Before one can begin to define hip-hop as a “global learning experience”, it is necessary to understand what hip-hop is and its importance in people’s lives. Hip-hop can be defined as a subculture that started out in the 1970s in the Bronx as an urban culture of youth that were rebellious. It encompasses four distinct elements, all of which represent the different manifestations of the culture that include: deejaying, breakdancing, rapping/emceeing, and graffiti. Since the beginning, hip-hop has expanded globally and internationally and is recognized universally as a form of music.1 Hip-hop was initially used as a type of music to dance to, further noting one of the most popular hits in hip-hop, “Rappers Delight” written by the Sugar Hill Gang still heard today. Many other raps were composed in the late 1970s and early 80s that have influenced people such as Kurtis Blow’s “The breaks” and Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message,” probably the most popular in history today.
While the early age of hip hop had been an influence on many lives, it is clear that the 80s-90s era of hip hop, often called the “Golden Age,” has presented the most influential and important artists. While some groups went about making their voices heard through tame lyrics, some went to the extremes to get their message heard. One such group that gained national popularity almost overnight was NWA. The name alone was controversial, with N.W.A. being an acronym for “N****s With Attitude.” But with the release of one of the most influential albums, “Straight Outta Compton,” which included one of the most influential songs in history, “F*** the Police,” a violent protest against police brutality and profiling, they created one of the biggest music related controversies in history and was a big target for politicians and the government to call hip hop a negative influence. 2
Hip-hop started as an art but later evolved into an industry used by the disenfranchised and mistreated in society which gave individuals a voice to express their feelings about their surroundings and lifestyles. Furthermore helping artists be recognized and respected while allowing them to broadcast their message globally to the nation through music and dancing. Aside from the benefits this art and industry offers, hip-hop can also be viewed and benefited from as a global learning experience. Just like movies, stories, and other forms of media and art that carry a message for the audience to capture and learn, hip hop and its subdivisions such as break dancing and graffiti arts also carry a message for its audience and viewers.3
In early 1987 the Palestinian had their first intifada; when there was no television, radio or newspapers, the people of Gaza used Graffiti art as a form of communication. This form of communication was the beginning of graffiti art in Gaza. Additionally, hip-hop’s global learning experience has become a subject in educational institutions and a stream of study in universities.4
Hartwig Vens argues that hip-hop can also be viewed as a global learning experience.5 Author Jeff Chang argues, “The essence of hip hop is the cipher, born in the Bronx, where competition and community feed each other.”6 The art of hip-hop through a global learning experience grants youth the chance to show their talents through the arts of dancing, singing and visual graphics. Many community organizations in different countries host various events where youth of different ages and ethnicity come together to show off their talents through the art of hip-hop. Moreover hip hop’s influence in the international events and community initiatives, which encourages youth and helps charities.
Hip-hop’s global learning experience has also advanced into schools and universities as a stream of study offering degrees and specialized studies. This advancement not only allows youth to engage in such studies relative to hip hop culture, but also allows individuals of all ages to engage in different areas such as research and teaching. An example to hip hop’s advancement as a stream of study is hip-hop Education Think Tank; this educational convention is made possible by various education centers including Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and many other educational institutions. Their objective is to bring together professionals and scholars who specialize in the field of hip hop for those who are interested to partake in the stream of hip hop culture and study. Their most recent event, hip-hop Education Think Tank III; Legacy Building; Cultivating a Global Cipher from the Streets to the Classroom hosted on November 9th, 2013 featured more than 300 scholars, practitioners and professionals from hip hop industry and art for audience of ages 18 and over.7
Hip hop as an art and industry, is viewed as a global learning experience through which it has advanced into a stream of study taught in universities and other educational institutions. Furthermore, as hip hop branches out into different forms of entertainment such as its participation in different talent shows, Hollywood movies and music productions, it contributes to the entertainment industry as well as other areas in business, economy and people’s daily lives. Hip hop’s contributions and service learnings have been illustrated through an article posted by Equator Travel blog; in 2011, hip hop producer Stephen Levitin alongside Dr. Mark Katz started a music course at the University of North Carolina.8 In 2012, professor and musician Pierce Freelon teamed up with Levitin and initiated the campaign Global Citizenship through Music. This campaign has greatly contributed to hip hop art an industry as Levitin and Freelon developed a new tool to compose music through a service learning beat making lab in which they established in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.9
This beat making lab allowed Levitin and Freelon to work and teach local musicians the process of producing music. In addition, through charitable contributions the lab was provided with the equipment needed for locals to continue teaching youth and locals the production of music. Levitin and Freelon to this day continue to make a positive impact on hip hop and contribute to the art and industry; the two will be launching labs in Chapel Hill, Panama, Senegal and Fiji and their plan is to ultimately launch a source software which creates a portal for all musicians to share their works on the web. Based on the above illustrations, hip hop as an art and industry and a learning stream can also be viewed as a global learning experience for individuals and nations through its positive impact and the artist’s contributions.10
Hip-hop as an art form was brought about to aid in expressing emotions and to bring positive change to those in need for solutions from poetry to dance to bring awareness to topics of oppression, racism, education, drug abuse, and poverty. Through commercialization and globalization, hip-hop has turned into a billion dollar industry. 11
In contrast, it also has taken a music genre with extensive roots in underground music and turned it into commercialized pop music known as “Gangsta Rap.” Becoming a mainstream commodity, albums such as Gangsta rap have played an important part in hip-hop. Considering albums such as N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It, and Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted were top selling while attracting a broader demographic. There has been a major change in lyrical content since the major record labels took over. Content started out with social and political issues and then transformed into hyper masculinity, hyper violent, and hyper sexuality.12 Furthermore, music videos have become more unrealistic and exaggerated in order to appear more marketable. One example of this would be “Brenda’s Got A Baby” by 2Pac vs. “Pop That” by French Montana. Gangsta Rap has also had a negative impact on women. Gangsta rap artists such as Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg have song lyrics that portray women as sex objects and as people who are inferior to and relying on men promoting masculine hegemony. 13
In conclusion with all of the criticism hip-hop has received in its short history, it’s clear that it has become both a positive and negative influence on the world. Hip-hop, as an art and industry is not only considered a form of entertainment, but it is also a stream of study taught in universities and educational institutions by professors and scholars. As hip hop branches out to other continents to inspire youth and train their minds while simultaneously being a source of entertainment, many artists travel overseas to pass on their knowledge, skills and experience and contribute to hip hop. Whether in the ghetto, the suburbs, or another country, hip hop makes everyone think more outside the box and makes one able to view situations from new perspectives. Hip hop has been a platform for political and social change in underprivileged regions, and has influenced and inspired a movement with the new generation ultimately translating into a global learning experience for all to benefit from for future generations to come. However, on the other hand, it is important to note that although hip hop came a long way and had many positive outcomes, its ongoing commercialization in today’s society has changed its initial message depleting the true identity of hip-hop, which was once vibrant, diverse, and a complex genre.
1 “Asserting identity through music: Indigenous hip hop and self-empowerment.” The Organic Globalizer : Hip hop, political development, and movement culture. doi:10.5040/9781501302299.ch-008.
2 Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. “N.W.A | Biography & History.” AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/artist/nwa-mn0000314793/biography.
3 “Hip Hop Movement.” Wikipedia. April 20, 2017. Accessed January 09, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_Hop_Movement.
4 Gro?ndahl, Mia. Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2009.
5 From the February 2004 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 51, No. 1), and Hartwig Vens, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (conservative), Zurich, Switzerland, Nov. 20, 2003. “Hip-Hop Speaks to the Reality of Israel.” WorldPress. Accessed January 09, 2018. http://www.worldpress.org/Europe/1751.cfm.
6 Chang, Jeff. Cant stop wont stop: a history of the hip-hop generation. London: Ebury, 2007.
7 “Hip-Hop Education Think Tank III – Legacy Building: Cultivating a Global Cipher from the Streets to the Classroom.” ShowClix. Accessed January 06, 2018. https://www.showclix.com/event/HipHopEdThinkTankIII.
8 “”We want our music to do good”.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Accessed January 09, 2018. http://www.unc.edu/spotlight/we-want-our-music-to-do-good/.
9 Howe, Brian. “Artivists Pierce Freelon and Stephen Levitin take their Beat Making Lab to the DRC.” Indy Week. January 09, 2018. Accessed January 09, 2018. https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/artivists-pierce-freelon-and-stephen-levitin-take-their-beat-making-lab-to-the-drc/Content?oid=3181957.
10 Tullis, Eric. “Hip-hop’s role at UNC finds new footing, on Franklin Street and abroad.” Indy Week. January 05, 2018. Accessed January 09, 2018. https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/hip-hops-role-at-unc-finds-new-footing-on-franklin-street-and-abroad/Content?oid=3738652.
11 Dart, Chris. “Public Enemy’s Chuck D Challenges Young Rappers to ‘Say Something’.” Spinner. September 07, 2012. Accessed January 09, 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20130628131833/http://www.spinner.com/2012/09/07/public-enemy-chuck-d-young-rappers/.
12 Weitzer, Ronald, and Charis E. Kubrin. “Misogyny in Rap Music.” Men and Masculinities12, no. 1 (2009): 3-29. doi:10.1177/1097184×08327696.
13 Giovacchini, Anthony M. The Negative Influence of Gangster Rap And What Can Be Done About It. Accessed January 09, 2018. https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/negative.htm.