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The State of Hip Hop: The Power of Language

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In this blog series, I endeavor to document the evolution of Hip Hop and discuss what those changes signify about American culture and Black culture. Hip Hop music is (and always has been) so much more than just music. Let’s talk about it.

 

In a previous post in this series, The Struggle Ain’t New, I explored how the commercialization of Hip Hop music has lost it’s greatest power: the voice. I, then went on to discuss why the voice of Hip Hop is so important in the post The Voice. In this post, I present the Black dialect and how that legacy demonstrates the power of language.

Anyone who recognizes the significance and power of Hip Hop can attest to the universal truth that the Hip Hop movement represented the use and control of the most powerful tool in America: language.

The Background

Back in the 80’s when Hip Hop was born, it wasn’t yet uncool or fake for poor people and minorities to be articulate. There was still a presence of reverence for articulation. Hip Hop, like all cultures, has its own language. That language is personal and relevant to those members of the culture.

The first expression of the power of language in Hip Hop manifested in the use of MC’s. DJ’s would spin their vinyls and in order to engage the audience and get the people hyped, an MC would grab a mic and begin to shout phrases and rhymes in a call-and-response style. DJ’s, recognizing that this made for a better show and got people involved and connected to the music, began to use MC’s more frequently. It was the addition of language that took Hip Hop music to a new dimension.

As MC’s became more popular with the crowds and more of a common element in the culture, they moved to the forefront and began to tell stories in the music. It was in this space where the language of Hip Hop — brought by the MC’s — melted into the music of Hip Hop — brought by the DJ’s, that Rap was born.

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The Language

The language of Hip Hop is organic, passionate, and direct. It is a dialect — I detest the term Black English and Ebonics because these terms infer that Black people are unable to master Standard English and, therefore, created our own language. The truth is there is a dialect of English that Black people speak at times. The legacy of the Black dialect is descended from those same ancestors referred to earlier who were denied formal literary education. So the words they knew and the connotations and inferences of the use of certain words became commonly understood. As the generations became more educated and were taught “proper” English, the Black dialect persevered, because the educated Black youth still had to communicate with their parents and elders who still only knew the broken English they had spoken all their lives.

This Black dialect is directly related to the language used in Hip Hop. When Hip Hop speaks, it speaks from that organic and familiar space where people meet their oppression and persevere. This is the same space where Black dialect formed in rebellion to society’s attempts to keep Black people from literacy and knowledge.

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The Power

The power of all language lies in its ability to define reality. We give life to the intangible through words. And conversely, our reality creates our language. As we seek to articulate the world as we know it, we find the power to change that reality through words.

Hip Hop used language to define and describe the reality of a sect of American society that were without a voice. The young pioneers of Hip Hop were caught in a struggle against poverty and a reality that their parents and predecessors could not understand.

The Point

Due to the power that they carry, words cannot be used haphazardly. All people and artists (especially rappers) who use language as a medium have to reverence the power of language. There has to be a level of accountability for the reality that is being created by the words that are being released into the universe. The process starts with knowledge, it perseveres in understanding, and succeeds in reverence.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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