Saturday, March 18, 2006

What Exactly Is Hip Hop Music?

Much too long ago I received a letter from a fan named Angie who wrote:

I have a question and it is probably stupid. I have loved rap music since probably 6th grade. I was born in 1975. I know that hip hop refers to a culture whereas rap is just the music, but is all rap music hip hop music? Is all hip hop music rap or could r & b for instance, or other types of music, also be considered hip hop music? I just want to be sure I have my terminology right.

Such an interesting question, and I like getting my terms right, too. I have yet to respond, however, because I just didn’t know the answer. Admittedly, I tend to be a purist when it ocmes to defining hip hop (yes, despite the fact that the traditional four element does not include what I do as Black Artemis) and have been quite opinionated (OK... proprietary, too) about what constitutes hip hop lit. But I felt that this question about music was one better taken to the hip hop community – especially the makers and the aficionados – to answer this question for Angie (if that can or should be done at all.)

So what do you think? What exactly is hip hop music? Does it matter? Why or why not?


j said...

I don't mind 'rap', I prefer 'hip-hop', and I definitely don't like 'urban' as an expression. I think people have been saying more and more that hip-hop represents a culture (four elements, as you mentioned), and that rap is more music than anything else. Beyond that, 'rap' music is probably commercially mainstream music, while hip-hop refers to the mainstream, the underground, etc.


Unknown said...

Hi, Jules,

I agree with you about the term "urban" which I believe is an erroneous code by marketers for Black. Meanwhile, not all things urban are Black and not all things Black are urban. Now those are interesting definitions you pose for "rap" and "hip-hop." I think an argument can be made for them, but I but anything that many artists -- especially rappers who aspire to commercial success yet pride themselves on "keepin' it real" -- would take issue. Just like when I make distinctions between "street lit" or "gangsta lit" and "hip-hop lit". . . some of the folks who read or write street lit aren't feelin' it (not that the dissent changes my mind.)