The Following is an excerpt from Black Dot's book Urban Culture Decoded
For every cause, there is an effect. If you eliminate jobs the effects will be higher unemployment rates. If you eliminate education, then the effects will be higher dropout rates, which inevitably lead to unemployment, which leads back to higher crime rates, etc. The history of Hip Hop began with the elimination of the music, art, and dance programs in urban schools. This may not seem significant unless you understand the importance of music, art and dance to black youth. They are embedded deep within our DNA and have been a part of our culture for thousands of years. Traces of the muse have accompanied us throughout our worldly travels including our demise into slavery. We have found solace during the most wretched of times using music, art and dance as the primary outlet. Denying black people, the opportunity to dance, sing, draw, or play instruments is like denying a bird a chance to fly. So, when these programs were shut down, we were forced to create an alternate form of expression which would be later called Hip Hop. In the beginning, Hip Hop was composed of four components that we later called elements, the graffiti or aerosol artist, The DJ, The B-Boy and B-Girl, and The Emcee. Each one of these elements can be traced back to our ancient ancestry.
What was once known as Hieroglyphics in ancient times has morphed into today’s modern day graffiti or graphic artist. Some may find this to be a stretch because on the surface they are vastly different, but let’s examine just how similar they really are. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Hieroglyphs are pictures, symbols, sigils and archetypes used to convey messages. Some tell stories while others may heed warnings or foretell of future events. The original graffiti pieces served the same purpose. They were socially motivated renderings placed on stonewalls, usually tenement buildings, or subway stations and trains. They were very colorful, very enigmatic, and had to be deciphered to understand their true meanings. The fact that graffiti has been labeled vandalism links back to the elimination of the art programs, leaving a void in the outlets available to express one’s self through this medium. So, pay close attention to the child that’s always scribbling in his or her notebook. And as parents and teachers make it your priority to allow these creative juices to flow by providing the necessary tools of expression. The fact that hieroglyphs can be traced back to at least 3000 B.C. and had its origins in ancient Egypt (Khemet) should also be made known to the youth because it may instill a sense of pride in them, especially Black children since a lot of the text books in school seem to focus on slavery as their point of origin in this world. Knowing that they had a rich history and tradition long before slavery that can be linked to their writings via their ancestral DNA may cause them to take their art more serious and draw with a greater sense of purpose. But remember, we must do our part by enrolling them in art classes or buying the paint and canvases to allow them to participate in the true essence of Hip Hop.
The sacred drum has always played an intricate roll in African societies. It not only represented the external rhythm of the universe, but it also synchronized with the internal rhythm, which is the heartbeat. It speaks a language without using words and it is universally understood by those trained in its secret science. If the village was going to war, they played a certain drum pattern; if a baby was born a certain drum pattern resonated throughout the community. During slavery, slave masters banned the drum because they feared that it was being used to orchestrate uprisings on the plantations, causing many deaths. Over the course of time we were able to integrate the drum back into our culture but it wasn’t until the early seventies that a new and innovative way to play the drums using two turntables was invented. The DJ would become the new age drummer, not by design but out of necessity to compensate for the loss of actual drums. The break beats were the instrumental part of a record, usually two seconds or longer that was extended using the second turntable and a mixer. The skill level of the DJ and his or her ability to scratch, cut, and manipulate the record would determine how long the break beat was extended. This is the true definition of Hip Hop, making something out of nothing. The foundation of all music is the beat so the DJ became the most important element in Hip Hop. As Hip Hop evolved, the producer was granted the arduous task of beat maker. The intensity and pace of the drum can and will determine the mood and action of the listener. The listener’s heartbeat becomes synchronized with the beats tempo and rhythm until they become one. A lot of Hip Hop drums are angry. This could be a direct result of the environment in which a lot of beat makers are raised in, which is where most of them draw their inspiration. So, early Hip Hop was rebellious by nature. When a serene environment is provided; the affects could be the exact opposite. Our youth have the capacity to change the world one (heart) beat at a time.
The break beat had a direct effect on the B-Boys and B-Girls who would articulate the message of the drum with body movements. They would place cardboard on the ground and form a circle around it, building up the energy to a fever pitch in anticipation of the break beat dropping. Once the beat dropped each dancer would be given an equal opportunity to show their skills. No two dance moves would be the same because each dancer had a different interpretation of the language of the drum. The body becomes an instrument or vessel used to convey messages without using sound. Or should I say a very high frequency of sound that the body generates by the different geometrical angles that it forms while in motion. There could be a direct link between the B-Boy and the sacred dancers of ancient antiquity. Our ancestors performed sacred rain dances to ensure that the next season’s crops would be fruitful. There were also war dances, ghost dances, sun dances, etc. each serving a specific purpose and was highly spiritual as well. Dancing also has a healing affect. We dance to celebrate life. The therapeutic factors are endless. A fifteen-minute dance recess would probably work wonders for teachers and parents alike. The B-Boy and B-Girl helped the healing begin in the inner cities by simply dancing.
The Emcee is none other than the oracle, the storyteller, the poet, the reverend, the rebel, and philosopher. Even prophets come armed with nothing more than the word. Words are the vessel of thought and when spoken in rhythmic form; they create a very powerful harmonic frequency that becomes the building block for reality itself. The intent of the thought that goes into the word is equally important because thought has a magnetic vibration. If your intention is to change the world for the better using words of love, peace and happiness; chances are you will do just that. First your immediate world will be transformed and then depending on what mechanism is used to amplify your words like microphones, recordings, books, movies, etc. will determine at what rate the world, will change. Even the Book of Genesis speaks of God using sound vibration to form creation. Therefore, it is so important to watch your words. But it is even more important guard your thoughts. Another important factor is where you draw your inspiration from to speak. In the Genesis of Hip Hop, the Emcee drew a lot of inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement, soul singers, and activist of that era, but the immediate inspiration was drawn from the environment itself. So, when a young lyricist is constantly rapping about drugs, crime, sex and mayhem, it is usually a direct connection to what he or she sees daily. Without the proper understanding of the magnetism of thought, one can easily use words to create a negative catch 22. If all that our youth rap about is what they see, and what they see is negative; they then create a future based on the same negative energy. And we wonder why the situation in the “Hood” never changes. We need to challenge Emcees and poets to project the future through their positive thoughts and words. Hip Hop is about changing a negative into a positive, and the power of the emcee is a very critical component in changing the world around us.
The history of Hip Hop at its best is a lost generation’s subconscious attempt to morph fragments of its glorious past into a new form of expression. While this past may lay dormant or be suppressed from time to time, any number of events or circumstances can unlock or activate the necessary DNA sequences that can bring this reawakening about. In or around the year 1973, the climate was perfect with all the police brutality, racial climate, unemployment and dismissal of art and music programs in public schools. The reason that I say that this came from the subconscious mind is because most of the early participants of Hip Hop did not intend to bring this change about on a global scale. They were simply addressing the needs of their community by using the tools at their disposal. But that doesn’t negate the fact that this small group of inner city teens changed the world with music, art, dance, and the power of the word.
Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. didn’t start out to change the world, he too was out to address the immediate needs and concerns of the community he was serving which led to boycotts, strikes, sit ins, etc. The world hasn’t been the same since. The history of Hip Hop is the history of our people’s struggle in this country for change. Long before gangster rap, commercialism, or the corporate takeover, Hip Hop was the voice of the people by the people. Long before hip-hop was compartmentalized to serve different agendas; it was about “peace, unity, love and havin fun”. The legendary founder of Hip Hop culture Afrika Bambaataa who would later state that knowledge was the fifth element of Hip hop coined this phrase. Without the knowledge of our history, without the knowledge of the science of acoustics, without the knowledge of the power of thought, without the knowledge of hieroglyphs, drumming, sacred dancing and the power of words, we do Hip Hop an injustice.
Most of our youth from the inner cities feel like Hip Hop is their way out of the hood, financially. But rarely do they see the importance of using Hip Hop to enhance them spiritually or even culturally for that matter. Hip Hop has yet to fill this void and modern day rap doesn’t even acknowledge that there is a void. As long as you’re getting paid no matter how degrading or detrimental the lyrics and messages are seemed to be is the only thing that matters. We have corporate America and the media to thank for that. If parents and teachers can properly teach the history of Hip Hop, then they automatically are teaching about our history. Hip Hop is just a frequency that our youth are currently tuned into. To affectively reach them in any capacity we must align ourselves to that specific frequency. Just as these corporations have Hip Hop commercials to sell their products, we must find a unique way to tune mathematics, science, history, politics, and real economics into the frequency of Hip Hop. Not the other way around since at the current moment, Hip Hop is the frequency with the strongest current. Parents and teachers must ride the wave. The problem is we expend too much energy swimming against the current or going against the grain. What this causes is a standoff between figures of authority (parents, teachers) and “rebellious” youth. If you can’t beat them, join them but join them with the understanding that we are guides. And no matter how much they may deny it; they are truly looking for guidance. So, find the diamonds in the ruff within Hip Hop. Today’s rap is not a true reflection of Hip Hop but we can still use it to gage the current temperament of our youth, and then aggressively match it with the energy and spirit of real Hip Hop.
The Black Dot is the author or the underground classic Hip-Hop Decoded, and his new book, Urban Culture Decoded.