The Geography of Hip-Hop
Politics and Activism

The Geography of Hip-Hop

A Presentation by Omar Akbar Young

781
Karin Yearwood

The Murray Speakers Series at Towson University in the Department of Geography and Environmental Planning welcomed a guest speaker from Howard University to give a detailed but brief presentation on the history and expansion of hip-hop culture.

Hip-hop is America's largest cultural export. At just 42 years old, the art form has spread to every corner of the world, making it a global movement. There has been no decline in its consumption. Instead, hip-hop has reached a global audience through new ideas, sounds, speech, and fashion. We have greater cultural diversity because of hip-hop.

The irony in the greatness of this culture is that its origins are from the impoverished and disenfranchised. People with minimal resources lacked the agency to produce what most people would expect from art. But sometimes not having much of anything gives us the grit to transcend limitations and create something great.

There are many complex art forms that grew from small, unassuming aspects of our history. The term "jazz" came from brothels when customers were being urged to move along quickly. The phrase was "jazz it up." Rock and roll originates from a slave call and response communication used on plantations.

Hip-hop has actually received much of its growth stimulus from urbanization and the redefinition of space. Economic shifts like gentrification and displacement have created new spaces for artists to thrive and become part of pop culture.

Contrary to what most believe, the culture is broader than rap music. DJing, B-boying, and Graffiti are three elements that were once, and still to an extent involved in a right of passage in the communities greatly affected by hip-hop. Now there are national and global competitions for DJing and B-boying. "Battle of the Year" is a B-boying competition in Germany held every year for competitors around the world. There is also the "Undisputed World B-boying Series" in the United Kingdom and "R16" in South Korea. B-boying is the most dominate aspect of hip-hop.

But DJing is the cornerstone. In the late 60s, DJs began using an archival style of music to create new records. Over the last 30 years, we've seen DJ competitions in Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Because technology has evolved greatly since the birth of hip-hop, DJing has become an art form within itself.

Grafitti is the only aspect of the culture that is illegal without permission. Now cities have beautification projects that fund city murals. With that, artists have expanded the size and scope of graffiti. It used to be mainly teen delinquents with spray cans drawing their work on subways, train cars, and bridges in cities. Now artists create more rhetorical and honorary work that communities appreciate.

There is a vast collection of information that gives Hip-hop its foundation and character. Ancient rituals for exchanging energy; "the Black experience" through slavery, post-slavery, and the Great Migration; and conscious movements that reject white supremacy are instrumental in creating this culture.


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