How Hip-Hop Music Has Influenced American Culture and Society
Hip-hop is more than a music genre, it is a culture that has shaped America over the past three decades. Its influence has spread across the United States, impacting politics and media culture. This article explores hip-hop's social impact on the United States.
Topics This Article Covers
- How hip-hop music influenced America
- Hip-hop in the 20th century
- Critics of hip-hop
- How hip-hop promotes social awareness
- The evolution of hip-hop's MCs
- How hip-hop redefined cultural norms
- Genres and artists that influenced hip-hop
- Effects of the "Hip-Hop Nation"
This article also includes an FAQ section at the bottom. This section goes into more detail on hip-hop's inception and provides fun facts and trivia for those who are true fans of the genre.
How Hip-Hop Music Influenced America
Hip-hop has had an overwhelming influence on the black community in America (as well as American society as a whole). Hip-hop is more than music, it's a full and vibrant culture. Over the past three decades, hip-hop has influenced and uplifted America, speaking up for generations and providing a voice to marginalized populations. Opponents of hip-hop culture argue that the music is aggressive in nature and promotes social rebellion. That said, provocative lyrics do not negate the fact that hip-hop is a vocal outlet for many people in America. For decades, hip-hop has provided a platform for MCs and rappers to express their opinions about society, the government, and the treatment of African Americans in America. This outlet is especially crucial to the black community, but, if people opposed to hip-hop tried to embrace the culture rather than attack the culture, it would benefit society as a whole.
Hip-Hop in the 20th Century
The late twentieth century decade often simply referred to as "the nineties" marked extensive social changes in American history and social culture. One example of influential new trends that took place in the nineties centers on the evolution of hip- hop culture. The history of hip-hop stems from black community consciousness within the United States. Additionally, hip-hop culture can be viewed as a direct response to the socio-economic issues that spawned from that history. Through musical expression, the black community, as well as other traditionally marginalized groups, turned their discontent from the injustices they faced into productive protest, helping to restructure social attitudes and opportunities.
The late eighties saw the inception of this musical movement, but the force and substantiation associated with hip-hop music largely developed throughout the span of the nineties. Following this line of thought, the nineties saw large changes in music and culture. So much so that the U.S. experienced the establishment of a veritable "Hip-Hop Nation." And, despite controversy over the legitimacy of the music (in terms of its occasionally vulgar lyrics), hip-hop marks a national movement with the power to uplift an entire sector of the national community.
Kool Herc's holds his "hip-hop" parties
The first recorded rap single is released.
Curtis Blow's single "The Breaks" surpasses a million sales.
Kool Herc holds his last "old school" hip-hop party.
Doue E. Fresh creates "The Show"
Run DMC remix "Walk This Way," opening hip-hop to new audieces. Also, N.W.A. form, creating gangster rap.
Dr. Dre writes "The Chronic," launching him and his label into stardom and taking gangster rap even more mainstream.
The modern era of hip-hop begins.
Critics of Hip-Hop
Despite the national prevalence of hip-hop in the United States, there remains a strong and vocal fraction of the community who believe that hip-hop represents social subversion, chauvinism, aggression, vulgarity, profanity, and little else. One such argument likens the hip-hop community to a mere vehicle for antagonistic social insurrection, rather than a credible method of productive social reform. Some believe that “Members of the hip-hop nation form an ‘imagined community’ that is based less on its realization through state formation than on a collective challenge to the consensus logic of U.S. nationalism” (Decker, 54). This argument attempts to undermine the intentionality of hip-hop and its effects; thus, promoting the notion that any positive socio-cultural change was a mere offshoot of rebellion.
Hip-hop has always been controversial, and for good reason. When you watch a children's show and they've got a muppet rapping about the alphabet, it's cool, but it's not really hip-hop. The music is meant to be provocative—which doesn't mean it's necessarily obnoxious, but it is (mostly) confrontational, and more than that, it's dense with multiple meanings. Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don't necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it.— Jay-Z
How Hip-Hop Promotes Social Awareness
While the basis of hip-hop's opponents’ arguments are founded and reasonable, they do not in any way mitigate the overall influence of the "Hip-Hop Nation" as a notable medium for social mobility, particularly for black and other marginalized communities. “More than simply entertainment, hip-hop is a major part of contemporary identity circuits–networks of philosophies and aesthetics based on blackness, poverty, violence, power, resistance, and capitalist accumulation.” (Pardue, 674) Music has been a powerful technique for engendering social awareness throughout American history. Music simultaneously reflects trends, ideals, conditions in society, and inspires attitudinal progression and social change. To this end, hip-hop in the United States can be perceived as “a blend of reality and fiction” insomuch that “rap music is a contemporary response to conditions of joblessness, poverty, and disempowerment… it is a rebellion against white America’s economic and psychological terrorism against Black people.” (Smitherman, 5) The increasing popularity of hip-hop culture throughout the nineties can be likened to an actual social revolution of significant proportions. Traditionally, oppressed groups are able to use the music to convey their plight and circumstances. And, in that way, they rebel both overtly and covertly against oppressive conventionalities within that society.
The Evolution of Hip-Hop's MCs
Since its inception, hip-hop has progressed to the point where, to a certain extent, it governs culture. The power of media, music, and pop culture has never been so powerful, and its reach continues to inflate through market expansion and an ever-increasing consumer base. “Now media and entertainment such as pop music, film, and fashion are among the major forces transmitting culture to this generation of Black Americans.” (Kitwana, 7) Hip-hop is arguably the voice of an entire generation. Hip-hop Nation transforms from being a mere method of advertisement and awareness promotion into a formidable cultural force within itself that has a heavy hand in the construction of both individual and community identities. “Blacks across the country who identified with [rap] were informed by it a medium through which to share national culture. In the process, rap artists became the dominant public voice of this generation.” (Kitwana, 10) In this way, artists ranging from MC Hammer to Dr. Dre, Tupac to Snoop Dogg (and other G Funk artists) acted as the mouthpieces of a generation in need of guidance and direction in terms of identity and voice.
The need for strong black national icons in the pop culture scene stands as a testament to the confusion and lack of prescribed purpose that plagued the nineties’ generation of black youth. “Historically, African Americans have shown a strong degree of racial solidarity, largely because they had common problems and saw their fate as intricately linked.” (Collins, 14) The harsh discrimination that black people faced in America throughout the nation’s history logically fostered intense sentiments of solidarity among the black community. Racial solidarity came to a head in the fifties and sixties in the form of the African American Civil Rights Movement, in which blacks throughout the United States performed acts of civil resistance in an attempt to incite political and social change. In short, nineties rap can be seen as the result of a generation of black youth who grew up in the shadow of those who fought for their rights, but did not delineate a clear line of action for the youth to follow in their footsteps.
What makes me saying ‘I don’t give a f***,’ different from Patrick Henry saying ‘Give me liberty or give me death?’ What makes my freedom any different than Bosnians or who ever [America] wants to fight for this year?— Tupac Shakur
How Hip-Hop Redefined Cultural Norms
Additionally, the rights given to black people during and after the Civil Rights Movement left the following generations at a loss for how to continue the fight for black rights, how to determine the more subtle forms of racism and discrimination, and how to properly answer the question of how far to push their obvious political dissent. The changes in the national social climate made for notably confusing times, “because Black nationalist thinkers have historically been highly vocal in identifying the importance of Black identity and Black culture for political struggle. [Hip Hop] can use Black nationalism to explore the challenges that confront African Americans in the post-Civil Rights era.” (Collins, 20) In the face of racism, hip-hop artists (such as Tupac) are able to create a balance between the promotion of black rights and individuality. “The intense vulnerability many young people felt with respect to the vicissitudes of daily life, [caused] their need for a figure who could resist overt and more subtle injuries.” (Dimitriadis, 4) In this way, hip-hop artists can be regarded as important public figures for young marginalized black youth who would otherwise lack an important pool of relatable leaders.
To this end, hip-hop culture redefined cultural norms and practices nationwide by establishing new modes of learning, conduct, and social interaction. The nineties saw a marked increase in the establishment of street gangs as a direct response for coveted social reform. The emphasis of the street in the upbringing of communities of lower socioeconomic standing augments the power of street education. “Media and popular culture play important roles in young people’s lives and must be explored as a kind of alternative ‘lived’ curriculum… young people today are using these texts to construct locally validated selves and senses of community, linked to shared notions of what it means to be black and marginalized in the United States.” (Dimitriadis, 2-8) Street education and “street smarts” are directly related to the culture surrounding hip-hop music. Consequently, street education both colors the thematic elements of hip-hop and is structured in turn by that what those themes generally promote.
Throughout the nineties, many young people incorporated hip-hop into their daily lives. In fact, hip-hop completely redefined traditionally “proper” methods of social interaction. “Hip-hop culture is one key social medium in which many young men and women of color (particularly in the US, but also increasingly in other societies) construct their gender.” (Munoz-Laboy, Weinstein and Parker, 616)
Genres and Artists That Influenced Hip-Hop
Rhythm and blues is a genre of popular music that originated in African American communities in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat" was becoming more popular.
Funk is a music genre that originated in African-American communities in the mid-1960s when African-American musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). Funk de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bass line played by an electric bassist.
Soul music is a popular music genre that originated in the African American community in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s. It combines elements of African-American gospel music, rhythm and blues and jazz.
Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music."
Rock and Roll
Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s. It's known for its use of electric guitar and a steady kick drum heavy beat.
Roll performers; poets, and writers like Iceberg Slim; and stylistic forebears like Muhammad Ali and Richard Pryor were all major influences on hip hop culture.
Effects of the "Hip-Hop Nation"
Despite heavy debate over the specific extent of hip-hop’s ability to influence a society, the fact remains that the Hip-Hop Nation that developed in the nineties retains heavy cultural significance and should be regarded seriously in any conversation about the recent progress in U.S. culture. Hip-hop culture stands as a poignant and historically significant factor in U.S. society. It represents a reflection of socio-political woes and widespread sentiment of traditionally marginalized and oppressed communities. As such, hip-hop is a vehicle for social commentary and awareness, as well as an avenue for public discourse. In these considerations, 1990s hip-hop development marked a culturally nuanced and significant movement in both its reflection of the discontented social climate at the time and its ability to construct and reconstruct socio-cultural norms.
What is your favorite genre of music?
- 80% Hip-hop
- 1% Classical
- 2% Jazz
- 5% Rock
- 6% Pop
- 6% Other
FAQ About Hip-Hop
When Did Hip-Hop Start?
Hip-hop is an underground urban movement and music genre that emerged in The Bronx (New York City) in the 1970s and focused primarily on emceeing skills. That said, many people think that the roots of rap and hip-hop date back to the African “griots,” who were village storytellers who played basic handmade instruments while they told stories about their families. As a result, some argue that the origins of American Hip-hop truly date back to the African-American storytellers in the south. Nevertheless, the genre was made popular in the 1970s and '80s, when new technology allowed for songs to be made without needing a live band.
Who Started Hip-Hop Culture?
DJ Kool Herc, a.k.a. Clive Campbell, is often credited with laying the first building block of hip-hop back in 1973. Again, the origins of hip-hop likely date back much further, but it was Herc who gave a language to this emerging phenomenon when he reportedly hosted a party in his building (1520 Sedgwick Avenue) with a sound system used to DJ a party and described the sound at the party as "hip-hop."
Famous Rappers of Early Hip-Hop
- Grandmaster Flash
- Kurtis Blow
- The Sugarhill Gang
- DJ Kool Herc
- The Fat Boys
- Marley Marl
- Kool Moe Dee
- Kid Frost
Most Influential Hip-Hop Albums
"It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back"
"AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted"
"The Marshall Mathers LP"
When Did Rap Start?
Rap became common for the first time in America around the 1960s, when it began to pop up in the black community. (That said, musical storytelling has been a part of African culture for thousands of years.) Rap was as used as a slang word to mean that someone was talking or having a conversation.
What Does Rapping Mean?
The word "rap" is actually very old. In fact, the term pops up as early as the 15th and 16th century in Britain. Initially, the word rap meant to strike or to hit. But, a few centuries later, a slight variation of this definition, mutating the word to mean speak or talk. In America, around the 1960s, it began to pop up in the black community and was used as a slang word to mean that someone was talking or having a conversation. Now, the word has evolved again. Its new definition is "a style of music in which words are recited rapidly and rhythmically over a prerecorded, typically electronic instrumental backing."
What Are the Roots of Rapping?
In Africa, thousands of years ago, the “griots,” who were village storytellers who played basic handmade instruments while they told stories about their families and current events, began what is arguably the origins of rap music. The griot is still a major form of communication in Africa.
This griot tradition carried over when Africans were captured against their will and transported to America. This is why some argue that the roots of American rap music come from the southern United States.
Who Was the First American Rapper?
Coke La Rock is often regarded as the first rapper after he teamed up with DJ Kool Herc in 1973. Both are recognized as the original founding fathers of Hip Hop. That said, since rap music was originally underground, it's almost impossible to say who the first rapper really was.
When Did Hip-Hop Became Popular?
The Sugarhill Gang's 1979 song "Rapper's Delight" is widely regarded to be the first hip-hop record to gain widespread popularity in the mainstream. The 1980s marked the diversification of hip-hop as the genre developed more complex styles.
How Did Hip-Hop Spread?
- Radio: Because hip-hop was an underground movement, it took awhile to be played on the radio. When songs like "Rapper's Delight" became mainstream radio hits, hip-hop took off.
- Tv/music video: MTV opened up the hip-hop world, allowing for the first hip-hop videos to spread to a national audience.
- Fashion: Brands like Adidas and Nike got involved in hip-hop culture in the '80s and '90s, helping to spread the culture.
- Spoke to problems around the globe: Hip-hop's message of systemic oppression and a need to focus your energy on investing in your own communities spread around the globe, where black Europeans and black South Americans took the message to heart.
Influential Hip-Hop Artists Around the Globe
Country of Origin
"El hombre bueno que fue al infierno"
What Effect Has Hip-Hop Had Outside of the United States?
Hip-hop did not stay localized in the U.S., but spread across the world. Today, you can hear South American, African, European, and even Korean hip-hop. Since hip-hop lyrics often deal with fighting and surviving oppression, the message is wide-ranging. Many European, African, and South American hip-hop artists rap about the devastating effects of colonialism and the struggle against racism. The themes in hip-hop are relevant to many societies, so it's only natural that the genre would spread around the globe.
Miguel Munoz-Laboy, Richard Guy Parker, Hannah Weinstein. "The Hip-Hop club scene: Gender, grinding and sex". ResearchGate.net. November 2007. PubMed.
- Greg Dimitriadis. Performing Identity/Performing Culture: Hip Hop as Text, Pedagogy, and Lived Practice. 2001. Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
- Bakari Kitwana, The Hip-Hop Generation. 2008. Basic Books.
- Geneva Smitherman, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner. 2015. Oxford University Press.
Patricia Hill Collins. From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism (Politics History & Social Chan) 2006. Temple University Press.
© 2014 Kathleen Odenthal