hip hop

   In 1979, when the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ began with the words, ‘I said a hip, hop, a hippit, a hippit to the hip hip hop, you don’t stop the rock,’ a name was found for the burgeoning street culture of urban New York. Hip hop culture is usually associated with rap music, but has in fact always expressed itself through four main artforms: MCing (rapping), DJing (providing the music to accompany the rap), breaking (breakdancing, an athletic form of dancing involving many acrobatic moves) and graf (graffiti). While the latter two are mainly associated with ‘old school’ (that is, early to mid-1980s) hip hop, there are still small but fiercely loyal groups of b-boys and b-girls who perform headspins to the music or spray their elaborate designs on trains and walls.
   Hip hop spread to Britain quickly, and in the early 1980s it was fairly commonplace to see gangs of hip hop fans in shopping centres on Saturdays, breakdancing on pieces of linoleum, as much for their own pleasure as that of onlookers. It was the breakdancers who had the strongest effect on the clothing style associated with hip hop. The dancers needed clothes that were comfortable and allowed freedom of movement, along with footwear that provided traction and, once again, comfort. Hip hop style came therefore to be typified by loose-fitting clothes, tracksuits or baggy t-shirts and trousers worn with training shoes. The massive sports footwear industry owes its success to the hip hop fans of the 1980s, who sparked off the boom in sales and whose sometimes fanatical brand loyalty is reflected in the music. Run DMC immortalized their footwear in ‘My Adidas’, while KRS One used the line ‘better stop wearing those wack Puma sneakers’ to diss a rival. Both ‘wack’ (bad/of poor quality) and ‘diss’ (to show disrespect towards) are examples of the slang associated with hip hop culture. Much of this slang comes from American hip hop culture, but has been adopted by British fans with few alterations. British magazine Hip Hop Connection, for example, runs a regular column entitled ‘Creature From The Wack Lagoon’.
   While hip hop culture has not been as immediately visible in the years since its early 1980s heyday, events such as the annual Fresh festival, held in London, testify to the fact that there are still many dedicated hip hop heads (as they are often called) around. It is of note that, although hip hop is usually (correctly) perceived as being a predominantly black cultural practice, it is not exclusively so. Hip hop’s practitioners and fans (often one and the same; a comparatively high proportion of hip hop fans seem to want to be actively involved in the culture in some way) are generally accepting of anyone who shares their passion, regardless of race, seeing themselves as all being part of a kind of ‘hip hop nation’.
   See also: DJs; jungle; rave culture
   SIMON BOTTOM

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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