Hip hop culture includes many elements, such as:

  • music – including DJing, MCing, turntabling, sampling, looping and scratching
  • vocal performance – including rapping, beatboxing,
  • dance – including freestyle breakdancing and team (crew) dancing
  • street fashion
  • visual art – including grafitti art (graf)

The culture originated among African-American communities in the late 1970s in the South Bronx area of New York City. One of the early and highly influential exponents of the emerging artform was AfrIka Bambaataa, who took the electronic musical forms of German group Kraftwerk and introduced a combination of sampling and combining beats from different records on two turntables, creating repeated loops, over which improvised rhyming poetry was chanted. A vocal percussive technique, called ‘human beatboxing’ was another hip hop element that grew in the culture.

The name
Perhaps it just means ‘hip dancing’ or perhaps the tale of Keith ‘Cowboy’ Wiggins from Grandmaster Flash is the real origin. He is said to have chanted ‘hip hop’ instead of ‘left right’ (military marching) when his friend joined the army. He incorporated the chant and move into his stage act and was copied. Disco artists referred to these new dancers, disparagingly, as ‘hip-hoppers’ – and then the name became a badge of honour.

‘DJ’ comes originally from the old radio term ‘disc jockey’. DJing and ‘turntablism’ refer to the technque of using two turntables simultaneously, mixing beats (‘breaks’) from different records and performing other electronic tricks. A pioneer of the form was Kool DJ Herc. Other DJs, such as Grandmaster Flash, introduced techniques such as ‘scratching’, which involves manipulating the record, backward and forward, as it is playing. Other famous DJs include DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Scratch. ‘Mixtape DJs’ create mixtapes of different artists’ work.

DJ videos

Kool DJ Herc, Merry Go Round
How to DJ
DJing for Dummies
How to Scratch Like a DJ

MCing (emceeing), or rapping, is the technique of performing chanted or spoken rhyming poetry over rhythmic accompaniment. The rhythmic structure of the rap can be simple or extremely complex. DJ Kool Herc was influential in developing rapping. He was Jamaican born and grew up with the Jamaican DJ tradition of ‘toasting’, which was impromptu, ‘boasting’ rhymes over Reggae music, often done to promote a record, a DJ or a party. But the African Americans also had a long tradition of impromptu rhyming – often used as a humorous boasting or friendly insulting game between men. Rapping can be traced right back to West Africa. Famous hip hop rappers include the Sugarhill Gang. MC Melle Mel is often credited as the first MC to call himself an MC.

Loops & Sampling
‘Sampling’ simply refers to the technique of taking a section, or sample, of a recording – often an instrumental break – and using it as a rhythmic loop over which lyrics can be rapped. In early hip hop, machines called ‘samplers’ were used for this purpose, but there are now many computer programs which do the same job.

Artists like The Beastie Boys, Dr Dre, Eminem and Ton Loc often used a riff or a musical phrase from other artists’ records (particularly famous rock riffs) as part of a new song. Some artists sample spoken word phrases from old movies and TV shows to include in their new songs.

Sampling videos

To Sample or not to sample – The MisUnderStood Art

Looping machines
Looping machines and programs allow artists to compose on the spot, instantly looping what they sing or play. The can then add new parts as the loops play.

Looping Around
Mal webb’s live sampling beat box performance

The term ‘beatbox’ refers to early drum machines. One aspect of hip hop to emerge in the 1980s was ‘human beatboxing’, where the performer uses mouth, lips, tongue, voice and other body parts to create rhythms and simulate turntable and scratching effects. An early beatboxer was Doug E Fresh.

Beatbox videos

Best Beatboxer In The World
Mr. Scratch – amazing human beatbox
Mal Webb teaches the Billie Jean riff

Break dancing

At DJ Kool Herc’s all-night parties, people spontaneously danced to the funk beats he would loop. The dancing was spontaneous and ever more inventive as the dancers began to ‘break’ (get excited). Herc called them ‘break-boys’ and ‘break-girls’ (b-boys and b-girls). Some stylists made their bodies move fluidly – as if they had no bones – and others emulated jerky, robotic moves. Dancers may take turns, competitively, or dance in a group (‘crew’). A famous early crew was the Rock Steady Crew.

Breakdance videos

B-Boy Psycho enters a Breakdance Battle

The spread of hip hop
With the coming of music videos and exploitative films such as Beat Street, hip hop grew in popularity and spread through Europe and Asia. It was, and is, a constantly evolving and diverse cultural phenomenon. It has already been more long-lived than any of its predecessors (such as rock ‘n’ roll, disco etc).
A strong feature of hip hop – and one that helps ensure its longevity – is its adaptation to almost any culture. Wherever it is taken up, local culture and concerns become a part of the content. In New York, Public Enemy introduced socio-political lyrics to their rap and the Beastie Boys expanded sampling to include all kinds of musical styles, while in the UK, the Streets incorporated cockney slang and wry East End storytelling. Indigenous Australians have their own social and cultural messages to spread through hip hop.

Kids and hip hop
And hip hop is not just for teenagers and adults. Kids of all ages embrace it. In the late 2000s, a group of Aboriginal kids had a chart hit with the song, utilizing didgeridu and clapsticks as the beat and rhythm producers.

From the Bronx to the Middle East, from Poland to Pakistan, from Canada to Germany, China to Brazil, France to India, Japan to the UK, from South Korea to the Carribbean … and from Australia all the way back to Africa … hip hop is the world’s favourite youth culture.

Kids and hip hop Videos

Teaching hip hop to kids

On the DVD, members of the Rewind Dance Crew perform.
Here are some links to see more of them and get more information:

Mal demonstrates beatboxing on the DVD.
See (and hear) more of Mal – including his pedal-looping skills – at:


Indigenous Hip Hop Projects