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Sample Essay on the Hip Hop Subculture

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Sample Essay on the Hip Hop Subculture


A subculture is a group that operates with a different set of cultural rules and values within a larger culture. A subculture has all the four aspects of a culture which are: it requires learning, uses symbols, is shared and integrated into a whole while still belonging to a larger cultural group.Subcultures develop often as countercultures to the one of the mainstream communities and have been identified to have their own subversive values different from mainstream values. Hip hop culture developed in the US in the early seventies from the ostracized African American community. Since then, it has grown and as shown below the subculture has been commercialized to the extent it is a lifestyle.

The Hip hop subculture was developed in the state of New York from communities of African descent. The locations were predominantly low income and there was a feeling of non-acceptance by the mainstream American community. Hip hop developed from the block parties that were hosted in the Bronx by DJ KoolHerc who is identified as the father of Hip hop since he developed the breakbeat (Hess, 2010: 5). Hip hop rap was used as a meansof expression for those who participated in events to state their frustrations and problems within the society.Hip hop culture has always incorporated Disc Jockeying as a part of it and sampling of music is a common practice. The sampling has leads to the development of new music from old making older songs remain relevant. The term hip hop was not originally used as a complement and was in fact an insult on the style by one of the rapping groups however it became the name for it. Many of the terms used in hip-hop are credited to the Furious Five and other rap groups of the seventies.


Description of Hip hop Culture

            Hip hop culture must be taught for one to understand many of its aspects and history giving it the learning aspect of culture. This would involve learning about the history of New York and the areas where it developed. In spite of hip hop’s association with the African American community, there have been cases of people from other racial groups being accepted by the community. Hip hop culture is also malleable and with time has incorporated other aspects that were not in it in theearlier periods. This includes the decline of the requirement to remain authentic when rapping or keeping songs to be about serious issues within the community (Rabaka 2011: 49). Several rappers who often claim to have grown in hardship have been discovered to have grown in middle class or even upper class households such as Lil Wayne son of hip hop veteran Birdman and Drake who was acting in programs since he was a young child. The decline in authenticity often labeled as “keeping it real” is seen as Rick Ross raps on themes about being drug dealers from a criminal’s perspective yet he has served as a correction officer. That in spite of this discovery he hascontinued to remain popular is proof of the changing requirements of hip hop. The foundation of hip hop was the lack of identity and discontent that the African-American community felt about their situation (Avery 2012).

Hip hop uses symbols including hand signals to represent whether a rapper is from the west side or East side which are the areas where rap culture is most dominant. Graffiti is also frequently used as the style of art for the hip hop subculture with the main themes being racism against African Americans, crime and racism. The main language of hip hop is African American Vernacular English Also known as Ebonics that differs from mainstream American English. The use of Ebonics is significant to Hip hop as it is the indigenous language of African Americans.Ebonics developed from the African American community that lived in the US from the era of the slave trade and developed as an independent language. The language has grown and there is often wordplay in rhyme and the use of double entendre. The double entendre shows that the language has grown and a word now has more than one meaning.Words such as pig is used both as the animal and a derogatory word for the police, this is demonstrated in Lil Wayne’s song RAF where he says “never talk to the cops, I don’t speak pig Latin”. Pig Latin is an English game that involves the shifting of syllables and the rapper could be saying that either he does not play the game or does not speak the language of the police. The Hip Hop culture is also shared and is not limited to a single ethnic group. It has spread and even people in other states out of its state of origin participate in it.Rap also has continued to use the derogatory term for Africans‘Nigga’ which is the common way for the hip hop members to refer to each other as. The use of the word in the hip hop culture is different from the mainstream culture as in hip hop it is used as a term of endearment and camaraderie. The challenge of the acceptance of hip hop by mainstream culture is that the word is regarded as an insult when not used by African- American people who have gained the approval of the hip hop community.

Hip Hop and the surrounding society

            Hip hop has not been welcomed by all members of the community due to its association with crime, misogyny, and association with uneducated members of the black community. The genre of music has been blamed for violent lyrics and music which have been cited as a reason for the high crime rate of the African American community. In nineteen eighty nine Niggaz with Attitude released the song F—k the police which was criticized as inciting civil disobedience against the police (Dawkins: 63). Referring to the police as pigs has also been shown as inciting disregard for the law due to its derogatory comparison to animals which are dirty. This has made Hip hop find opposition from those supporting music with family values. Hip hop has also been accused of misogyny due to referral of women as bitches and whores in rap music and the depiction of over sexualized women in graffiti. The over-sexualization of women is also seen through the dance moves women use in contrast to the B-boy style commonly used by men. Men in the hip hop culture are hyper-masculine with approval of those who appear physically strong, dominate their women through violence and are prone to violence on others. The hyper-masculinity of hip-hop culture has not received acceptance by members of other communities due to its association with violence. Hip Hop has therefore constantly been associated with the lower class African Americans due to this and the music is not accepted by more educated circles. The obscenity of hip hop has been blamed for the reason many of those who participate in it cannot rise to higher income. This is because they are engaged in rap battles with low pay instead of acquiring skills for higher paying jobs.

The acceptance of hip hop by the rest of the community is an issue that must be addressed as it is an indicator of the Dreyfus affair of eighteen nineteen four where due to racism a Jewish citizen of France was unfairly jailed and sent to solitary confinement. Weber pointed out that there was institutionalized racism within the French nation and it was a problem as the nation had not yet accepted the Jewish community as being French nationals and would treat them as outsiders. The hip hop community and African community had also likewise faced challenges in acceptance by the larger national community. The hip hop community has however developed having its own definitions of coolness and socially desirable characteristics that are now facing commercialization.The coolness of Hip hop has resulted in other members not of its community purchasing items which would make them be identified as cool.These items include Hip hop artists albums, learning of hip hop jargon and even the entry of non African-Americans into rap. There has been an increase of acceptance of rap to the point that events which use to be attended mainly by black people are now attended mainly by white people (Rodriguez 652). It is viewed as cool to be of white ancestry and manage to hang out to attend hip hop events showing tolerance for other people’s culture. Hip hop artists have also found significant commercial success due to its acceptance and there has been a risk of the original audience of rap being neglected as rappers seek more commercially successful ventures and audience (Rodrigues 653).

Subculture participation and Identity

            The hip hop subculture has been used to create an ethnic identity for African Americans who felt that the mainstream culture did not provide them with a sense of community.Hip hop has also provided them with a voice where they can speak of the social injustices as well as vent anger over social injustices. Hip hop has provided particularly low income earners with a community where they are accepted in spite of their social status and are even encouraged by it. The practice of keeping it real has also led to more trust within members of the hip hop community. The hip hop subculture has its own style of dressing that members use to identify with and has assisted low income households to feel socially acceptable. The baggy clothes of hip-hop originated from the practice of poor parents purchasing large clothes for their children so that they would grow into them saving money for purchases as they developed. The Ebonics predominantly used to rap in has led to many African Americans having difficulties finding jobs particularly those that require for someone to speak to customers due to their vernacular influence (Harris: 2010). Hip hop has provided an environment where not only is the accent accepted but encouraged and viewed as authentic.

            Graffiti has also been used as a method to show territory by gangs and as a method of expression. Gangs will spray their markers on various walls marking their territory and marking over them is a sign of hostility between gang members. The use of graffiti as the art form of the hip hop culture is recognized by the different categories of graffiti artists there are. Tagging is a common method of it where artists would spray walls with the target being to spray the largest surface area. There is a hierarchy among graffiti artists with scribblers and toys being the lowest and writers being the most respected of the artists (Rahn 1999).Feminism has developed in the hip hop culture as Hip hop videos also led to the acceptance of the African–American ideal of beauty which previously had not been accepted by American society. It has also developed through female artists such as Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill who have questioned gender roles within the hip hop community. Feminism has also been seen when female students protest if they find the depiction in a video inappropriateand members of the community have had to defend their actions or apologize for them (Cheairs, 2005).  


The hip hop subculture developed in New York in the early seventies with DJ KoolHerc being identified as its pioneer. The subculture developed mainly around the entertainment sector with themes such as turn tabling and B-boy style of dancing. Hip hop subculture further developed by the development of rap music which members of the community use to express themselves with. The subculture of hip hop developed due to the inability of African Americans to integrate successfully with the mainstream culture and therefore developed their own culture to identify with. Hip hop has aided in the development of a sense of identity for many African Americans especially since it uses their vernacular to rap. As more is learnt about hip hop, we can develop a better understanding of subcultures.    



Avery. 2012. Chris Brown and Drake? How Sad.Online.Greenpointers.

Cheairs, Katherine. 2005. Radical Women: Women Feminism and Hip Hop. Online.Freedom Socialist Party.

Dawkins, Alesan. M. 1998. Voices Underground Voices as Black Rhetoric.New York.New York University.

Harris, Winfrey, T. 2010. What’s so wrong with “sounding black”.Online.Psychology 

Rabaka, Reiland. 2011. Hip Hop’s Inheritance: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist. Plymouth. Lexington Books.

Rahn, Janice. 1999. Painting without Permission:An Ethnographic Study of Hip-Hop Grafitti Culture. Material History Review.49: 23.

Rodriguez, Jason. 2006.Color-Blind Ideology and the Cultural Appropriation of Hip-Hop.Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.35 (6): 645-668.


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