Hip Hop and Cultural Identity

My experiences of Hip Hop would probably have stemmed from listening to such artists and Frank Ocean, Kanye West and Macklemore, yet this is about as far as it goes. When I was told of the roots of hip hop in America and Samoa, I was amazed to learn of the different styles and genres of Hip Hop itself, including dance, DJ-ing, Breaking and MC-ing and the concept of sharing your life’s stories and achievements/downfalls through song or dance, also known as a “creation narrative.” Hip Hop originated in both African American and African cultures and it has also emerged from Samoa, as April K Henderson explains in her article “The Vinyl Ain’t Final” in which she continues to explain that young people of Samoa were able to gain “status and respect” through their dancing and “rather than contradicting or opposing traditional forms, street dance was what… enabled the children of migrants to have the confidence to learn and perform traditional dance at Samoan gatherings. Essentially, individuals were able to express themselves in a peaceful but also effective form of dance, which showed their connection to their culture and native land or “Diaspora”.

Kanye-West

One interesting aspect of Hip Hop is that originally, it was used to express the hardships and struggle of the minority groups of America. Take rapper Eminem for example, when first starting out in the rapping scene, he would rap about his traumatizing childhood, the struggles of growing up in Detroit and the poor relationships he had with his parents. If we look at such hip hop artists as Macklemore, he raps about the current issues of today such as gay marriage and those less fortunate than himself, so it could be said that whilst hip hop is expressing more broader issues/topics, to some degree it is still in favour of the minorities in it’s culture.

A common term used when discussing Hip Hop is “identity”. What does identity mean? To me the identity of an individual is their characteristics, shaped by their culture, which defines them as a person. Yet a question was raised during this week’s tutorial, “Can culture help change your identity?” Personally, I believe that whilst culture is always a part of your identity, I think that an individual’s life experiences, relationships and the place that they come from, will continually alter and shape their identity and that our identities are continually changing as we grow and prosper.

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