The Influence of Hip Hop Music on Society

By Katie Smith ; Updated September 15, 2017
Break dancers were inspired by hip-hop.

Hip-hop was born out of the Bronx during the 1970s. Artists such as Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaata mixed funk, soul and Jamaican "toasting" (chanting over music) to create the genre. Since its early formation, hip-hop has become one of the world’s biggest-selling musical genres. Its influence on Western society is far reaching and hip-hop is often referred to as a "culture". It has had a notable influence on fashion, art, language and the politics of mainstream Western society.

Fashion

Hip hop fashion.

Style and fashion has always been at the heart of hip-hop culture. Break-dancers (or B-boys) inspired by hip-hop wore clothes that were functional for dancing such as loose fitting jeans or tracksuits. Baggy jeans, tracksuits, oversized jewelry and sneakers are all iconic items of clothing that have been absorbed by mainstream fashion. Brands including Adidas, Nike and Tommy Hilfiger have been instrumental in bringing hip-hop fashion to the masses. Designers including Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton have all brought elements of hip-hop fashion on the catwalk.

Language

Hip-hop language is part of mainstream culture.

The lexicon of hip-hop has infiltrated mainstream culture. Words such as "phat" (cool), "hood" (neighborhood) and "chill" (relax) have all entered everyday vernacular. The language of hip-hop–or more specially its sub genre rap–has also proved to be controversial. In particular, the word "nigga" used frequently by rappers is widely considered to be an offensive term but is commonly used in the rap genre.

Politics

A Tribe Called Quest perform.

Since its formation in the early 1970s, hip-hop has been a vehicle for socially-aware messages. The Last Poets, Afrika Bambaata and DJ Kool Herc were outspoken black activists. Records such as Grandmaster Flash’s The Message and Keith LeBlanc’s No Sell Out are drenched in messages outlining the struggle of the poor black American. KRS One and A Tribe Called Quest have maintained the social message purveyed by earlier hip-hop artists. Such artists have acted as positive role models promoting the importance of education, cultural awareness and a peaceful philosophy.

Controversy

Snoop dogg.

A sub-genre of hip-hop, gangsta rap, has often been criticized for its misogynous and homophobic lyrics and the glorification of violence and drug use. Sexual images of women, guns and a gang lifestyle have marred the genre. Artists such as Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Death Row Records founder Marion Suge Knight have all been criticized for promoting a culture of violence. Rivalry between West Coast and East Coast rappers came to a head in 1990s with the death of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Gangsta rap artists are considered to be highly negative role models for young black males. Images and lyrics promoting violence and sexism are also acknowledged to have had a negative effect on the perception of the young black male by the white community.

Art

Graffitti.

Graffiti is strongly associated with hip-hop culture. The practice of graffiti gathered momentum in the Bronx during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was often used by political activists to send messages or make statements or by gangs marking territory. Since the 1990s, graffiti has become more widely accepted as a recognized art form worldwide with the success of British-born artist Banksy and French duo 123Klan. Commercially, large corporations such as Sony have used graffiti in marketing campaigns. Graffiti has also infiltrated the gaming community with games like SEGA's Jet Set Radio.

About the Author

U.K.-based journalist Katie Smith has been writing and editing since 1994. She has written for "MOJO," "Kerrang! Magazine" and BT Vision, an entertainment Web site. Smith won "Production Editor of the Year" at the 2000 Emap Awards. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Leicester University.