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Free «The Visual Art of Hip Hop» Essay Sample


Hip hop represents one of the most significant world art movements that have existed for the past several decades. The genre has emerged in the poor ghettos of the New York City and developed into one of the most popular and influential subcultures in the world. Today, the hip hop artists dictate trends not only in music but also fashion and movie industries. The paper will critically analyze the phenomenon of the hip hop culture. The research will also cover the historical background and influence on the modern society that the genre possesses. Major hip hop artists and their contribution will be also discussed. The paper will also research the public response and social implications of the genre.

Key words: hip hop, street genre, rhythm, color, fashion, rap, graffiti, dictate.

The Visual Art of Hip Hop


Hip hop represents one of the most significant world art movements that have existed for the past several decades. In the real sense, hip hop has gone beyond just being a sub-style of rap music; it has transformed into unique cohesion of theatre, performance, dance, literature, poetry, fashion, photography, film, painting, and designs. Today, hip hop has shaped and dictated fashion to the visual culture starting from magazines, design and clothing to the world art as a whole. For instance, hip hop denotes one of the biggest ideas of the generation. It represents a grand illustration for the collective creative powers. On the contrary, after recognition, the art of hip hop have been categorized into sub-categorical themes. These themes include “spoken word poetry”, “post-multicultural theatre”, “street literature”, “urban outsider art”, and “post black art” (Schloss, 2004).



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Critical Analysis

In the actual sense, hip hop is an art movement. Hip hop contains a mainstream appeal; in addition, it has experienced some influence and associations with the visual basis alongside musically accredited movements of fine art throughout the entire history. A good example is the connection between hip hop and graffiti culture. This relationship emanates from the emergence of new and highly pervasive and elaborate forms of practice in fields, in which other hip hop elements were still evolving as forms of art with an increased overlap between the graffiti artists and people practicing other unique cultural elements.

In the recent past, the dimensions of artistic synesthesia explorations alongside scientific research into the topic have become increasingly intertwined. For example, within the 17th century, Isaac Newton, a physicist made attempts to solve the problem of developing a system of mathematics to explain the link between music and color. According to his assumptions, color tones and musical tones contain similar features, for example, frequencies. Thus, hip hop is an art. In addition, the connection between the visual and aural hip hop representations has been demonstrated clearly by different people for many years. This was from the time when Taki 183 covered the streets of New York with graffiti; the event received coverage in the New York Times, in 1971. Actually, the hip hop texts contain a lot of metaphors, allusions, and imagery. These lyrics may be used to teach tone, irony, and diction, and shape individual point of view. Texts of hip hop may be analyzed for plot, theme, character development, and motif. All these features make hip hop a kind of poetry. In the actual sense, poetry is an art and thus, hip hop is also a type of art. Hip hop simply represents a cultural form of ground breaking music alongside with self-expression through the use of elements of the graffiti art, emceeing, and DJing. Currently, hip hop is taken as the mainstream in that the mainstream Hip hop is devoid of the hip hop elements, and it is meaningless.

Consequently, graffiti is a part of hip hop, even despite the fact that it is capable of intersecting into the art world mainstream with comprehensible exhibits in galleries, in the entire world. The other important thing is that various rap, graffiti, and dance battles in hip hop represent ways for positive expression of art. Hence, it brings to the next level the protracted hip hop paean. In addition, fashion is a very important component of hip hop. Activities, like rappers, break dancers, and DJs, play a significant role in shaping the modern trends in hip hop.

The fashion of hip hop started to develop within the New York City ghettos. Various hip hop enthusiasts were ready to do their music experimenting with new styles and trends. This was inclusive of new moves and dances. Thus, they were well prepared to come up with a powerful fashion statement (Chang, 2011). The clothes put on during various hip hop performances have always illustrated unique individuality of artists. In addition, they have had a functional purpose. Cool sweaters and fat-laced Pumas looked good and were sensible. Likewise, they were good to be put on while creating and performing hard and complex break dance movements. For instance, imagination and color represent key staples, as far as fashion in hip hop is concerned. Surprisingly, graffiti accompanied both rap music and DJing during the establishment of hip hop culture. As in the case with other subcultures, various documented expressions represent a way to create beliefs and values of a given group. This is also the case with graffiti. Graffiti simply means underground art in urban areas displayed boldly in public areas. The graffiti pieces can be displayed on building sides or walls. Initially, it was utilized by citizens, to make both social and political commentary, or beautify grey ghetto walls. Additionally, gangs used it to mark their territory. The key point is that graffiti denotes a given writing or picture put on walls. These pictures constitute an important part of art, which entails color, balance, light, texture, and symmetry.

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Historical Perspective

The most intriguing aspect concerning hip hop as a form of art is that various artists in hip hop always hope to be the first at some given trend, which cause the increased popularity of rap music. Actually, hip hop music started in the New York City ghettos. Kool DJ Herc, a DJ started to break beat deejaying in parties to the Blacks and Latinos by the use of Long Playing (LP) records and turntables. This DJ played the musical part of the records singly. These parts were mixed and put between different verses of a song. Afterwards, he would repeat the break part. The use of this technique made Kool DJ Herc the first DJ of rap music. During these parties, dancers took to the floor practicing acrobatic dance moves, splits, and leg sweeps. Thus, Kool Herc named these dancers as his “b-boys.” The dance form was later known as “break dancing.” In addition, Kool would use a microphone controller (MC) in order to preside over these parties. The MC used to utilize a microphone and nonsensical expressions to offer encouragement to the crowd to dance. The name of these cadences was “MCing”. Later on, it came to be known as “rapping.” Afterwards, a disco deejay, DJ Hollywood, added some rhyme towards rapping or MCing. Among his rhymes was the word “hip hop”. Later on, hip hop would become very synonymous with the rap music; it also became associated with the culture of those individuals who took part in parties, organized by Kool Herc (Candelaria, & Kingman, 2011).

On the other hand, the Sugar Hill Gang is usually credited with many efforts in developing the hip hop culture for having recorded the first ever rap hit single in 1978. The name of this single was “Rapper’s Delight.” Subsequently, Kurtis Blow recorded the first rap single to assume a golden status by name “The Breaks.” The early recordings in rap mostly addressed deep concern issues of the Black community in America. These issues ranged from politics, racism to street violence. Rap known as “gangster rap” emerged afterwards. Within this subsequent addition to the culture of hip hop, the lyrics became increasingly violent and vulgar. Consequently, Michael Jackson created the way for music videos in rap. His music video, “Thriller”, was the first one to have been bought by MTV. All other music videos had simply been given to the music circuit for free to act as promotions for record sales. After the perfect public reception for the “Thriller” video, MTV started to show other videos done by the African-American artists.

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Selected Artists and Divergent Viewpoints

Indeed, the development of art and visual culture in hip hop has been mainly concerned with the action of doing. This trend simply represents something that must be carried out organically. Harry Allen was the most pioneering critic for hip hop music. He even referred to himself as the first self-proclaimed activist of hip hop. According to Allen, the movement and development of hip hop can be compared to the Big Bang. The vanishing point was in the Bronx. In the middle of the epoch, Afrika Bambaataa articulated aesthetic hip hop outline through definition of four key elements of style. This event marked the founding of the hip hop genre. These elements included MCing, DJing, b-boying or b-girling, and graffiti painting. According to the formulation by Allen, prior to 1979, these elements together constituted something unique and cohesive. In the actual sense, from its Athena-like downtown configuration at the turn of 1980’s, hip hop looked to have outrun the avant-garde already. On the other hand, graffiti art was celebrated as a reaction towards conceptualization and minimalism. In addition, it represented an “outsider” art, which was related to postindustrial dislocation. The internal creative force of hip hop does not rest. Since that period, young children within the neighborhood have grown from broad-eyed youngsters to confident teens with a unique style, swing, swagger and slang. These individuals keep on the hip hop culture turning (Mitchel, 2003).

Social Implications and Public Response

Certainly, hip hop has made some substantial social impact from the time of its inception in the 1970’s. Originally, hip hop was supposed to act like a flash in the pan of music genre, which was supposed to die very quickly, as was the case with the majority of fads. On the contrary, hip hop still continues to affect the American social and cultural trends. Hip hop has influenced many issues of the American life, ranging from fashion, music to dance and movies. As have been described above, the culture of hip hop started during the early 1970’s by the Latin American  and Black inhabitants of the economically deficient South Bronx. Initially, the songs tried to reveal to the public the existing social problems, such as racism, gang violence, and drug abuse, teeming within their neighborhoods. As hip hop continued to grow and develop into a global phenomenon, it started to affect fashion, language, and ways in which youth carried out communication with one another. The most important thing, which has changed with time, is the increased hip hop sexualization (Alim, 2005).

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Initially, hip hop began as a revolutionary music form. Currently, big corporations generate images according to a well-known expression “sex sells”. Thus, there exists a blatant connection between hip hop, sexualization, and pornography. In the real sense, hip hop classifies an adolescent Black woman into four sexual categories. The first category is the diva a woman trading sexual favors for luxury. The other category is the gold digger, which represents a woman trading sex for fundamental financial favors and sexual satisfaction. Such women have left many men bankrupt. In addition, there are the freak and the baby mama. This strange division has made hip hop be considered as one of the causes of moral decay in the modern society (Hess, 2007).

Public Response to Hip Hop

Actually, hip hop and rap does not simply represent entertainment. The public holds that, indeed, hip hop is greatly exploiting black girls, their beauty and physical data. Moreover, hip hop promotes unhealthy lifestyles. Therefore, the Black girls simply fail to see positive images of whom they are and what they can achieve in the future.

In the world of hip hop, women are symbols of success. Thus, they are perceived by the general public as accessories. These women simply represent a way in which various rappers prove that indeed, they have reached the top. The idea here is not that these rappers think that women are inferior creatures; in fact, they treat women as an item for collection and go around demonstrating their newly found success. Hip hop artists constantly try to appear with the hottest girls in their music videos. This fact affects young people who think that these rappers are living the perfect life. Although the reason for all the hysteria is the fact that these hip hop artists are making a fortune, these artists fail to realize the level at which their music has affected the young generations. In hip hop, cars and money are shown explicitly; in addition, artists are seen smoking opiates and drinking alcohol. When the young people are watching such videos, they start imagining that, for someone to be successful, he should have many women and smoke cigarettes and even other drugs. All these features constitute negative effects of hip hop as a genre of art. The point concerns the notion that hip hop and crime are closely associated. This has made the majority of hip hop artists be seen as criminals and some of them end up in federal jails.

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Annotated Bibliography

Schloss, J. (2004). Making art of sample-based hip hop. New York, NY: Wesleyan University Press.

Based on ten years of research among hip hop producers, Making Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop is the first work of a scholarship that explores the goals, methods, and values of this surprisingly insular community. Focusing on a variety of subjects that are ranging from hip hop artists' pedagogical methods the Afro-diasporic roots of the sampling process to the social significance of "digging" for rare records, Joseph G. Schloss examines the way hip hop artists have managed to create a form of expression that reflects their creative aspirations, moral beliefs, political values and cultural realities. Schloss tries to explore the phenomenon of sampling, the borrowing of existing pieces of music and their inclusion into entirely new compositions. This phenomenon has been radically redefined through digital sampling, which has resulted in controversy and, increasingly, considerable artistic sophistication. Examining it from a variety of angles, its history, ethics, aesthetics, audience, and practitioners. Schloss attempts the first scholarly appraisal of this art form. 

Chang, J. (2011). Can’t stop won’t stop: A history of the hip hop generation. New York, NY: Ebury Publishing.

The book introduces the major players who came up with the ideas that form the basic elements of the culture. He describes how it all began with social upheavals in Jamaica, the Bronx, the Black Belt of Long Island, and South Central Los Angeles. He not only provides a history of the music, but also gives a fascinating insight into the social background of the young Black Americans. Stretching from the early 1970’s to the present day; this is the definitive history of hip hop. It is an essential reading for all DJs, B-Boys, MCs, and anyone with an interest in the history of hip hop in America.

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Candelaria, L., & Kingman, D. (2011). American music: A panoroma. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

The book describes American music as a panorama of distinct yet parallel streams – hip hop and Latin American; folk and country; gospel and classical; jazz, blues, and rock music that reflects the uniquely diverse character of the United States. Comparing and contrasting musical styles across regions and time, Candelaria and Kingman deliver a vision of American music, both exuberant and inventive, music that arises out of the history and musical traditions of the many immigrants to America's shores. Lorenzo Candelaria is an author and award-winning teacher at the Butler School of Music, the University of Texas, Austin. He is the grant holder of prestigious the Fulbright Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities; he also obtained the Robert M. Stevenson Award from the American Musicological Society for his book The Rosary Cantoral (2008). Daniel Kingman is an American composer and Professor Emeritus at the California State University, Sacramento.

Mitchel, K. (2003). Rhyming dictionary: For rappers, DJs & MCs. New York, NY: Alfred Music Publishing.

The hip hop Rhyming Dictionary is the perfect resource to help one find the right rhyme-every time. The book includes helpful writing tips to inspire creative lyrics, as well as presents a brief history of rap and the artists, who promote hip hop to the top of the charts. Kevin M. Mitchell is a writer and a musician. He graduated from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Working as the managing editor for the campus paper, he wrote news, features, and humor pieces. This activity led him to the hilarious position as obituary writer for the Kansas City Star.

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Hess, M. (2007). Icons of hip hop: An encyclopedia of the movement, music, and culture. Chicago, IL: ABC-CLIO Publishers.

Mickey Hess is an Assistant Professor of English at Rider University. His scholarship on hip hop music has been published in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Popular Music and Society, and Computers & Composition. Hess admits in his introduction that choosing the 24 individuals profiled was a difficult task, and that the volumes are not comprehensive. The scope was kept intentionally broad to include detailed coverage of the lives and careers of a wide swath of artists representing both the “old school” and the “new school.” Most of the expected major figures are here, from Tupac to Eminem and from Run DMC to Public Enemy. Women, such as Queen Latifah and Lil’ Kim, are also included.

Alim, S. (2005). Roc the mic right: The language of hip hop culture. New York, NY: Routledge.

Roc the Mic Right is the first in-depth, book-length analysis of the most pervasive yet least examined aspect of the hip hop culture – its language. Hip hop culture has captured the minds of youth "all around the world, from Japan to Amsterdam" (Homie Kurupt), shaping youth identities, styles, attitudes, languages, fashions, and both physical, and political stances.

Samy H. Alim is an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences, Humanities and Interdisciplinary Policy Studies in Education (SHIPS) program faculty in Educational Linguistics and holds courtesy appointments in Linguistics and Anthology.

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Kato, M. T. (2007). From kung fu to hip hop: Globalization, revolution and popular culture. New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

The book explores the revolutionary potential of Bruce Lee and hip hop culture in the context of ant globalization struggles and transnational capitalism. From Kung Fu to Hip Hoplooks at the revolutionary potential of popular culture in the sociohistorical context of globalization. Author M. T. Kato examines Bruce Lee’s movies, the countercultural aesthetics of Jimi Hendrix, and the autonomy of the hip hop nation, to reveal the emerging revolutionary paradigm in popular culture. The analysis is contextualized in a discussion of social movements from the popular struggle against neoimperialism in Asia, to the ant globalization movements in the Third World countries, and to the global popular alliances for the reconstruction of an alternative world.

Adler, B., & Adams, A. (2008). Definition: The art & design of hip hop. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Art and Design of Hip Hop is the first comprehensive anthology published in the name of the genre during the last thirty-five years. This landmark volume celebrates a culture that has made its mark on everything from fine art to the label on a bottle of Hawaiian Punch, including fashion, automobiles, movies, television, advertising, and sneakers. It highlights the careers and artwork of such crucial hip hop elders as Lady Pink, Haze, Run-DMC, Dapper Dan, Buddy Esquire, Spike Lee, and Snoop Dogg, as well as contemporary giants, like Kehinde Wiley, Mr. Cartoon, Shepard Fairey, Dalek, Mike Thompson, Jor One, and Claw Money, and dozens of others, DEFinition examines the evolution of hip hop as a visual phenomenon with the historical depth that only an insider like Cey Adams can provide. Cey Adams is a hip hop graphic artist whose career has taken him from bombing subway trains to designing album covers, stage backdrops, sportswear, and indelible logos. His clients include Def Jam Recordings, Bad Boy Records, Roca Wear, Adidas, Burton Snowboards, Coca-Cola, Moët & Chandon, Comedy Central, HBO, Warner Brothers, and many others. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Bill Adler is the editor of four "New York Times" bestselling books, including The Kennedy Wit, and is also the president of Bill Adler Books, Inc., a New York literary agency whose clients have included Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, President George W. Bush, Bob Dole, Larry King, and Nancy Reagan.


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