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The fighting spirit of hip hop : an alternative ghetto experience Hull, Susan Hall


This study investigates the expressive youth movement hip hop, a predominately black male subculture defined through participation in the competitive activities of graffiti writing, rapping and breakdancing. The general objective is to determine what is being communicated through these expressive forms, to whom, how, and finally to suggest why it is being communicated. The extent to which the encoded messages are consistent with reports of the subculture's goals is then discussed. It is asserted that hip hop operates as an alternative identity management and problem-solving mechanism within the black American ghetto. Drawing on traditional aspects of black cultural identity and expressiveness, hip hop creates a distinct way of life, reflecting a constructive and optimistic philosophy, to challenge the existing roles of the street hustler and gang member. Developed in the inner city boroughs of New York City in the late 1960's and early 1970's, hip hop functioned as a non-violent means of projecting a self-image and of measuring self-worth. It continues to be used to confront fundamental issues in a fight to overcome the restrictions of ghetto living, providing an expression of both an aesthetic and a cultural style based on the pursuit of excellence. The focus of the study is a form and content analysis of a selection of recorded raps, which parallels an interpretation of the messages conveyed in the musical form with assertions made by insiders regarding the functioning of hip hop. The thesis explores the hip hop male persona and worldview, his social relations and his role in the community, as they are articulated in the raps. The results of this analysis are then applied to a discussion of hip hop graffiti and breakdancing symbolism. The study concludes that the three expressive forms are communicating the cultural agenda of its members as well as providing the means through which to achieve their goals. It is contended that within hip hop, members empower themselves through aggressive self-glorifying imagery and role-playing, and that they apply this sense of greatness to motivating their community, outlining a strategy for coping with their existence by re-energizing it and transforming it into a positive experience.

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