Hip Hop and Urban Crisis: Origins and Causes


Hip-hop culture arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the streets of New York. It started among the African American and Jamaican communities but since its emergence in the Bronx, hip hop has spread all over the world. Hip-hop culture is comprised of four main elements namely; Music, graffiti writing, break- dancing, and oration (Deejaing and Emceeing). There have been considerable developments and refinements that have occurred in hip hop culture over the years. Today hip-hop is a multi billion industry that has created a plat form through which people from diverse communities use to addresses social, political and economic disparities. The history of hip hop culture is varied by country as different countries have their own unique aspects that are portrayed in hip hop compared to hip hop done in the United States.

The emergence of hip-hop can be traced to young youths who were often oppressed, marginalized and ostracized (Chang & Herc, 2005). These youths were drawn from many minority groups like African Americans, Latinos and people from the Caribbean mainly Jamaicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Bahamian. Hip hop provided them with an avenue to channel their energy and escape the violence and gangster lifestyle for they could engage in dance competitions. Later hip-hop became an avenue to express concerns on life in the inner city neighborhoods.

Origins of hip-hop culture and music

The pioneering of hip hop is greatly linked to Dj Kool Herc Campbell who was a Jamaican; he used a Jamaican tradition that involves sayings and poetry over music to create hip hop music. Together with his friends, he started performing in public. They used turntables, speakers and microphones for such performances. This enabled them to create a variety of music (Perkins, 1996, p. 10). Together with Joseph Saddler “Grandmaster Flash”, the two stated organizing night parties in which they varied the beats from rock, funk and Latin music. A Jamaican Dj, Herc Campbell is regarded as the pioneer in hip hop music. He used an idea from Jamaican tradition that involved poetry and sayings over music. Together and his friends used turntables, speakers and microphones to do performances in public places like basket ball court and public parks. Later he worked with Joseph Saddler (Dj Grand master Flash) to create various beats from funk, Latin and rock music which they used for organizing night parties. The popularity of these parties grew and they were being in public parks, later people from neighboring areas started attending these street parties. Herc used the term breaking to refer to the energetic movements of the dancers to the music.he also used rhyming words with music to attract the crowd and this is what is commonly referred to as rapping. He is also credited with word b-boys which he used to refer to the dancers. Other Djs went on to refine Hercs work and created new techniques.

Hip hop became a dominant sub culture in New York during the 1980s. It was noted among the black Americans and the Hispanic communities. The culture started receiving media attention during the 1970s.During the earlier days, largely associated with violence, drugs and weapons. The content of rap songs address social concerns if life in the neighborhoods. From the United States, the hip hop culture then spread to other countries, but variations are notable in the type of hip pop by county compared to American hip hop (Gonzalez, 2004, p. 121).

Social economic conditions (1960s-1970s)

During the 1960s and the 1970s, many minority groups in the United States lacked access to justice, health care, voting rights, employment and every day privileges of citizenship. There were many demonstrations by such groups to express their disapproval of the racist and discriminatory practices that were so prevalent at the time. The civil rights movement organized a bus boycott in Montgomery to agitate for full citizenship to be granted to African Americans (Gonzalez, 2004, p. 122). They also demonstrated to end segregation and the continued use of Jim craw rules. This was a time when many frequent protests, sit-ins and boycotts were called by the civil rights movement. There were gross racial and economic inequalities between the whites and African Americans, this situation had many Africans and other minorities who did not enjoy equal rights like the whites living in great poverty and unemployment.

When Puerto Rican and black communities moved to settle in the Bronx, many of the white populations comprising of Italians, Irish, and Jews departed. The 1970s saw mass immigration of working and middle class families into the Bronx and due to this congestion, the town was regarded as the worst town in America. There was a project to upgrade the infrastructure in the Bronx was opened in 1968 but an influx of many impoverished families led to insecurity and this caused many middle class families to flee, property prices were also dropping and most property came under the control of slum landlords. At that time few people were able to enhance their economic well being through the newly created access to social services and job trainings. There was wide spread unemployment that was closely linked to high rates of teenage pregnancy, welfare dependence, increased female headed households, out of wed lock births as well as increased crime. The Bronx also recorded schools with the lowest reading score in the entire of New York, many of the young me aged between 20 and 29 were in prison, probation, or awaiting trials for charges on drug trafficking (Gonzalez, 2004, p. 125). Cases of HIV and Aids were also reported to be rising in the Bronx during this time.

Causes of the socio-economic situations

The above situations could have been as a resulted of the many factors. It is documented that the wages for poor black men had dropped by half (50%) during the 1970s.Many black men capable of work were either in prison or awaiting trial for various offenses including drug trafficking. Many people were educationally disenfranchised to the extent that they were greatly limited their participation in the labor market, its reasonable to assume that when faced with dire poverty and few economic opportunities, teenage girls turned into prostitution and this may account for the high rates of teenage pregnancies. Since few people were welfare recipients, few families could meet the obligation of properly educating their children. It’s also known that there was widespread segregation and marginalization of minorities under the Jim Craw rules which undermined access to equal rights by the minorities. At one point in time, the then New York state governor Daniel Partrick had his work interrupted when he brought the matter to attention. He suffered verbal abuse and his work was dismissed as an attack on racial minorities and was then dismissed.

Influence of Jamaican music on hip hop

Perkins explains that the first wave of rap was greatly felt in the beginning of 1981.There were many yard parties where rap music was played. ”Grand master caz”, a prominent Dj attributes rap to Jamaica music. Kool Herc Campbell moved from Kingston in 1967 and moved to the Bronx, he brought the ‘toast and boast’ tradition of roots reggae from Jamaica which was also a product of yard parties in west Kingston. Yard Djs used large speakers and turn tables where they rapped over simple lines and reggae beats. Hip hop was therefore molded by the sound the Dj could create while the lyricist (Mc) matched rhyming words to the sound. The percussion beat used in hip-hop in earlier days were drawn largely from Latin music (Perkins, 1996 p. 6)

Key players and their influence

Dj Herc is credited with creating the first hip hop beats that were used in house and street parties. Grandmaster flash perfected Herc works by adding the scratch technique in creating new beats.and helped launch the rap revolution. Over the times, rappers have reinvented the style of rap music through the techniques of multitracking, mixing and remixing (Perkins, 1996 p. 12)

Multitracking involves using two recorders that can capture and play back. Grand master flash worked with the first successful rap group called the furious five and would alternate as a Dj and and Mcee Kurtis blow became the next biggest rap personality after the furious five he was managed by Russel Simmons who rose to become a godfather in hip-hop music and culture. Afrika Bambaataa was a gang leader who used his excellent organizational skills and Zulu background to create unique rap beats and made a successful him a successful rapper, he created the electro funk (Perkins ,1996 p.12).As time went on.New groups introduced new sounds and gimmicks that ensured the existence of the genre till today.

Development of hip hop elements

The hip hop culture is composed of four main components; Rapping/music, break dancing, graffiti writing and Emceeing and Deejaing. Breaking is a style in dancing that involves physical gymnastics, back flips, and any other variations It was initially a contest in which teenagers tied to outdo each other. Usually, onlookers would forma c circle and a member would step inside the circle and show off his skills. Teenagers would be from the same neighbor hood.The link between break dances and graffiti is that graffiti was used to lay claim to a certain name, if members of a crew for example called themselves ‘storm’, they would use graffiti and use dance moves that would identify them with the name. Emceeing was important in hip hop culture in that it was used to attract the crowds and produce rhyming words to the beats created through Deejaing.


The hihop movement started during late 1960s and early 1970s when there was a lot of oppression and crime. Dj Herc from Jamaica is credited with pioneering hip hop music.the hihop culture has four interrelated elements that include rapping, break dance, use of graffiti and Deejaing and emceeing. All these elements are used by crews to reinforce their identity. All these elements have continued to evolve from the 1970s to date.


Chang, J., & Herc, K. (2005). Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation New York: Picador USA.

Gonzalez, E. (2004). The Bronx. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Print.

Perkins, W. (1996). Droppin’ science. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press.

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