Hip Hop from its inception has been about the unique ways and various means of self-representation and self-expression. Breaking, graffiti, rapping, and DJing were not all codified to encompass what constitutes Hip Hop, but through the very limiting and narrow lens of culture vultures, ethnographers and other voyeurs, they have collectively manipulated and constructed a reality for those within Hip Hop to the masses. This commodification of culture has led many participants in Hip Hop to seek retribution and self-determination through the control of their art form. This need to be compensated financially to encompass some semblance of power, marks the distinct shift from Hip Hop’s early stages in the late 70’s and 80’s to it’s contemporary sentiments about getting money, power, and respect.
In the formative years of Hip Hop, simply being heard or seen was enough for most participants. The movement was youth led, oriented, and dominated. Despite there being little to no monetary gain from Hip Hop, in the beginning there was always the need to elevate from the very conditions that bread Hip Hop and change one’s socioeconomic status. What started as one could argue as a movement of self-expression and escapism, has now metamorphosed into a full fledged political movement that uses art as its bully pulpit to gain capital and liberate those within the culture of Hip Hop.
In the wake of the big named success stories like Dr. Dre’s recent Beats Audio acquisition, socioeconomic mobility though Hip Hop as a social movement appears effective. The mutually beneficial relationship between both artist and record exec, has given artists access to mobility that makes it possible for artists to transcend their current status as purely artists to the mogul category. By proxy, those who have access to Hip Hop artists gain socioeconomic mobility by the dissemination of the wealth these artists have accumulated. Hip Hop as a social movement gives the artist and the community a platform to dictate their own socioeconomic trajectory through artistic self-expression. Since I have regarded Hip Hop as a social movement, the social aspect of any success an artist garners affects the community, by proxy and directly through the artists since of community and out of obligation to uplift and support their supporters.
Hip Hop is undoubtedly a social movement whose lifeblood is predicated on the fact that each artist is consciously using their art to transform the socioeconomic status of themselves and those around them. Hip Hop would not survive if their was not a constant need for artist to elevate socioeconomically and to then use their position as leverage to open the doors to others within the Hip Hop community, with the latter having political implications. In the end, Hip Hop is about art, and the capitalist society we live in has commodified this art to the dominant cultures benefit, and now leads these artists to, in the words of revolutionary Hip Hop artists Dead Prez “pimp the system.”