What Is Hip Hop?

Hip-hop historian and community activist Davey D., who first became involved as an emcee and deejay for hip-hop groups (known as “crews”) in the South Bronx, oversees what he calls one of the oldest and largest Web sites on this art form, Davey D.’s Hip-Hop Corner ( He and other experts describe hip hop as having several different elements:

• Emceeing (now known as “rapping”) – Words spoken in rhyme, over music or a steady beat. Study the lyrics of many hip-hop tracks and you’ll find a poetic expression of society’s ills and the frustrations that low-income minorities feel.

• Deejaying – Overseeing the playing of music to emphasize rhythms and beats; also called “cuttin’ and scratchin’.”

• Break Dancing (a media-derived term for what was earlier referred to as “b-boying”) – An acrobatic style of dance that includes head spins, back spins and the flair (in which a dancer’s legs are splayed open in front of him while he balances on one hand). A group of youths known as the B-Boys made this dance style popular in New York during the late ’70s. Around the same time, a style of dance called “pop-locking” (strutting, robotic gestures, moonwalking, etc.) took hold among blacks in California.

• Graffiti – A kind of freestyle lettering, often done with spray paint, depicting words and phrases meaningful to the artist.

True hip hop, say advocates, can be found at a “jam” – young people dancing in “battles,” painting graffiti, rapping and expending energy in a creative way.