The Four Pillars of Hip-Hop

In today’s language, the word hip-hop is synonymized with rap music but during the late 70s, 80s, and 90s, four main artistic components built hip-hop culture.


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Deejaying started as a technique to create seamless transitions from one song or the other with records and was especially popular in nightclubs and parties. One of the first hip-hop DJs was DJ Kool Herc, widely regarded as the “father of the hip-hop culture.”  He isolated and extended the breaks (the percussive parts) in songs. This allowed for improvised dancing to emerge. Eventually, this new style or record playing was called breaking. DJ Kool Herc’s call-outs to the dancers and rhythmic speaking to hype up the crowd became what is now known as rapping.


The master of ceremony, known as the MC, began as the person who manages the energy of the crowd with rhythmic delivery of words. Often using rhythms or word-play underscored by the break parts in music. Today, the more common term is rap, which stands for Rhythm And Poetry. This artform has since transcended the underground party scene to become its own genre of music. Rapping has also become a way to highlight social injustices faced by various groups.


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Due to the extended breaks in songs, dancers now had room to improvise during parties. The new style of improvised dance consists of top rock, down rock, power moves, and freezes. It’s characterized by dance battles.


Graffiti is considered the most controversial pillar of hip-hop. Birthed in New York, Graffiti culture used vandalism as a form of cultural communication. Publicized through news coverage of tags belonging to rappers, gang members, and youth marked their pseudo-signatures across the city. Eventually, media coverage pushed the globalization of Graffiti to become a worldwide commodity and now a popular art form. The primary medium used is spray paint.

The Fifth Pillar: Knowledge of Self

The fifth pillar was later added on by Afrika Bambaataa. Knowledge of self is most important for those in the hip-hop community who consider themselves socially conscious. They view hip-hop as an art form that promotes unity and positive social change. 

The fifth pillar of hip-hop as explained by Teba Shuman: