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Hip-Hop Culture + Politics: Exploring the narrative and power of rap lyrics


Throughout its history and now, Hip-Hop has never been just a genre of music. Hip-Hop is a form of culture and personal expression that incorporates different elements of art. The original four elements include; MCing – the oral narrative (rap), B-boying – the dancing element (breakdancing), Aerosol (or graffiti) – the visual art element, and finally the DJ – fulfilling the musical element.

Inspired by other genres, such as blues, rock, jazz, and R&B, the birth of Hip-Hop occurred in New York City during the early 1970’s. The culture was established by African American, Caribbean American and Puerto Rican youth. All attempting to draw on their street knowledge, urban neglect, and American dreams. “Without apologies or fears, Hip-Hop was a vehicle that initially allowed its predominately young and Black participants to artistically express the complexities of their lives”.[1]

Academics believe rap, as the oral narrative of Hip-Hop, steams from African traditions and social titles. For example, an African griot is the title given to a storyteller, poet, praise singer or musician. Experts consider griots to be the first form of rap artists. [2] They would often use the oral tradition, nommo to infuse words with power, eventually triggering the evolution of rhythm and rhyme. The original importance of narrative style has transformed into the role of the MC, the rapper. [3]

The rap Hip-Hop narrative began as a voice for the powerless and angry, artistically demonstrating the harsh reality of people/groups who were treated as outsiders. Some of the most well known rap artists appeared in the late 1980’s. Producing socially conscious narratives, addressing issues of poverty, drugs, violence and oppression by both political and authority figures.

Inevitably overtime, many rap artists have fallen to the byproduct of fame, becoming vain and materialistic, consciously placing themselves above their audience.[4] However, there are a standing few that are “reclaiming” the roots of the rap narrative, aiming to influence the youth, and produce change because the social and political oppression for minorities has still not end.

[1] Yvonne Bynoe, Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip Hop. (Greenwood Publishing: 2005).

[2] Yvonne Bynoe, Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip Hop. (Greenwood Publishing: 2005).

[3] Becky Blandchard. “The Social Significance of Rap & Hip-Hop Culture”. Ethics of Development In Global Environment. Accessed April 10, 2015.

[4] Questlove. “When the People Cheer: How Hip-Hop Failed Black America”. Vulture Devouring Culture (2014). Accessed April 10, 2015.