My students recently had a debate over an issue that has troubled them. It is repeated below.

PRO: Hip Hop is certainly a culture. You can Google the topic, Definition of Hip Hop as a Culture and 90 percent of the relevant result presented to you, from—Wikipedia to direct interviews with pioneers and old school experts of the process—within one to three lines of their comments, will state that Hip Hop is a culture or is a cultural movement among modern youth. Temple of Hip Hop, a website dedicated to the culture, states that “Hip Hop is the way we talk, the way we act, our fashion, the lifestyle of our people. It’s the culture of the streets.”… “Hip Hop is a collective consciousness. It is a state of mind. It is expressed through breakin’ (breakdancing), emceeing, graffiti art, deejayin’, beatboxin’, street fashion, street language, street knowledge and street businesses.” Hip hop is not Rap—Rap is merely the evolution of one aspect of Hip Hop-emceeing.

Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture Program, another website, says “Hip Hop is the constantly evolving spirit and consciousness of urban youth that keeps recreating itself in a never-ending cycle. It is joy, sorrow, pleasure, pain, victory, defeat, anger, happiness, confusion, clarity, honor, intensity, dreams and nightmares, life, death, and everything else in between.” In short, Hip Hop is a comprehensive culture invented by youth, perpetuated by youth, and sustained by and for urban youth. Through its various aspects, it speaks for and to urban youth. It is their voice.

CON: Hip hop is not a culture. At best, it is a semi- or sub-culture, derivative of and a component part of the long-standing African American culture which has been evolving for close to 400 years in this Western environment. My esteemed colleague here claims that Hip Hop isn’t a culture, and references two or three other sources that do the same thing. But merely claiming something does not make it real. I can claim to be rich and White. But clearly, that is not my reality. Cultures, like nation-states, have a specific set of features to be considered real. Specifically, to be a nation-state, a country, one must have a definite boundary, a settled population, a stable method to feed and clothe its population, sovereignty, and international recognition. Recently in the news, a group called ISIS has claimed nationhood because it has militarily conquered a huge swath of territory. ISIS may be able to legitimately demonstrate a population and a territorial boundary. As yet, it cannot provide a stable method of feeding and clothing its population, it does not have sovereignty, and it does not now have nor will it get international recognition (i.e., the acknowledgment and agreement by any current nations to accept ISIS within the fold). Thus, though ISIS has claimed nationhood already, it cannot fulfill all of the requirements for nationhood. Thus, at best, ISIS may be a semi-country.

So goes Hip Hop. Culture is a known entity, with specific characteristics, including:

A. Cultures must have a history or sense of origin, either mythological or real. Cultures are “from” somewhere, and participants recognize some home base.

B. The provision of a sense of belonging to its members, and a sense of distinctiveness.

C. In order to be sustainable and sustained, cultures must nurture a sense of membership pride, confidence, loyalty and well being.

D. Cultures have distinctive ways of interpreting symbols, of interacting with the natural and spiritual environment, and of communicating with both its members and others.

E. Cultures provide a sense of self-identity, self-awareness and self-worth.

F. Cultures provide a confident basis upon which to interact with other cultures.

G. Cultures have accepted creative forms, expressions, and a cultural aesthetic to evaluate them.

H. A culture has an effective method of transmitting cultural knowledge to succeeding generations, and an effective method of renewing itself as environmental factors change.

I. A culture has a population willing to be a part, and to remain a part, of the culture.

J. Cultures must provide for a vision of the future which includes its continuing existence.

K. Cultures must be larger and broader than their mere traits or characteristics.

L. A culture is not a trend or passing fad.

While Hip Hop certainly adheres to some of these requirements, it falls far short on more than half of them. Thus, Hip Hop, by definition, is not a culture. At best, it is a semi- or sub-culture of African American culture, as have been several other trends, eras or movements.

PRO: Au Contraire! Hip Hop does indeed have an accepted history. It may be a short history thus far, only 45 years or so, but the definition does not call for 400 or 3000 years. DJ Cool Herc in the South Bronx in the 1970s started it all, and it took off from there.

There are also literally thousands, even millions of youth, who consider themselves “Hip Hop heads,” and they revel in their uniqueness and distinctiveness in their talk, dress, music, dance and art. Hip Hop heads are also very loyal, and plan to be here forever. Hip Hop culture does not yet provide a sense of self-worth, I have to concede, but it does provide a sense of self-confidence and pride. Hip Hop is endlessly creative, even though the media has mistakenly identified Rap music as Hip Hop.

Hip Hop art (beyond graffiti) has spread worldwide, Hip Hop dance styles have influenced modern dance everywhere, and Hip Hop features have dominated music in the U.S. and other countries for more than four decades. We know what is and what is not Hip Hop art and music. Hip Hop is certainly not a trend or fad. Those do not last 45 years and counting. As it stands, Hip Hop satisfies more than 80 percent of your operational definition of what a culture is. That should be enough. Don’t sacrifice the good for the perfect. Admit it. Hip Hop is a culture in the making. It is here to stay, and it is solidly grounded.

Afrika Bambaataa, one of Hip Hop’s important pioneers, recently said, “Hip Hop is a culture, or lifestyle if you wish. It’s a culture, it’s a state of mind, it’s a language, it’s fashion, it’s styles, it’s something you feel every moment of your day.” KRS One, added, “Hip Hop means intelligent movement. Hip means to know. It’s a form of intelligence. To be hip is to be up-to-date and relevant. Hop is a form of movement. You can’t just observe a hop. You got to hop up and do it. Hip and hop is more than music. Hip is knowledge. Hop is the movement. Rap is something you do. Hip Hop is something you live. Hip Hop forever!”

CON: Nice try, but no prize. Hip Hop is still not a culture. It occupies the very same station and status that the Jazz Age did in the 1920s and 1930s (and its outgrowth, the New Negro Movement, better known as the Harlem Renaissance), and the Beat Generation did in the 1950s and 1960s. Both had their own talk, musical styles, dance forms (the Charleston and Lindy Hop, for example), anti-social stances, lyrical combativeness in poetry, novels and plays, distinctive fashion statements, memorable social conduct (women smoked and wore male clothing, for example), and historical time periods. And both died out as social conditions changed and youth grew up and got jobs and families. Hip Hop will do the same, and African American culture, as it has before, will continue along. As long as Black folk identify as Black folk, there will be African American culture. Particularly, as long as Black folk love and trust rhythm—which is the foundation of Black culture. Hip Hop is and will always be a component and derivative of African American culture. It cannot outgrow its parent. Its legs and arms will remain too short.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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