Friday, May 21, 2010

When Hip-Hop Boarded the Soul Train

When I was watching VH1 late Wednesday night, the station aired one of their Rock Docs on "Soul Train" during their "Black to the Future" marathon called "Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America."

"Soul Train" was a television show started in 1970 by Don Cornelius, and was aimed at the general audience to show positive images of the Black community. Essentially, it was a recorded club party! They played the latest music and had different musicians perform (i.e. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, just to name a few), gave everyone the latest scoop on fashion and showed off the newest dance moves.

One thing "Soul Train" accomplished was to be the first T.V. show to air breakdancing. They cleared the dance floor and allowed a segment just for the poppers and lockers from Los Angeles to do their routine.

Although the dance element of hip-hop is known for being something from the streets, "Soul Train" broke the mold of hip-hop's being something that is only for the streets because of the glamor and positive reputation the show had on its audience.

Whatever was on Soul Train meant nothing but good things; so, when an element of hip-hop appeared in the show, the audience felt hip-hop was a positive thing to embrace. That segment opened so many doors for other hip-hop artists to grace the stage of "Soul Train." It also was the inspiration behind "Yo! MTV Raps", a show dedicated to exploring the culture of hip-hop and to entertaining the general audience with hip-hop music videos.

Basically, "Soul Train" was a stepping stone in making hip-hop approachable to people outside of the community.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hip-Hop Fashion, Music, and Sports! Thank you, Ice Cube.

An important moment in hip-hop was covered on ESPN. A moment for which I definitely wasn't ready.

In his amazing documentary titled "Straight Outta L.A." for the ESPN 30 for 30 Film Series, Ice Cube explored how the Raiders franchise, while in Los Angeles, was iconic during the Golden Age of Hip-hop, the late 1980s and early 1990s. That was a time when there was a balance in the kinds of hip-hop music surfacing in mainstream media. For example, hot groups during that time included: Public Enemy, a highly political and socially conscious group, NWA, one of the first rugged and raw gangsta rap groups, De La Soul, a free spirited group, and Kid N' Play, the rap group that was all about partying. NWA, which included Ice Cube, was one of the first groups to rock Raiders gear. Not only did it make the group look cool because of its black and grey colors, but it was something everyone could wear to look hard and not to be affiliated with a gang, unlike someone wearing blue or red.

Cube interviewed everyone from the '80s hip-hop era (including Snoop, who he plays catch with in the above video clip), as well as people from the L.A. Raiders franchise of the '80s to explain how the team had a huge impact on the city and how hip-hop put the Raiders on the map. He addressed how the team became a fashion icon for gangsta rap, how the crowds at the games consisted of hip-hop heads and urbanites, and how the movement ultimately became the reason why Al Davis pulled out of L.A. and moved to its current location Oakland.

I don't want to reveal too much about the documentary, so enjoy the clip and tune in to ESPN for its re-airing of the film. Check the
schedule for its next showing!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hip-Hop Pit Stop: Washington, D.C.

Although the birthplace of hip-hop is Bronx, New York, its development can be traced all over the East Coast, which includes the nation's capital.

Washington, D.C. is one of the places where hip-hop got its funky and rhythmic beat through the influence of Go-Go music. Go-Go was a style of funk music with a twist percussionists lived for because of its heavy reliance on drums and congas. Basically, Go-Go was a funkier and more rhythmic version of disco music. It was groovy and raw at the same time!

Dating to 1976, Go-Go blasted the D.C. music scene with bands like Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited (also known as E.U.) and Trouble Funk. Chuck Brown, who was credited as "The Godfather of Go-Go," used the improvisational type of music as a transition to the next song when he performed live with his band, The Soul Searchers. It was his way to respond to the cheapness and popularity of the disco D.J.s who had the advantage of spinning into the next song without missing a beat when they D.J.ed at local clubs. Brown allowed his drummers and percussionists to keep playing how ever they wanted to as he spoke to the crowd with call-and-response lyrics. That kept the crowd hype, plus it was a very innovative way to move into the next song.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, everybody was traveling to D.C. to witness Go-Go. In the early 1980s, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell took interest in the sound and wanted to sign bands to the label to make it almost like a Go-Go label. Unfortunately, due to heavy competition amongst the bands, none of them wanted to be on the same label. So, for the most part, Go-Go bands continued playing music unsigned and with their only exposure coming from their live shows. In 1988, Spike Lee featured the band E.U. in his movie "Skool Daze" and their hip-hop classic "Da Butt" on its soundtrack.

After "Da Butt" grew popular, hip-hop musicians took note of it and wanted to incorporate Go-Go on their records. Artists like Salt-N-Pepa, Kid N' Play, and DJ Kool had Go-Go influence on their hit songs like "Shake Your Thang" (Salt N' Pepa), "Rollin with Kid N' Play" (Kid N' Play) and "Let Me Clear My Throat" (DJ Kool). Those artists added more energy and an impeccable rhyme flow to their records that had not been touched by the founders of Go-Go.

Even artists nowadays use Go-Go in their music. Wale is one of the biggest hip-hop artists to come out of D.C., and he often uses Go-Go on his records. Examples include his major hit with Lady Gaga, "Chillin' (Looking at Me)," and "Rising Up," his breakthrough single as a featured artist with hip-hop legends The Roots and Chrisette Michele, which was a direct tribute to Go-Go music. He even won best breakthrough artist in 93.9 WKYS's Go-Go Music Awards.

Go-Go is still around in the D.C. area as artists like CCB, Familiar Faces, and UCB perform live throughout the metro just like those before them had in the '80s.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spiritual Strain of Hiphop Part 2 - Christianity

Although I recently wrote about hip-hop's spirituality and "religion" the Universal Zulu Nation, that doesn't mean people from other religions don't use hip-hop as an expressive tool. Other religions use hip-hop music, dance and graffiti within the contexts of worshiping their god or higher being.

Christianity is one of the religions that use hip-hop as that form of tool. Also known as "Holy Hip Hop," hip-hop art in Christian culture has been known as the new and hip way to rally a younger audience into the church. People from the Christian faith that believe hip-hop, although it is "created by man," is used for God's purpose to reach out to the youth. Those who accept Holy Hip-Hop hold similar beliefs as the Universal Zulu Nation, but believe it is the principles of Christianity that need to be pushed in the lyrics and that the Christ figure should be added into songs. Even some famous hip-hop artists are now apart of the Holy Hip-Hop community, including Christopher "Play" Martin (from the hip-hop rap group Kid N' Play) and Kurtis Blow.

Below is the video "Hip Hop Church" that was aired on Current TV covering hip-hop in the church. It features Kurtis Blow as well as other emcees who rap in the name of Jesus.

The connection between hip-hop and the Christian church is nothing new. Actually, Black music today, as well as any music genre, has origins laced in the Black church. For starters, oration in hip-hop culture is a derivative of the call-and-response style of preaching. Think about it: how many times have you been to a hip-hop concert and the artist will say "if you in the place to be, make some noise!"? It's the same in the Black church. Typically, a preacher will ask his congregation, "if you hear me, say amen?" And then the church will respond saying, "amen." That particular style in both the church and in concert is used to pull energy from the crowd and bring them together. And this is used in all kinds of concerts, but it is also a style used in Black Christian churches.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spiritual Strains of Hiphop

Within the culture of hip-hop lies another element often ignored by mainstream society -- religion. There has always been the question of where the people of hip-hop get their energy from, and the answer is often umbrellaed as an energy that is used to fight freedom. However there is a deeper layer in the hip-hop community than the mere desire to be equal, and most people attribute it to a form of religion within hip-hop culture formed by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa.

Before he became "The Godfather of Hip-Hop," Bambaataa was a leader of the Black Spades, a notorious Bronx-based gang. After he discovered hip-hop and Zulu, he made it a purpose to fuse the values as an Amazulu believer with the tools in hip-hop. He not only left a legacy consisting of great music like "Planet Rock" and "Looking for the Perfect Beat," but he also started the Universal Zulu Nation, an international group of b-boys and b-girls, DJs, emcees and graffiti artists who are dedicated to pushing the beliefs of Zulu and Afrocentrism through the artistic elements of hip-hop.

The Zulu Nation carries some similar and different religious values other major religions of the world have. For starters, they believe in no single god figure and that all major religions of an omni-God faith (i.e. Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are essentially the same. According to their first tenet, "We believe in one God, who is called by many names -- Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, RA, Eloahim, Jah, God, The Most High, The Creator, The Supreme One... We will recognize them all to be the same one God."

Their tenets also stand against any form of racism, instead promoting peace among every human and the environment. It also references Supreme Mathematics as the foundation for "life, creation, everything." An example of Mathematics in hip-hop could be directed to the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album
Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers:

There is a story behind why the famous hip-hop group named their album 36 Chambers, and it is due to their value of mathematics. In Supreme Mathematics the number 9 means "to bring into existence" (also known as a debut). At the time of their debut album, Wu-Tang had 9 members, each members having 4 chambers of the heart (2 atria and 2 ventricles), and if you multiply 9 and 4 you get 36. Hence the title 36 Chambers, meaning a total of 36 chambers within the hearts of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Over its years, the Universal Zulu Nation began to take a more Afrocentric turn, embracing thoughts and ideas from the Five-Percent Nation of Islam. Specifically, the notion of overthrowing white supremacy was through centering their spiritual beings around the Black men, i.e. claiming the Black man as God. For example, if you listen to a lot of Wu-Tang's early music (in particular, 36 Chambers), they will greet each other like "Peace God" or "God, check it..." greeting each other as if they are a god because that is the belief of the Five-Percenters.

Other famous hip-hop artists with ties to the Universal Zulu Nation and the Five-Percent Nation of Islam:
  1. Eric B. & Rakim
  2. KRS-One
  3. X-Clan
  4. GURU
Recently, the Universal Zulu Nation joined forces with the Temple of Hip-hop to form the Declaration of Peace. This declaration proclaims hip-hop as a nonviolent culture that seeks "a foundation of health, love, awareness, wealth, peace and prosperity for ourselves, our children and their children's children, forever."

A good book that explains everything religion-wise in hip-hop is "The Gospel of Hiphop: The First Instrument" written by KRS-One. It is essentially a bible aimed at the hip-hop culture using the same principles established by the Universal Zulu Nation and the artistic elements of hip-hop as tools for social and political change. It is a book that explores the science and religion of hip-hop.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spectacular Vernacular: The Development of Hiphop Rhetoric

Hip-hop music has always been dubbed "poetry in motion" over its years of existence. The "poetry in motion" saying holds two meanings: rhymes flowing over beats and the constant change of the rhetoric in hip-hop culture.

Language develops over time, and no matter what culture you live in, words change meanings all the time. Hip-hop is no different. Actually hip-hop, along with many other subcultures in America, is a heavy influence of the changes in mainstream society. From words like "bomb" to "bling," we've witnessed the definition and context of hip-hop's vocabulary used by almost everyone in America. "Bling" rapidly became the term to use for luxurious items such as jewelry and cars for everyone, but not until it was used in the song "Bling Bling" by the Cash Money Millionaires (seeing the video will show you why it was so influential).

Take Urban Dictionary for example. Although this "dictionary" is the Wikipedia of vocabulary - with its user-created content, which makes the words and their definitions exaggerated - it is a great example of how influential hip-hop culture has been in developing language for all of America. How?

Well, to credit Urban Dictionary, and the development of the vernacular of hip-hop, you have to understand hip-hop is all about representing. It's always been about how you represent your neighborhood - from the neighborhood's style of music to the type of language they use - through the artistic elements hip-hop has to offer. Like the post about chopped and screwed music in Texas, their style of music is slow and relaxed. So their style of rhyme and vernacular, just as it has been before the days of hip-hop, is slow and drawn out.

Bringing this back to Urban Dictionary, the site has over a million submissions per day from people of various backgrounds. And if you notice the definitions (including all of the ridiculously sexual ones), they always let you know what region of the country the word comes from. For example, if you look up the word "shorty" you'll get over a dozen results that come from over a dozen regions of the world. The definitions vary from culture to culture, especially within the culture of hip-hop. Like in the South, "shorty" means a fine, attractive girl. In the North, "shorty" means a young man new to the streets. In Australia, according to Urban Dictionary, "shorty" means a way to insult someone smaller than you.

Basically, the rhetoric of hip-hop is ever-changing with the time for the region that it serves. And as it changes, so does the rhetoric of mainstream American society. Language can be a never-ending cycle, and the cycle is often sped up by the culture of hip-hop.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


In hip-hop, all good things never come to an end!

Here's the scoop: I graduate this June, and I would definitely love to see this blog for ACRN continue. One important thing about hip-hop is dropping knowledge, as well as carrying on tradition, so I am seeking some writers who are knowledgeable about hip-hop that want to post pieces on this site on anything hip-hop.

There aren't many requirements to this job; in fact, it is more fun than anything! Your only duty is to post one blog - whether it is a small, 200-word joint, or a piece of media, or an elaborate article - per week. This is not a paid position, but it is a great way to get some experience out there working for a radio station and online magazine, plus it'll reap some great clips to add to your resume.

If you have any questions about this position, feel free to shoot me an email me at, or the ACRN blog editor Krisi Nehls at!