Published on April 13th, 2019 | by Lydia Brooks



Hip-hop is a culture and art movement which began in New York City during the early 1970s. Although hip-hop is characterized by nine elements in total, only five of them are considered essential to understanding hip hop musically. These five foundational elements of hip-hop are MCing, DJing, Breakdance, Graffiti, and Knowledge. The knowledge of these five basic elements may not be widespread, however, its structural significance should not be understated.

Let’s break them down:

DJing (aural): DJing was a newly found manipulation of sounds which was used to create music. The innovative isolation and breaks of the percussive beat were the factor that gave hip hop its initial rise. This new DJing form was started by Kool DJ Herc – the hip hop’s creator in the 1970’s. These days, the DJs were the stars and later rappers like Grand Master Flash and Kurtis Blow gained prominence in the spotlight.

MCing (oral): Mcing, a form of poetic and “verbal acrobatics”, was manifested from the social conditions of the time. Also known as “rapping”, it was derived from ancient culture and oral tradition of Africa. This element removed the veil which isolated the culture from the social conditions of many urban communities. The rapid-fire wordplay told the true stories which hadn’t been revealed and gave rise to a new urban narrative.

Breakdance (physical): Groups like Zulu Queens, Rock Steady Crew, and Shaka Zulu Kings gave rise to B-Boying/B-Girling. Breakdance can be described as “poetry in motion”. Its acrobatics style influenced by Capoeria, martial arts, gymnastics, and other cultural influences speaks to the innovative wave that was ushered in by hip-hop culture.

Graffiti (visual): Graffiti is one of the most controversial of these five elements. Most graffiti artists leave their artwork in public places with their names to “tag” it. TAKI 183 made this form of representation famous and in cities like Little Haiti, Opa-Locka, and Wynwood, we can see the widespread integration of this art form with bursts of energy and vibrancy on buildings throughout the neighborhood.

Knowledge (mental): Knowledge is the thread which weaves all the other four elements together. “Knowledge of self” means the Afro-diasporic mix of spiritual and political consciousness which was designed to empower members of oppressed groups.

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