In the beginning, the house of Hip Hop was built with five foundational elements – MCing, DJing, Breakdance, Graffiti, and Knowledge. A house built on rock must stand. The pillars, the rocks that ushered Hip Hop into the 21st century as a cultural phenomenon was formulated by DJ Afrika Bambaataa of the hip hop collective, Zulu Nation. The knowledge of the five elements might not be widespread, but its structural significance should not be understated. With a myriad of styles to hip hop, the “elements provide coherence” to the genre.
Let’s break them down:
DJing (aural) – This was a new found manipulation of sounds that was used to create music. The innovative breaks and isolation of the percussive beat was what gave hip hop its initial rise. This new form of DJing was started by Kool DJ Herc who created hip hop in the 1970’s. In the early days, the DJs were the stars and later rappers such as Kurtis Blow and Grand Master Flash with their ingenious rhymes gained prominence in the spotlight.
MCing (oral) – Manifested from the social conditions of the time. This form of poetic and “verbal acrobatics” was derived from ancient African culture and oral tradition. Also known as “rapping” this element removed the veil that isolated the wider culture from the social conditions of many underserved urban communities. The rapid fire wordplay, spoke the truth of stories that weren’t being told and gave rise to a new urban narrative.
Breakdance (physical) – Groups such as Shaka Zulu Kings, Zulu Queens and the Rock Steady Crew gave rise to B-Boying/B-Girling. Breaking can be described as “poetry in motion”. Its acrobatics style with influences of gymnastics, Capoeria, martial arts and other cultural influences speaks to the innovative wave ushered in by hip hop culture.
Graffiti (visual) – This is one of the most controversial of the elements. As most graffiti artist leave their artwork in public places and “tag” it by leaving their names. TAKI 183, made this form of artistic representation famous and in neighborhood such as Wynwood, Little Haiti and Opa-locka we can see this art form’s widespread integration with bursts of energy and vibrancy on buildings throughout the cities.
Knowledge (mental) – This element is the thread that weaves all the other elements together. “Knowledge of self” refers to the Afro-diasporic mix of spiritual and political consciousness designed to empower members of oppressed groups” according Travis Gosa in his book entitled The Fifth Element of Hip Hop: Knowledge. This quote merges with the vision that Bambaataa had of hip-hop as a force for social change. Bambaataa states that “America has systematized our minds to be into materialism”, but instead of buying into this notion, we should think about how we can give back to our communities.
Having these elements as the cornerstone of hip hop. Reminds us that hip hop is more than an the art form, but a social movement that values art as a form of disrupting the norm and creating dialogue that encourages societal change.
Using the five elements of hip hop MUCE will exhibit Now or Neverland: Ode to Hip Hop which pays homage to a genre with more than 40 years of global influence in music, art, literature and politics. You can register for the event during Art Basel Weekend here
Written by: Natasha Wright – Festival Admin and lover of all things art, fashion and music.