From Rich Medina, Advisory Board, The Cornell University Hip Hop Collection, and DJ & Music Supervisor of A SUCKER EMCEE

Hip Hop is an organism made of elements all its own. The primary elements of Hip Hop are: DJing; the art of presenting music to enjoy and dance to via two turntables and a mixer. The DJ uses these tools to create a seamless musical experience with little to no “dead air” between tunes. MCing; the emcee is the party host and clever wordsmith who talks to a crowd over a DJ’s music. This creates a sense of community, or a tribal state, where call, response, and rhyme build a bridge between the DJ and the dance floor. BBoying (sometimes called break dancing); this dance form started when DJs would “backspin” by pulling records back to the top of the drum beat with two copies of the same record. Between drum breaks, bboys display their “footwork” and freestyle dance moves. Graffiti; vibrant aerosol art on non-commissioned walls and trains. Graffiti is the only form of the culture deemed “criminal” during its onset by the outside world.

Knowledge Of Self; the unofficial 5th element, coined by founder of the Almighty Zulu Nation, Afrika Bambaataa. Bambaataa was the former leader of the Black Spades, the most powerful gang in the South Bronx in the early 70’s, who had an epiphany after traveling to Africa. There, he witnessed a tribalism other than the gang tribalism in the Bronx. Upon his return, he renounced his leadership of the gang and created the Almighty Universal Zulu Nation whose tenets are built on peace, unity, love, and understanding. These tenets faced severe resistance from other gangs, but through Bambaataa’s influence as a DJ, alongside pioneering DJs like Kool Herc (the “Godfather of hip hop”), Grand Wizard Theodore (inventor of scratching), and Grandmaster Flash, hip hop culture became a phenomenon of dance, celebration and art that gave the Bronx and the other boroughs hope. Before long, gang members spent more time practicing the tenets of this yet unnamed culture. Dance, DJing, rhyming, and graffiti took precedence over violent turf wars and former gang members began competing creatively.

Hip hop is as American as baseball and apple pie. Each of its components represent an art form birthed from a generation who embraced innovation and fearless expression. The DIY guerrilla creative perspective that hip hop sparked is now embraced across the international mainstream.

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Photo by Monique Carboni