Is it a language? Do people like to think of it any other way?
Well to start, hip hop culture is not language. It’s not what words are used for. It’s how we communicate, what we use our words for.
If we look at our vocabulary, it’s nothing like the other cultures that exist. For example, in South Africa there are no words for snow, and yet we all know where you can dig. We just use it as a noun and as a verb.
In Britain, some people can only even pronounce certain words and can’t figure out why they sound the way they do. In India if someone says “china” they’re expected to put it through a phonetic test, and yet many people do not understand what those specific words really mean. We also have no language to describe or express our emotions or feelings. In many other cultures where people know how to express themselves in language, it’s no surprise if they don’t share the same emotional range or style.
So in other words I think the music that we listen to matters. When you listen to hip hop music you get a sense that it’s a shared language. In the same way I think language matters, and this is something that you can understand by looking at the way people speak and understand. So in order to understand hip hop culture you need to understand language.
Hip hop has always had a lot to answer for – from discrimination to violence – but there is also a lot that the music industry can do to increase understanding of hip hop.
One thing that hip hop artists sometimes do is give insight into what they understand is wrong in our society. For example, if the lyrics in a song or a song cycle about race are about violence, we will understand something is wrong. If it’s about an injustice, then we feel that is wrong too. It is important to recognise things like this.
How are new generations becoming educated about hip hop?
It feels like every time we see a young person of colour speaking to the music industry, it is not about them, it is about hip hop as music as a whole. To be part of the culture of hip hop is about them, so in some ways we are in a sort of cultural ambassador role to the wider hip hop community, where sometimes it sounds like you’re just making your own contribution by saying something about hip hop or saying something about race or saying something about racism and we must recognise that this
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