A new look at the Hip Hop Elements

We all talk about Hip Hop; what it is, when it started, who is Hip Hop and who isn’t. But do we even all agree on that first part? What is Hip Hop? We all say it’s more than just music and entertainment. It’s a culture and a lifestyle. Most of the time we think we’re talking about Hip Hop, we’re really just talking about rappers and celebrity life. We don’t have to start with the deep stuff, like the principles, ethics and morality of Hip Hop Kulture. We could start with something simple like, what are the elements of Hip Hop?

The following is an excerpt from my book, Hip Hop Know What I’m Sayin available on Amazon.com.


What aspect of Hip Hop came first?

What element of Hip Hop Kulture was expressed first in this modern incarnation? Since, there have always been poets and dancers and painters etc., we understand that Hip Hop expressions are just their modern forms. Superhistorically, or across the totality of history, Hip Hop cultural elements have always been present in our various cultures, but the modern forms we refer to as Graffiti, Breakin, Emceein, Deejayin, Beatboxin etc. were introduced in their recent form in the 1970’s. By the close of the decade, all of the elements (9) would be known character traits of those who considered themselves Hip Hop. But which elements came first?

We have always been inclined to give utmost respect to the deejay as the motivator behind the Hiphop concept. In that regard, we shout out Kool Herc as the prime mover then Bambaataa and Flash, all as Deejays spinning in the Bronx. But who were they spinning for? What were they doing in between jams? Even further, who are Pete DJ Jones and DJ Hollywood?


The Teacha KRS ONE, points out in a picture he has of himself and his mother while living on Sedgwick Ave, Bronx, NY in the early 1970’s, a Kool Herc tag on the wall in the background, evidence that Herc was also a graffiti writer to some degree. Noted Bronx Graf writer Phase 2 points out, that Graf writing was coming out of Manhattan as early as 1969 then came into the Bronx to influence him.

Another aspect of Kool Herc galvanizing the atmosphere in an organized manner thru the jams was the concept of what Herc calls the merry-go-round. This element of Deejayin where just the instrumental breaks would be played back to back was used to get the b-boys and B-girls excited. So obviously dancers were already freestyle rockin’ dances before Herc began to deejay for everyone. Here we see evidence of B-Boyin.


In orthodox Hiphop (consciousness) we speak of 9 Elements. The last four elements are specifically influenced by the urban environment; Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge and Street Entrepreneurialism. Each has a distinct impact and characteristic style that Hip Hop has made obvious to the entire international community. In the early 1970’s however, they were just forming into what we call Hip Hop today. Still, some of the more obvious trends and styles that become identifiable to any given culture usually include fashion. The specific kind of clothing choice also identifies one’s peers as they interact. So were there certain Hip Hop fashion trends or slang terminology (language) that influenced the deejay?…probably. Of course knowledge goes hand in hand with language, so without getting into the specifics of what Hip Hop Street Knowledge is as a cultural element; suffice it to say that it was probably a part of Kool Herc’s mentality as a deejay.


Emceein, Bambaataa says, can be traced to Cab Calloway, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Millie Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, The Last Poets and many others before rappers like Coke La Rock started rappin over the breaks at a jam. It can even be argued that Beatboxin was around in the form of body music like playing the spoons or “hambone” an early version of the thigh/chest slapping of step teams. Plus, babies can beatbox intrinsically almost from birth. Then there are more complex styles like scattin’ where artists like Louie Armstrong imitated the sound of horns or other instruments with their voices. Is Beatboxin just an extension of an earlier style? Was Beatboxin also around before Deejayin? It seems like all the elements of Hip Hop Kulture were present with the exception of Entrepreneurialism and making money specifically off of hip-hop (products).

Why then do we think of the deejay as the first element? It was because the deejay galvanized the elements together in almost a showcase format. The deejay brought people together so we could communicate and relate to one another…


While discussing the elements over the years with the Teacha KRSONE, or the Godfather Afrika Bambaataa, I have come to understand the elements in a slightly different way than most. I now see the elements (9) introduced into the culture in a new way. The first element has been the source of much discussion so far, but when you really think about it, there could be no other.

Knowledge is often spoken about as the fifth element of Hip Hop by Bam and the Zulu Nation, whereas in the Temple of Hip Hop, Beatboxin (5) is the first element outside of the same core four elements of B-Boyin, Graffiti, Deejayin and Emceein. But as we just discussed, the presence of the elements can be looked at superhistorically rather than as folklore, legend or mythos. In this context, knowledge or Hiphop (consciousness) can be the only element that could have come first. As an agreement of proof, the 5% ideology starts with knowledge as the foundation of all things in existence. Knowledge is also the observation before an action can take place. The next action after the observation of Hiphop (consciousness), was the visual proof of that existence, which like cave paintings were the first visible sign of a conscious culture. Therefore Graffiti is the second element, whether one goes back to graffiti of the late 1960’s or Egyptian hieroglyphs.

After one could see the proverbial “writing on the wall,” they then saw the physical presence of those in the culture. Those first Hiphoppas were called B-boys and B-Girls, which were most people who participated in the jams. During that generation everyone experienced a time when that undefinable Hip Hop pulse circulated through a session of people listening to hip-hop music and they passed it to each other through their arms after it traveled through their body. It became a dance move known as the wave. People would do it with their hands interlocked or from across the room, where they would symbolically throw the pulse to someone far away who would catch it then let it circulate it through their own body and then pass it to someone else. Every first generation Hiphoppa did that at some point in their life with all the seriousness having fun brings about. To some of us that danced more than others, that pulse was what Hip Hop was. That undefinable sensation you get when you hear for-real hip-hop music was that invisible pulse we used to pass around in a dance session or just standing around listening to Hip Hop.

From there, the fourth element is the Deejay, who was able to guide the B-Boys and B-Girls to a centralized location where they could communicate together. That common interaction brought about the way we dressed, (Fashion – 5) and the way we began to talk (Language – 6). From there, the voice of the Hiphoppa was originated in the element of Emceein, the seventh element. To facilitate the emcee when no technology was available, the eighth element of Beatboxin was introduced. The Beatbox was known to set off a lunch room rap cypher throughout the first years of Hip Hop as a culture.

Finally, so far, the ninth element discussed by the Temple of Hip Hop (the Gospel of Hip Hop, 2009) is Entrepreneurialism. This is classified as the techniques, codes and ethics used to conduct Hip Hop business.

“STREET ENTREPRENEURIALISM: (The study and application of fair trade and Hip Hop business management.) Commonly referred to as street trade, having game, the natural salesman, or the smooth diplomat…focuses upon the motivating Spirit to be self-employed, inventive, creative and self-educated (The Gospel of Hip Hop, 2009).”

With this interpretation, you now have an alternate view of how the Hip Hop Elements actually evolved to influence Hip Hop Kulture. This interpretation is based on logic, reasoning, research and recollection of events from my perspective as a First Generation Hiphoppa. I am interested in hearing what you think about this perspective. One. Kurt Nice.



Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE's National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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