An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2011

Hip-Hop & the Global Imprint of a Black Cultural Form

Marcyliena Morgan and Dionne Bennett

Marcyliena Morgan is Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Her publications include Language, Discourse and Power in African American Culture (2002), The Real Hiphop: Battling for Knowledge, Power, and Respect in the LA Underground (2009), and “Hiphop and Race: Blackness, Language, and Creativity” (with Dawn-Elissa Fischer), in Doing Race: 21 Essays for the 21st Century (ed. Hazel Rose Markus and Paula M.L. Moya, 2010).

Dionne Bennett is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University. She is the author of Sepia Dreams: A Celebration of Black Achievement Through Words and Images (with photographer Matthew Jordan Smith, 2001) and “Looking for the 'Hood and Finding Community: South Central, Race, and Media” in Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities (2010).

To me, hip-hop says, “Come as you are.” We are a family. . . . Hip-hop is the voice of this generation. It has become a powerful force. Hip-hop binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together. Hip-hop is a family so everybody has got to pitch in. East, west, north or south–we come from one coast and that coast was Africa.
–DJ Kool Herc

Through hip-hop, we are trying to find out who we are, what we are. That’s what black people in America did.
–MC Yan1

It is nearly impossible to travel the world without encountering instances of hip-hop music and culture. Hip-hop is the distinctive graffiti lettering styles that have materialized on walls worldwide. It is the latest dance moves that young people perform on streets and dirt roads. It is the bass beats and styles of dress at dance clubs. It is local MCs on microphones with hands raised and moving to the beat as they “shout out to their crews.” Hip-hop is everywhere!

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reported that hip-hop music represented half of the top-ten global digital songs in 2009.2  Hip-hop refers to the music, arts, media, and cultural movement and community developed by black and Latino youth in the mid-1970s on the East Coast of the United States. .  .  .


  • 1DJ Kool Herc, Introduction to Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005), xi–xii. DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) is considered one of the originators of hip-hop music and culture. He is credited with developing the art of combining deejaying and rhyming. This skill became the foundation not only for hip-hop music, but also for a range of other musical forms. He was born in Jamaica and immigrated to the Bronx as a child in the 1960s. MC Yan, quoted in Tony Mitchell, ed., Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 7.
  • 2Though these figures indicate the popularity of hip-hop music, its audience may be larger than suggested. Many youth purchase digital singles rather than physical formats. The IFPI reports that digital music revenues increased by roughly 12 percent in 2009. Yet the estimated $4.2 billion in revenue did not offset the decline of physical purchases; John Kennedy, IFPI Digital Music Report 2010: Music How, When, Where You Want It (IFPI Digital Music, 2010), 30.
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