Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Philosophy of Hip Hop

Hip Hop is not a genre.

A genre is defined as a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like. This definition seeks to corral the very essence of Hip Hop and limit its potential.

You see Hip Hop is not just a form of music. It is not just content of one’s words. It is not the technique of one’s abilities with a microphone and a turntable. It is not something like rhythm and blues.

Hip Hop is a culture. Those whom do not respect and appreciate the culture will not define a culture that seeks to define itself for itself by itself. Hip Hop is for the people, of the people and by the people. Thus, it is quite interesting that Hip Hop would share a kindred spirit with walking.
Yes, the act of putting one foot in front of the other is very much linked to Hip Hop. I made reference to this link in my previous post, “Walking in Memphis.”

Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn is 90’s classic tune that takes the listener on a harmonious tour of Memphis, Tennessee. Unfortunately, I was unaware of the original tune. My first introduction to this tune was the remix version by Yo Gotti featuring 8 Ball. Yo Gotti’s version speaks to me differently, due to the fact that I have walked the streets that Yo Gotti raps about on the track. The comparison between the two songs reflects greatly on how the common thread between the songs serves as a means to examine one’s self.

When I am in the city of Memphis and I walk past the locations mentioned by Marc Cohn, I may be viewed as less than by those whom may fear me. I have lived in Tennessee for the majority of my life. Guess what? I have never been to Graceland, but I have frequented the NIKE store that is less than a mile away from Graceland on numerous occasions. While Marc reminisces about Elvis Presley and his time at Sun Records, I am immersed in the history of Stax Records and the high school, Soulsville Charter, that currently resides on its property. 

For me, a long walk through Memphis makes me question my self and feel more secure in myself, at the same time. While walking in Memphis can provide a bit of suspensive freedom, I must stay alert to make sure that I do not find my life in a suspended moment in time (Gros 3).

The suspensive freedom that comes from walking can help relieve one’s burdens and forget the business of the moment. Hip Hop operates in that same vacuum. Hip Hop allows individuals to get things off their chest and wrap themselves in the escape of a hot sixteen. A hot sixteen is eerily similar to the hot take of a philosopher. Therefore, I believe that Jay-Z and Aristotle have much more in common than Common Sense.

Though Jay-Z's connection to Aristotle makes sense. Years later, Jay-Z seems to vibe with Plato in "Kanye West's single, 'No Church in the Wild". Jay-Z drops the following line, "Is Pious pious cause God loves pious?" Philosophers around the world can see what Jay-Z did there by borrowing that line from Platos' Euthyphro dialogue about Socrates. Jay's play on words is his signature lyrical ability. One that both Plato and Aristotle can appreciate.

Jay-Z's balancing act aside, Hip Hop rarely tries to walk a fine line in its quest for truth. Instead, Hip Hop seeks to be the truth. To live in its truth and not shy away from the fact that the truth about Hip Hop is not black nor white, but rather a perfectly blended shade of grey. A grey so perfect that it's flaws are perfect. 

In a September 2007 New Statesman article, writer Anthony Thomas examines the crossroads of Hip Hop and philosophy . Thomas writes that Hip Hop is guided by five central doctrines that seek to illustrate Hip Hop's quest for truth:
1) Keep it real
2) Speak truth to power
3) Change the game
4) Represent your hood
5) Express your self

These doctrines are put on stage in N.W.A.'s "F**k the police." You see the truth for Hip Hop lives in breathes in the actions of those who dare pick up that microphone. N.W.A.'s classic joint checked all the boxes of Hip Hop's central doctrine. 


Led by argubably the Nietzsche of his time, Ice Cube's powerful lyrics ring as true in 1988 as they do now in 2016. Clearly evident is that the philosophy of Hip Hop transcends time. Hip Hop's message seeks to paint a true picture of our world and the central doctrines of Hip Hop continue to push that philosophy forward. In the end, Hip Hop may be flawed, but I know that Hip Hop has got my back and I've got Hip Hop's back. 


  1. Thanks for contributing to my continuing education on this subject, Brandon. I have a lot to learn. Fortunately there are resources:

    Hip Hop and Philosophy
    Rhyme 2 Reason
    Edited by Derrick Darby and Tommie Shelby

    Foreword by Cornel West

    Volume 16 in the Popular Culture and Philosophy® series

    Should we stop ALL the violence in hip hop? Does po-po have legit authority in the hood? How do we draw the line between the real Curtis Jackson and the artist 50 Cent, or the real Kimberly Jones and the artist Lil' Kim? Is hip-hop culture a "black" thang? Is it morally permissible for N.W.A. to call themselves niggaz and for Dave Chappelle to call everybody bitches?

    Yes, KRS-One and BDP, the crew assembled here are all philosophers! Believe that. In Hip Hop and Philosophy, this almighty posse, using mad skillz, moves from rhyme to reason to further our quest for knowledge. They keepin' it real by giving props to great philosophers and peepin' philosophical problems through hip-hop lenses and in the spirit of the culture.

    They show that rap classics by Lauryn Hill, OutKast, and the Notorious B.I.G. can help us uncover the meanings of love articulated in Plato's Symposium. We'll see how Run-D.M.C., Snoop Dogg, and Jay-Z can teach us about self-consciousness and the dialectic in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. And we'll learn that Rakim, 2Pac, and Nas can shed light on the conception of God's essence expressed in Aquinas's Summa Theologica. These philosophers delight in showing how a love for rhymes over beats and for pure reason, far from being incompatible, can be mastered and mixed to contemplate life's most profound mysteries.

    1. http://www.opencourtbooks.com/books_n/hip_hop.htm

    2. Salute Dr. Oliver! You got the juice!

  2. Chap, thank you for your thoughts on Hip Hop. "Hip Hop is a culture." That was a very important lesson that I learned from Dr. Davis-Sowers in the Spring Semester from our textbook by Ballantine. Culture is defined as "The Way of life shared by a group of people--the knowledge, beliefs, values, rules or laws, language, customs, symbols, and material products within a society that help meet human needs." It helps me in trying to understand Plato and Aristotle by first trying to understand Greek Culture of their time. One of the greatest challenges confronting our country and other countries is how to bridge our differences and that starts with first making an effort to understand our respective cultures. We have a head start on other countries if we would only recognize it. We have diverse cultures among us if we would only make an effort to learn about them and then enjoy the diversity.

    1. Did y'all happen to see President Obama's remarks yesterday about mutual cultural understanding, not inter-cultural conflict and competition, being the wave of the future? If we can do that, we can surely bridge our intra-cultural differences. Or maybe it's the other way 'round?

  3. I've drummed since I was 15 so hip-hop has been a part of my life also. Whether it's the double bass pedal mimicking the sounds of footsteps, whether I'm walking towards the end of the song, left all sorts of feelings about the next journey, I find a oneness with the artists that write the music. From the pilgrimage of rags to riches by Jay-Z, to journeys in Memphis, that are anxiety provoking, or the journey of Tupac and Biggie having beef and then having it lead to the unfortunate and way to soon demise. Rap and Hip-Hop create an emotional world, mostly felt by the underground, a world not many see, but the artist invites you into their world and into their brain to walk around for a little while and explore their world, as emeninem would in 8 mile, or Three-Six-Mafia in Memphis, or in Kanye West's reeboks.

  4. I agree that Hip Hop is a culture. It's amazing where the culture has been, where it is and where it's going. I went to a wedding not too long ago and it was interesting to see a large portion of attendees dash to the dance floor when the Cupid Shuffle came on! This made me think of the Electric slide, the Cha Cha slide and even popular dances such as hitting the quan and the Nae-nae. The notion of putting one foot in front of the does correlate with walking!


    1. It does! Nietzsche the walker also said a good philosopher has to dance.

    2. Also: "Without music life would be a mistake."

  5. I think Hip Hop is a quickly becoming a culture that is world renown. If you watch television from other countries they will often portray "America" with a Hip Hop cultural identity.