By: Niles Rodgers, Contributing Writer
Howard University doctoral student Omar Akbar Young mixed lecture and performance Friday evening as he explained the evolution of hip-hop music and culture, which his said began with disenfranchised populations.
Young began by stating that hip-hop is more than just people see depicted in the media. Many of the youths who served as its forefathers were on the streets in the Bronx or Harlem participating in gangs or struggling to survive every day.
He described hip hop as a prevalent international movement that has gained popularity in countries like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, India, Belize and Somalia, where artists have begun incorporating their own styles.
B-boying, or breakdancing, especially, has since left the boroughs of New York and traveled around the world. Countries in Europe and Asia regularly compete in high-stakes competitions to demonstrate who has the most charisma, while the practice originated as a war-like dance gangs used to see who was the best, or the baddest, in the streets.
“B-boying is very popular overseas. It is the strongest aspect of hip hop culture,” he said.
Graffiti, another element of hip-hop culture, began in New York City. Young people took aerosol cans — not intended for artistic use — some creativity, and painted several walls around the city in the 1970s. Young noted that tourists would visit just to see the designs many had painted onto the subway trains.
“Graffiti was essentially the only element that was illegal,” Young said.
The graffiti movement was not met without opposition, however. Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, fought hard to rid graffiti from trains and buildings.
After revisiting the Out of Africa theory, which states that modern humans all originated from Africa, Young took his presentation to the 1600s and discussed the slave trade, which often stripped African populations of much of their identity. The Great Migration, or the process by which former slaves left the southern United States to look for better lives in major northern cities, Young says, paved the way for hip-hop.
“The Great Migration was the catalyst that would allow hip hop to happen,” he said.
Young believes geography is very important in hip hop culture. When asked why, he said, “Because the world is bigger than what you see out your door.”