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  • Writer's pictureBen Hicks

The Impact of Hip Hop on Culture

The Bronx, New York - For more than half a century, hip hop music has served as an art form that represents the stark divides in American socioeconomic culture. The branch of music which possesses both brash and melodic styles, was popularized in urban centers across the nation, before diffusing into the suburbs of Middle America and onto mainstream radio. To fully grasp the development of a truly American form of music, a chronological history lesson on hip hop’s growth is necessary.

Hip hop culture was born and bred in the alleyways and at the block parties of The Bronx in the early 1970s. All throughout the borough, disk jockeys of African, Caribbean, and Latino descent blended previous reggae, jazz, and R&B flows into rap, leading to the spread of hip hop far beyond its birthplace. By the early 1980s, hip hop had spread nationwide into other densely populated urban centers, including Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles, yet the cultural staple of the black experience still hadn’t reached mainstream notoriety.

That would change in the mid-’80s with the introduction to rivalry that would define hip hop for the next two decades. Public Enemy and Run-DMC popularized hip hop all across the East Coast moving urban-center cultures away from the dysfunction caused by poverty and drug usage, while N.W.A., Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg broke through on the West Coast with a stylistic approach to hip hop, affectionately called gangsta rap, truly embodying the California experience. This rivalry would define hip hop throughout the 1990s with two fresh cultural icons taking center stage in 1994.

Tupac Shakur stole the streets of Compton in the mid-’90s with a plethora of hip hop hits, headlined by California Love, while The Notorious B.I.G. took over the east coast, as the one-on-one rivalry between the two overshadowed the East vs. West battle for a short period of time. The rivalry didn’t just extend to music unfortunately, as both stars were shot dead in their 20s in gang-related issues.

As the millennium turned, however, hip hop listeners were still largely concentrated in metropolitan areas along both coasts. A new figurehead for rap would change with the release of the The Marshall Mathers LP in 2000. Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Eminem is credited with bringing the rap scene into the suburbs of white and middle America.

Eminem’s rise to prominence wasn’t without angst, as a white artist climbing to the top of a black genre wasn’t received well.

Up to present day hip hop has remained the popular genre among America’s youth. Although the geographical and individual rivalries have largely died down, the cultural impact has remained with figures such as Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar and Fayetteville, North Carolina’s J. Cole, continuing the legacy of southern rap, figure headed by Outkast fifteen years earlier.

All in all, the evolution and diffusion of hip hop over the past fifty years has led to both cultural disputes and connection across the United States. Whether white or black, poor or rich, or rural or urban, hip hop finds a way to represent the culture that defines America, togetherness through differences.

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