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Examine a Sub-culture in Your Society, Past or Present Term Paper


What is culture? Culture can be defined in several ways depending on an individual’s area of specialization and context. From an anthropological point of view, culture encompasses the entire scope of learned behaviors among human beings (Kalman, 2009).

Within its complexity, culture entails morals, beliefs, knowledge, customs and laws among other human habits acquired through societal membership. Importantly, culture is not limited to any society or gender; both men and women have cultural attributes gained by virtue of being members of the wider society (Kalman, 2009).

While culture is an integral tool for human survival, it is fragile and exists in a state of continuous change through the mind. There are a lot of things in life, which represent our culture and this may range from language to government.

Similarly, as a symbol of identification, a subculture emanates from the mainstream culture and may not necessarily include the entire society. A subculture is therefore a representation of people with a unique culture and distinct from their main culture.

Subcultures are highly associated with symbols like clothing and music even though these symbols may have a different interpretation among members of the dominating culture. Depending on a particular society, the activities of a subculture may be allowed or curtailed (Lewis, 2009).

There are countless subcultures in the United States and all over the world, defining a given group of people from the main culture. A good example of a subculture with a global image is the hip hop culture, with its roots in America.

This paper explores a wide range of issues that define the hip hop subculture, including but not limited to its origin, history, identification, impact and its future. To achieve this task, authentic and up-to-date reference materials will be consulted including books and academic journals.

Hip hop subculture

Hip hop is arguably one of the most common subcultures with an American origin. Whether one understands the background, beliefs and the identity of this subculture or not, the most clear thing is that we get influenced or introduced to it through its members’ unique fashion and music (Lewis, 2009).

This segment of the paper gives a detailed analysis of hip hop in order to gain a clear understanding of its position and impact in the American society and the world at large. The history of hip hop dates back in 60s and 70s when this movement vibrantly exploded in Bronx, New York City.

Based on its original identity, hip hop subculture draws upon visual art, poetry, political and social legacy of Africans, Caribbean, African American and Latino communities found in the United States of America.

Importantly, this movement began as an independent and non-profit making cultural and musical way of expression by a section of the American society. During these initial and less felt stages of its birth, nobody envisaged that hip hop would become a booming commercial idea; it was about fun and enjoyment (Rahn, 2002).

What is the relationship between hip hop and rap? Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, rap carries a commercial label and is commonly used to denote a particular genre of music released by major artistes and played online or by commercial radio stations (Rahn, 2002).

As a result, most artists in mainstream rap give preference to the use of the term “rap” than “hip-hop” when describing their music. Moreover, rap can be classified into two major groups.

The first one is the mainstream and commercial rap, which is recorded by one of the known major labels like BMG Entertainment, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Brothers Music among others.

It is worth noting that gangster rap became famous when the industry started consolidating the use of sexual, violent and consumerist themes, which turned out to be highly marketable. In general, commercial rap is highly characterized by pop sound, containing homophobic, sexist and violent metaphors (Rahn, 2002).

The other class of this subculture is “Alternative, Independent, Conscious and Underground Hip-Hop.” This refers to recordings done on a small scale by either a personal or independent label. Unlike the previous group, this music gives priority to artistry and content over crossover appeal and commercial interests (Stewart, 2009).

Additionally, conscious hip hop mainly explores several social themes that are considered to be relevant to the young generation as a distinct class of the society. It therefore deviates from traditional themes that are given preference by the mainstream culture like poverty, policing, reparation, homophobia, militarism and representation of women in the society among others.

From a historical background, hip hop was first recoded and produced by black people even though this was on small-scale (Rahn, 2002).

Elements of hip hop subculture

Hip hop has four major elements, which are argued to be the origin of this subculture’s global influence in a given generation. The first element is MCing or rapping, emanating from the analogy of “master of ceremonies.” On the other hand, rapping is simply the art of saying words rhythmically.

This has its roots in Jamaica, where it has several converging points with “toasting.” The current impact of rap can be attributed to the contributions of artists like The Last Poets, James Brown, Gil Scott Heron and a black activist, H. Rap Brown (ITVS, n.d.).

The second element of hip-hop subculture is graffiti. It is believed that the initial forms of graffiti included marker or spray-painted signatures of a given crew, nickname or gang. This element later evolved into calligraphy, which is characterized by shading and intensive color effects.

Graffiti is widely recognized in the contemporary art world by art institutions and is globally known as a sign of rebellion among youths especially in the public domain. On the other hand, DJing is described as the “cutting and scratching” art, coupled with manipulation of music to generate a high-pitched sound.

It may also refer to selection of music during a party in a more attractive and thematic manner. It is believed that the art of DJing was principally invented by Grand Wizard Theodore and Grand Master Flash, who were major disc jockeys in Bronx (Reid, 2006).

The fourth element that characterizes hip hop culture and its members is “breakdancing.” This is described as an acrobatic dancing style that involves backspins, headspins and vigorous gymnastic movements.

Although there is no known first break dancer, it has been argued that the B-Boys, members of the “Zulu Nation” organization were the first dancers (ITVS, n.d.). This style of dancing became more popular in most cities, streets and dancehalls, which later became a national phenomenon especially through televised shows.

Although not recognized by some people, activism is considered to be a major element of the hip-hop subculture. In this context, hip hop is viewed as a bigger movement that is not limited to music.

Whist this may insinuate a different meaning among some communities, hip hop is a lifestyle that is defined by particular ethical codes, aesthetics and politics (ITVS, n.d.). Within other schools of thought, the hip hop generation is the first generation to emerge after black power and civil rights movements.

Furthermore, this subculture has significantly benefited from equality and recognition of all cultures that was massively supported after these movements. As a result, hip hop changed its original identity to become a highly treasured culture that defined the life of the youths’ generation.

Through this adoption, young people identified themselves through distinct fashion, watches and the kind of music they preferred to feed their mind on. Additionally, hip hop redefined youth’s perception and understanding of race, reality and societal power. It served a space for young people to develop their imagination and actions from a broader point of view (Reid, 2006).

Impact of hip hop subculture

Throughout its history, the impact of hip hop has remained paramount in several ways. For instance, it led to the realization of justice, equality and respect of human dignity in the American society.

As a result of its emergence and popularity, hip hop contributed to the termination of juvenile super jails that were rampant in New York City and San Francisco Bay Area (Reid, 2006). Additionally, the subculture mobilized and involved its generation in the preservation of the environment and promotion of environmental justices.

In politics, hip hop has also maintained a high stake, with its impact having been immensely witnessed during the 2004 and 2006 elections.

Several hip hop activists influenced first-time voters to participate in the exercise especially in California, New Mexico, Ohio, and Oregon among other U.S. states (Stewart, 2009). Furthermore, it continues to play a key role in the Arab Spring, as the young generation preaches its dissatisfaction with regimes through music.

The impact of hip hop has also been felt in language and how young people communicate. For example, the emergence and overuse of slang is predominantly associated with the hip hop subculture.

Slang is also referred to as “Black English” and its origin is linked to rejection of “White English” that was initially seen to be the most superior and appropriate language (Baxter & Marina, 2008).

Due to the widespread of hip hop language, slang has found its way into other dialects in the world. In addition, hip hop language is studied in several institutions in the United States, where students learn the potential of hip hop in promoting social change in the society.

Furthermore, the language is directly compared to other works that make great use of imagery to condemn the society. Hip hop has also impacted the business world.

For instance, product manufacturers use rappers to promote their products especially within the young generation, since they are major fanatics of hip hop subculture (Baxter & Marina, 2008). This mainly involves artists who get paid for marketing a product through prior agreements.

In the understanding of the role of the hip hop subculture, it is equally important to underscore the role of mass communication in any given society, and it is mainly controlled by businesses, governments and wealth around the world. The impact of hip hop is therefore likely to be experienced even in coming years.


From the above analysis, it is clear that subcultures give identity to a given group of people belonging to the mainstream culture of the society.

Unlike other subcultures in the world, hip hop has had a global impact, with its history spanning to over four decades. Through several forms of media, hip hop has transformed the lives of millions of people via its influence on values, beliefs and traditions.


Baxter, V., & Marina, P. (2008). Cultural meaning and hip-hop fashion in the African-American male youth subculture of New Orleans. Journal of Youth Studies, 11 (2), 93-113.

ITVS. (n.d.). Issue Brief: Hip-Hop. Independent Television Service, In. Retrieved from <cdn.itvs.org/hip_hop-issue-brief-hip-hop.pdf>.

Kalman, B. (2009). What Is Culture? New York: Crabtree Publishing Company.

Lewis, G. C. (2009). The Truth behind Hip Hop. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press.

Rahn, J. (2002). Painting without permission: hip-hop graffiti subculture. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Reid, L. (2006). Talk the talk: the slang of 65 American subcultures. New York City: Writer’s Digest Books.

Stewart, J. (2009). Real to Reel: Filmic Constructions of Hip Hop Cultures and Hip Hop Identities. Interdisciplinary Humanities, 26 (2), 49-67.

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