep inside such as rage, fear, desperation etc.
I find krumping especially interesting because it is a mockery of the stereotypes placed against Black people while also transforming the dancer into something greater. The images of exaggerated ape like bodies and faces that were used to mock the Black wo/man are now being taken and used as resistance. The aggression, uncivilized nature, and danger associated with Black people is being harvested as a personalized expression that is beautiful and triumphant.
Along with resistance through the body, an important part of Hip Hop is resistance through the mind. MCing or rapping originates from the Griots of West Africa who are the storytellers of their tribes, in charge of keeping the culture and lessons alive. They tell their stories in rhythmic patterns to drums or other instruments that are used to accentuate and reinforce aspects of the tale. Much in the same way that the MC rhymes over a beat. MC’s are the storytellers and lesson teachers of Hip Hop, educating the nation about the Black existence and experience. They battle inequality through words and ideas which can become the most powerful in the minds of those they connect to. Political rappers such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar etc. inform the people about society and speak ideas of revolution, love, acceptance, fear, inequality and struggle that uplift the youth and pave a way for a brighter future.
Intellectual revolution is equally if not more important than physical to the Black community. Because Black people are already associated with “great physicality”, it does not shock the outside world in quite the same way. Since the people of Africa were brought over to the America’s to be slaves, the White man has suppressed and associated their mental intelligence with next to nothing. Myths of Black people having smaller brains, not allowing slaves to learn to read and the sustained inequality of educational facilities in low income areas all add to the perceived low intelligence of the Black community. MCing uses the mind as an intricate weapon. Adjusting vocabulary, theory, musicality and experience to attain a mentality of perfection and deep thought, that has continuously shaped the world since it began.
I’ve been talking a lot about Hip Hop culture and how it relates to the Black struggle of building an identity around a defined culture of “norm”. And this normative culture is White, and not really a culture at all. White culture is undefinable because it is a systematic structure not a way of living. The strong defining characteristics we see of “culture” around the world are made strong by the attempts to remove them by White people. “It is particular genealogies of racial and ethnic subaltern (lower rank) groups that makes their concern for cultural preservation a logical priority.” states Richard Fung, a public intellectual and theorist. Ethnic groups cling tightly to the aspects that they feel define them in order to not be lost completely in the whitewashing waves of colonialism. Hip Hop is breaking away from the idea of white culture being the ideal and striving instead for a separate Black identity and the improvement of the mind, body and soul in a way that has no relation to a White idealization whatsoever.
Stuart Hall’s “Who Needs Identity” has much to say on this topic, “In common sense language, identification is constructed on the back of a recognition of some common origin or shared characteristics with another person or group, or with an ideal, and with the natural closure of solidarity and allegiance established on this foundation.” Since Black people have been ostracized from society many no longer have any desire to be a part of it at all, forming their own identities through association with what they know and who they grew up with.
Representation in media has a lot to do with the influence of identity, especially in modern times. Hip Hop culture is portrayed on media as violent, uneducated, and overall negative. For these reasons underrepresenting and misrepresenting groups is one of the biggest issues of the Black identity, because the ways in which these cultures are being shown to the public (if at all) is through often degrading stereotypes which brainwash individuals to believe that it is the truth. Because the media is controlled by the dominant culture the lens through which the world views itself is White. This doesn’t mean that all white people are trying to subjugate the world to see in their perspective, but intellectual desire to utilize and manipulate an aspect of another culture does not change the inequality of the system we live in. Just because a White individual may claim to have a different view of Black people, does not mean that they entirely do especially being of the dominant oppressive culture.
These stereotypes have become so indoctrinated into our beings that we no longer view people as individuals but as a collective, which is the opposite of what hip hop promotes. In hip hop culture the representation in term of sex, gender, race, religion, body type etc. is so inclusive because it’s based around the idea that it’s not about how you look, but how you move. This freedom allows people to “self-identify” as Stuart Hall coins it. “Focus attention on themselves, to decipher, recognise, and acknowledge themselves as subjects…” Acknowledgement of self is the basis of identity apart from stereotype and cultural belief. But self identity doesn’t mean that everyone else will view you in the way you want to be seen.
As artists we see ourselves through the ideas create so identifications and self-identity are forever changing and developing. We have no social fields without the construct of identity and our idea of how we fit into it. However because we have been taught to believe that survival comes from power, we have become numb to the pain of others. We can see that it is changing through the styles of dance that are being created. Hip Hop is just one culture of many that use movement and sound as forms of resistance. And they are always manipulating and empowering the underdogs much like artists do. Exploring, risking and releasing the pain that is within to make way for something greater. Using what’s been thrown upon us to grow taller. Finding our own identity without relying on an outside opinion. This is the future we are trying to, and will, create. It is a future where we can depend on each other and learn from the mistakes of the past.
A kingdom radically uplifted and deserving of praise.
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