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Codes and Abstraction in Hip Hop Culture

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Terrylynn Banks



Codes and Abstraction in Hip Hop Culture

A new and unique style arose from the streets, among the urban youth of the Bronx in the late 70's. This artistic movement was first identified through a musical style that was characterized by the isolation and the extension of a percussion break found in funk, rock, or disco music, through the use of an audio mixer and two records. DJ Kool Herc, the first hip hop DJ, a Jamaican immigrant, made this style popular in the south Bronx at many neighborhood block parties and thus was his claim to fame. DJ's such as DJ Afrika Bambaataa, a former gang leader turned community leader from the South Bronx, Grandmasterflash and many others soon became a popular force within hip hop culture. The term hip hop was coined by DJ Kool Herc and DJ Afrika Bambaataa who used the term to describe the style of music during a competition. DJ competitions introduced an array of individualized techniques that was each DJ's signature of their own unique style. The four main characteristics of hip hop; when it began, was MCing, DJing, graffiti, and Break dancing. DJing and MCing are the two distinctive styles that is the root of rap as we know it today. A DJ uses a instrumental track usually referred to as a "beat", and the MC entertains the crowd with rapping (the rhythmic delivery of rhymes). With its roots in Jamaican toasting and dubing, rapping has developed significantly since its introduction to hip hop. Along with rap other characteristics have been added since hip hops emergence into main stream america such as the baggy clothing, oversized chains and medalions, amd of coourse the language.

The language of hip hop is the most prominent factor of this culture. It is the link that ties this culture together. Cultures from the entire world have borrowed and contributed to the slang of hip hop, changing the meanings of certain words to fit their own uses. The language of hip hop is said by some to be crude, sexist, violent, promoting the dark side of society, and is nothing more than a bunch of babble. In my opinion climbing the tower of babble; using the abstraction process, will help us to understand why the language of hip hop has become so forceful in today's society. Abstraction is the process were we ignore a great amount of stimuli and focus on a limited few; we classify it according to the characteristics and the reality of what we experience through a unique filtering system that is influenced by our cultural, and personal expectations. Keeping this in mind, let's examine a fictitious urban ghetto neighborhood according to Korzybski Structural Differential model that has been modified to explain this theory. (Visual Aid)

The Territory consist of crime, civil unrest, poverty, unemployment, crowded extended family homes, police brutality, prejudice, stereotyping, child abuse, domestic violence, poor education from poorly supervised school systems, drugs, alcohol, pornography, and gambling.

The Sense Experience from the territory stage is the first level of abstraction. It encompasses our five senses seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. Since the action touching allows you to feel externally and internally it should be added to the sense experience as intuition or instinct for the purposes of this presentation. The senses of hearing, seeing and touching in the second meaning are intensified by the territorial experience. The territorial experiences strongly suggest that acute survival instincts are needed to stay alive, therefore strengthening those senses above the rest. In the description process we describe what our senses have perceived. I believe that much of our descriptions are taught to us at a higher level of abstraction in a more formal setting. Learned abstract descriptions of our world are based on reports of others. The reports can be found in print media, TV, and educational sources. The problem arises when there is conflict between the low level abstract descriptions of their territorial sense experiences versus those that are highly abstracted and learned of the same sense experience. The learned descriptions are so abstract, that they subtract from the intensity of the sense experience and are therefore rejected. The rejection of the learned descriptions forces a sublevel of description in the abstraction process. The descriptive sublevel remains entirely in the lower level of abstraction and inferences and judgments of the world are made from here. Since the sense experience remains an undeniable force in the lives of those that experience the urban territory then the inferences and judgments will have the same intensity. The intensity of the sense experience has also fostered a rejection of society as a whole, as far as the acceptable use of language, dress, behavior, ideas etc. The outcry from all that is unacceptable is now being heard and seen in hip hop culture. This may also explain the despair and dismal outlook of a child from the ghetto versus a child from the suburbs.

Do not think that the language of hip hop is Gobbledygook because it is far from it. Although many linguists may consider hip hop strictly restricted code; my theory is that hip hop's language is restrictive code that has been elaborately constructed to be significant to a certain group of individuals.

Hip hop language uses a variety of terms that is always evolving and distinctive to a geographical location or to a certain



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