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New Book Looks At Origins of Hip Hop


The youth culture called Hip Hop began in the urban ghetto but has influenced music, art and fashion worldwide. A new book looks at the origins and development of the movement.

Hip Hop is gritty, sometimes offensive and occasionally violent. It is a kind of dancing, style of art, and way of talking and dressing that started in New York about 30 years ago. The term "Hip Hop" was used by New York Dance club discjockeys.

It is best known through its music, which includes the scratching and sampling by deejays in early Hip Hop clubs, and the spoken form of music known as "rap."

Music journalist Kevin Powell has documented Hip Hop, with photographer Ernie Paniccioli, in a book called Who Shot Ya? Three Decades of Hiphop Photography. "I always say that Hip Hop is making something out of nothing," he said. "It was created in New York City by poor blacks and poor Latino young people, who were living through a fiscal crisis in New York City in the 1970s, when there weren't a lot of recreational programs. So these young people literally took what they had, spray paint, magic markers, cardboard, turntables, the record collection from their families, and created this incredible culture."

The writer says Hip Hop began on the edges of American culture, but has moved to its center. "Hip Hop is American popular culture today," said Kevin Powell. "It affects the language, when you hear people saying things like "don't diss [disrespect] me" that's hip hop vernacular. When you see fashion trends, be it Tommy Hilfiger or other high fashion companies incorporating Hip Hop fashions, the baggy look, into their shows. Hip Hop is everywhere."

Modern rappers include Eminem, a white singer born in Kansas and raised in suburban Detroit, who embraced Hip Hop's earthy style and helped popularize it. Kevin Powell says that, as a musical form and fashion, Hip Hop has influenced youngsters nearly everywhere. "It's about young people who have felt disempowered or invisible, trying to become empowered and very visible," he said. "And even though it was created many years ago, specifically by the black and Latino communities, it's embraced by young white people, young Asian people, young Native Americans. You can go to Europe, you can go to Japan, Africa, all over the globe. It is today's rock and roll."

Hip Hop has its dark side. It lyrics document - some say glamorize crime, drugs and violence. The culture has also had its share of real-life violence. The rap star Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in Las Vegas in 1996, and the rapper Notorious B.I.G. was killed in Los Angeles six months later.

Kevin Powell says the violence in the music only reflects the violence of real life. "When you live in a ghetto environment, there's going to be violence, there's going to be sexism, there's going to be guns, there's going to be people going to prisons and coming out of prisons," said Kevin Powell. "And all of that stuff is going to be reflected in the culture."

Mr. Powell was attracted to Hip Hop as a youngster. Now in his 30s, he still likes the music and culture. He believes Hip Hop will always have an attraction because of its "edginess." "I also feel we may get to a point where Hip Hop is just like the blues or jazz, where it may not be the popular culture or the popular music of the day, but there's always be a loyal following, an underground following," he said. "Like I'll be that 60 or 70 year old man at a hip hop club saying, 'I remember back in 2002, that was great.' "

Who Shot Ya? Three Decades of HipHop Photography is published by Amistad, a division of HarperCollins.

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