Culture is defined by some as,
“the patterns of meaning acquired by members of society expressed in their knowledge, beliefs, art, laws, morals, customs, and habits (Kardes, 2011).”
Geert Hofstede defined culture as,
“the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one group from those of another.”
Whether these values are acquired willingly or programmed indirectly, they lead to decisions we make in every aspect of our daily lives. Cultural values shape how we respond to challenges, satisfy needs, or whether we feel a sense of responsibility to a certain moral principle or code of behavior.
On the acquisition side, cultural categories help us “organize a society, by dividing the world into specific and distinct segments of time, space, nature and people. (Kardes, 2011).” That self-determination factor is central in the cultural principle I subscribe to, which is Hip Hop as a culture. In practicing the culture as one of the First Generation Hiphoppas for most of my life, and through intensive study alongside notable Hip Hop Teacha, KRSONE, I am among those who chose Hip Hop to define myself as it was being created for the masses.
Many people define Hip Hop by the core-four elements; breakin, deejayin, emceein and graffiti writing. The Universal Zulu Nation, one of the founding organizations in Hip Hop, say there is a fifth element which is knowledge. KRSONE’s Temple of Hip Hop, which is what I ascribe to, talks about 9 elements which consist of all the others, plus fashion, language, beatboxin and entrepreneurialism.
These added elements are keys to understanding how Hip Hop was able to overcome cultural barriers and influence the World. Fashion is, “important in transferring cultural meaning from the culturally constituted world to consumer products (Kardes, 2011).” Fashion, in a marketing sense, “includes various forms of social expression such as music, art, architecture, journalism, politics, speech, entertainment, and technology (Kardes, 2011).” Hip Hop is also a place where opinion leaders are created outside of the mainstream with a status based on criteria mainly other Hiphoppas can appreciate. “The diffusion of hip-hop fashion into the mainstream illustrates the power that less privileged groups can exercise over the whole of society. Hip Hop artists are ‘meaning suppliers’ for culture…Hip Hop artists utilize the fashion system to overturn the established cultural order and inspire new cultural principles and categories (Kardes, 2011).”
A soft-spoken, deep-thinking Hiphoppa I’ve interviewed on several occasions named Slick Rick came up with a song that helped make him famous called, Children’s Story. The song starts off as the retelling of simple bedtime story in the video produced for his first album back in 1989. The song represents a perfect example of Hip Hop demeanor when it comes to the mainstream. It starts off innocently enough,
“Once upon a time, not long ago, when people wore pajamas and lived life slow. When laws were stern and justice stood, and people were behavin’ like they ought to; good. There was a little boy who was misled, by another little boy and this is what he said…(Slick Rick, Children’s Story, 1988).”
From there the story takes a dark turn into ghetto drama where there’s a robbery spree, a shootout with a female police officer, a carjacking, a pregnant hostage, a dope fiend with a shotgun and a shootout with police that ends with the boy dying in the street at the age of 17. The moral is still a basic one though, just through the lens of Hip Hop at the time. “He was only seventeen, in a madman’s dream. The cops shot the kid, I still hear him scream. This ain’t funny so don’t ya dare laugh, just another case about the wrong path. Straight ‘n narrow or yo’ soul gets cast (Slick Rick, 1988).” The cultural values expressed in the song are of constant reminders of morality while in the midst of doing wrong. Whether it is morality in the common sense vein of self-protection;
“The kid pulled out a gun, he said ‘Why did ya hit me?’ The barrel was set straight for the cop’s kidney. The cop got scared, the kid, he starts to figure ‘I’ll do years if I pull this trigga’. So, he cold dashed and ran around the block. Cop radio’s it to another lady cop. (Slick Rick, 1988)”
There is also a sense of remorse or wrongdoing in respect to his crime against others. This song is an early example of the portrayal of moral principles in Hiphop consciousness.
“Ran out of bullets and still had static, grabbed a pregnant lady and pulled out the automatic. Pointed at her head and he said the gun was full o’ lead. He told the cops ‘Back off or honey here’s dead.’ Deep in his heart he knew he was wrong, so he let the lady go and he starts to run on (Slick Rick, 1988).”
As noted by one of the 9 Elements, language is a key factor in Hip Hop. The particular slang, connotation, inferences and meanings derived from the context of a Hip Hop culture, place some in a unique avenue of communication. With marketing, language is also an essential part of successful campaigns. A marketer must not only know the language being spoken but why it is being spoken as well. The marketer must understand that the context or key slogans can be interpreted in the wrong way. Language is an important part of hip-hop music and it is not just the phrases being transmitted but an emotion. Marketers will need to tap into that attitude and emotion to persuade a given audience, and they will do it through language many times.
- (Kardes, 2011) Kardes/Cronley/Cline, Consumer Behavior, South-Western Cengage Learning, (2011)
- Slick Rick, Children’s Story from the album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, (Nov. 1988)