Written by Mass Dosage
Hip-Hop: The 4 chambers
Rap music is a part of Hip-Hop, but Hip-Hop is not necessarily a part of Rap music. Confused? You're not alone - many people out there don't even know what Hip-Hop is, incorrectly thinking that's it's either some kind of 80's dance music or some local thing. Far from it - Hip-Hop is an entire culture, a way of living, that was born in the BDX (Boogie Down Bronx) in the late 70's. From these humble roots as a form of boasting over beats at parties, it moved into the parks of New York where DJ's got involved behind turntables whilst the MC's experimented with rhyming to move the crowds. At the same time, graffiti and breakdancing, which were there from the beginning, started evolving. These four facets (rapping, DJ'ing, graffiti and breakdancing) are now represented to varying extents under one unified banner called Hip-Hop.
By its very nature, graffiti breaks rules and is regarded by many outside of culture as nothing more than vandalism and wanton destruction of property. These people have never felt the thrill of popping open a spray can and creating a piece that will be seen by thousands of people (or more, depending on the ambition and courage of the graf artist!) Graffiti is not sloppily scrawled obscenities, but rather huge, colourful masterpieces - often with a message behind them. If rap is ghetto poetry, graffiti is ghetto art at it's finest - with no money for fancy canvasses and oils, graffiti emerged dictated by economics as pure, untampered youthful expression. It appeared wherever it could be seen (walls, subway trains, and there is even a rumour that an aeroplane got done!) as there were virtually no other mediums available (art galleries in the middle of Compton? Please!). Graffiti went through a phase where galleries decided it was trendy to display these urban works, but graffiti on canvas just wasn't the same as on a subway train and the 'arty crowd' soon proved their fickleness and moved on, shrugging the artform off as a fad.
Breakdancing underwent a very similar process - becoming commercialised in numerous Hollywood movies, sitcoms etc. Once again it was dispelled as a fad and kicked back into the ghetto from whence it came. Towards the end of the 80's the big moment came for Rap music - a few artists managed to garner some commercial success and America and then the world latched onto this latest 'fad'. Out of the four disciplines of Hip-Hop, this one blew up in a way that could never have been expected - not only did the artists sell millions of albums, but a slew of record companies, TV shows, clothing labels, and numerous related 'industries' sprang up. Rappers had the entire world beating down the doors of their record labels to find out the reality behind their lyrics. Then came the problem : once again the fickle crowd who dubiously deemed Rap cool, deemed it uncool, but this time Hip-Hop just wouldn't listen. It refused to pack its bags and go back home. Instead it invoked it's instincts and metamorphosed into many forms, ensuring survival. Rap was no longer Rap, it was now Jazz Rap, Gangster Rap, Reality Rap, Commercial Rap, Metal Rap, Weeded Rap etc. And just when the anti-Rap lobbyists thought they had it cornered on grounds of being too violent and drugged, it splintered into the many regional sounds that have now become the focal point within the culture : specifically the East Coast, West Coast issue.
Unfortunately this strength has also proved to be its weakness and the Rap industry is teetering on constant evolution through competition on the one side, and divide and conquer on the other. And just when the entire culture seems to be hanging in the balance, the 4th chamber gets ready to unload. With the recent release of DJ Funkmaster Flex's "60 minutes of funk" - the demand for DJ mix tapes has focused much attention on this sub-discipline which has been developing nicely in the underground. Whether this will follow the same cycle and garner much commercial success still remains to be seen. But what it does prove is that Hip-Hop as a culture will never die - try to commercialise one aspect and the other three will go underground, evolve and come out strengthened. Because of this, Hip-Hoppers always need to be clued up on all aspects of their culture as they support and rely on one another - united they stand, never to fall!