What Defines Hip Hop Music?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Many people have different opinions on what defines hip hop music. In this blog post, we explore some of the different elements that make up this genre of music.

Origins of Hip Hop

Although often considered a recent development, hip hop music actually has deep roots in African American culture. Its origins can be traced back to the 1970s, when DJs in the Bronx began experimenting with breaking, or cutting up, records. They would play only the parts of songs that they liked, or that got the crowd moving, and seamlessly put them together to create a new sound. This new style of music, which came to be known as hip hop, quickly gained popularity throughout New York City.

DJ Kool Herc

Hip hop music first gained popularity in the Bronx, New York City, in the 1970s. Hip hop culture consists of four elements: MCing (also called rapping), DJing, break dancing, and graffiti writing. DJ Kool Herc is a Jamaica-born DJ who is credited with inventing hip hop. His style of music was inspired by Jamaican sound system culture.

Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash is a legendary figure in the development of hip hop music. As a result of his innovative scratching and mixing techniques, he is widely credited with helping to make rap and hip hop mainstream in the 1980s.

Born Joseph Saddler in Barbados, Grandmaster Flash moved to New York City with his family as a child. He began his music career as a DJ in the South Bronx, where he quickly earned a reputation for his skills. In the late 1970s, he formed the group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which would go on to become one of the most successful hip hop groups of all time.

In addition to his work with the Furious Five, Grandmaster Flash also released several solo albums and collaborated with other artists on numerous occasions. He has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Hip Hop Hall of Fame, cementing his place as one of the most important figures in hip hop history.

Elements of Hip Hop

Hip hop music, also called rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans in the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican immigrant, is credited as the father of hip hop. Hip hop music consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted.


In hip hop’s earliest days, the music only existed in live form, and the music was spread via tapes of parties and shows. Hip hop mixtapes first appeared in the mid-1970s in New York City, featuring artists such as Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. As more tapes became available, they began to be collected and traded by fans. In 1979, an underground urban movement known as “hip hop” began to form in the Bronx, New York City. It focused on emceeing (or MCing) over house parties and neighborhood block party events, held outdoors. Hip hop music has been a powerful medium for protesting the impact of legal institutions on minorities, particularly police and prisons.[26] Historically, hip hop arose out of the ruins of a post-industrial and ravaged South Bronx, as a form of expression of urban Black and Latino youth, whom the public and political discourse had written off as “delinquents”.[27]


DJing is an integral part of hip hop music. DJs use turntables and mixers to create unique sound collages from preexisting music. This can be done live or in the studio. DJs may also create beats, using drum machines and samplers. MCs often use these beats to rap over.


B-boying or B-girling is a style of street dance that started in the early 1970s by Black and Latino youths in the South Bronx, New York City. It is the first hip hop dance style to originate from the United States. The dance involves four elements: toprock, downrock, freezes, and power moves. B-boying is often incorrectly referred to as “breakdancing”.


Most people think of graffiti as illegible scrawlings or tags on buildings, trains, and other public property. But to aficionados, graffiti is an art form that can be both beautiful and stylized. It has its own history, culture, and vocabulary.

The roots of modern graffiti can be traced back to the Bronx in New York City in the late 1960s. At that time, gang members would use spray paint to mark their territory. They would also write their names or nicknames on buildings and other objects. This practice quickly spread to other urban areas in the United States, as well as to Europe and Asia.

By the 1970s, graffiti had become a fixture in New York City. Artists began to experiment with style and technique, and many of them became quite skilled at producing intricate and detailed pieces. Graffiti became increasingly associated with hip hop culture, and it began to be seen as a positive force for self-expression and community building.

Today, graffiti is no longer just about territoriality or gang affiliation; it’s about artistry and self-expression. Many cities now have legal walls where graffiti artists can showcase their work without fear of prosecution. AndGraffiti has even been embraced by the mainstream art world; it’s been exhibited in museums and galleries, and collected by wealthy patrons.

Commercialization of Hip Hop

Once a musical genre created by Black and Latino communities as an expression of their struggles, hip hop music has become one of the most popular genres in the world. Thanks in part to its commercialization, hip hop is now a multi-billion dollar industry. However, this commercialization has also led to some negative consequences, such as the objectification of women and the glorification of violence.

Gangsta rap

In the late 1980s, gangsta rap became the center of attention in the hip hop world. Gangsta rap is a form of music that often tells stories of crime and violence. The first gangsta rap song is often considered to be “6 ‘n the Mornin'” by Ice-T. Gangsta rap soon became the most commercially successful form of hip hop. In 1993, Dr. Dre’s album “The Chronic” was released and sold over five million copies. Death Row Records, which was founded by Dr. Dre, helped to make gangsta rap more popular.

Gangsta rap is often criticized for its glorification of violence and crime. Many gangsta rappers have been arrested and imprisoned for crimes such as murder, assault, and drug trafficking.

Hip hop fashion

In the early days of hip hop, fashion was more about practicality than style. Baggy clothes were worn to give freedom of movement when breakdancing, and bright colors were used to stand out in a crowd.

As hip hop became more commercialized, fashion became more about style and Status. Big names like Sean “Diddy” Combs and Jay-Z started their own clothing lines, and designer brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton began to create special collections inspired by hip hop culture.

Today, hip hop fashion is all about being unique and expressing your personality. You can see this in the way that celebrities like Kanye West and ASAP Rocky dress, as well as in the way that streetwear brands like Supreme and Off-White are collaborations with high-end designers.

Hip hop films

Hip hop films are a subgenre of rap music films that emerged in the early 1980s. These films are usually characterized by their use of urban settings and stereotypical characters, as well as their focus on violence, drugs, and sex. Many of these films were made on shoestring budgets and were unable to achieve mainstream success. However, some hip hop films, such as Wild Style (1982) and Beat Street (1984), have gone on to become cult classics.

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