hip hop is, first a foremost, a culture. it is a culture that started in post industrial nyc with breaking, tagging, and flowing and represented a unique artistic and emotional outlet for youths in inner-city neighborhoods. from a factual standpoint, it is a form of musical expression that consists of someone flowing (rapping) with beats beneath it, and more recently certain artists (rjd2, dj shadow, etc.) have done without the flow. at the same time, however, hip hop is so much more than that.
at it's core, hip-hop is about awareness. similar to the tags on nyc trains that spread their messages as they drove through the city, hip hop is about spreading both messages and experiences. in one sense, listening to hip hop can make one more aware of the world around one as well as the individuals that comprise it. in the context of the debate community (or any primarily white, primarily affluent community) hip hop can serve as a crucial tool in helping individuals step outside of their bubble and learn about experiences and ways of being in the world that are radically different than their own.
the easiest way to understand how powerful hip hop is would be simply to read read paulo friere's a pedagogy of the oppressed. unlike philosophy and academia which, while they are often focused on making individuals more aware of the world, these philosophers and academians are all writing from a relatively similar point of view: one that is relatively affluent. hip hop, on the contrary, comes from the point of view of the oppressed. the crux of friere's oft-cited argument is that changing the status of the oppressed must come the from oppressed themselves, since they are most familiar which the situation. and it is from this notion that hip hop gathers its ideology.
hip hop, first and foremost, draws (even if unknowlingly) on critique as action (ala Foucault). at the most basic level, hip hop is critique--a critique of the status quo in a way that appeals to the masses, or at the very least, other individuals who are oppressed. it is founded on the hope that listening to a rap song that exposes certain experiences, or preaches a certain message, will change the way one thinks about a given issue and accordingly, the way one acts with regards to it.
but hip hop has multiple functions for many people and to say that hip hop is purely critique, etc. is a misnomer. many complain about hip hop's misogynistic lyrics, sexism, reinforcement of racial stereotypes (via music videos and "n-bombs), to which we should respond the way malcolm x woulds "who cares--by any means neccessary." that is, by any means neccessary, get yourself out of the hood, out of the ghetto. when you cant step outside without being at risk, when you see your relatives addicted to crack and your friends shot, hip hop can be a tool. not neccessarily a tool of awareness, but as a way for the oppressed to change their current situation. sure this views change and success primarily in terms of money, but as dre says (i promise to limit myself to this one section of his verse):
I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me?
Niggas ain't made me if niggas they can't be.
But niggas can't hit niggas they can't see.
I'm out of sight, now I'm out of they dang reach.
How would you feel if niggas wanted you killed?
You'd probably move to a new house on a new hill.
And choose a new spot if niggas wanted you shot ("The Watcher")
sure, it would be better if getting out of the ghetto could be done without often materialist and sexist lyrics, but the fact is THAT IS WHAT SELLS, and that says a lot more about our society than it does about hip hop artists.
commodification? commodification is key to preventing suffering sometimes. if its a capitalistic propaganda-esque shit, if it prevents suffering, death, "gets you out the hood," its worth it in my opinion.
for those of you that have an interest in the political and otherwise nature of the hip hop, i would recommend the following:
pedagogy of the oppressed, paulo friere (not about hip hop, but key to understanding it)
black noise: rap music and black culture in contemporary america, tricia rose