Rennie Harris Awe Inspiring Works (RHAW) is an explosion of hip-hop dance, featuring talented hip-hop dancers and familiar tracks from pop's greatest icons. You may already know that breakdancing is one of the many elements of hip-hop—joining the ranks of graffiti, MC-ing (rapping) and DJ-ing to form the foundation of a culture born right here in New York (in the boogie-down-Bronx, to be exact).
But did you know that hip-hop was born in the creative minds of young people on the margins of American society? How about that its origins stem from Jamaica’s dancehall, toasting and dub traditions? DJ Kool Herc, the “Godfather” of hip-hop, spun the instrumental breaks from his father's old reggae record collection, and his spoken accompaniment is believed to be the inspiration for what we’d now call rapping.
Ever wonder what happened in New York that brought uptown rockers and taggers to the Village to display their unique art alongside Warhol and Basquiat? How did this fringe phenomenon make its way into the mainstream to become a staple of American life and beyond?
Whether you’re a novice, a connoisseur, or—like me—a curious enthusiast, be sure to check out these insightful books, blogs, films and songs to explore hip-hop’s roots and culture.
“Read slow and you’ll find gold mines in these lines...” (Kendrick Lamar, Poetic Justice)
A few places to start reading up on hip-hop:
Can't Stop Won't Stop
Jeff Chang's chronicle of hip-hop’s history is a comprehensive and compelling read that delves into the specifics of New York's socio-political climate as thoroughly as it does stories of the budding careers of hip-hop's legends. Read this to get an eye opening overview of how hip-hop made its way onto the world stage.
Hip-Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat
For lighter fare and an exciting introduction to hip-hop for young people, check out this compilation of poems, songs and speeches by hip-hop and poetry stalwarts. Nikki Giovanni combines performances and writings by Mos Def, Gwendolyn Brooks, Queen Latifah and Maya Angelou among others in this unique read. The accompanying CD makes this a multisensory experience for audiences 8 and up to enjoy.
Jay Smooth's Ill Doctrine
Jay Smooth is a hip-hop aficionado, DJ and founder of New York's oldest hip-hop radio show, WBAI’s “The Underground Railroad.” He comments on everything from hip-hop to international policy in his witty and fast-paced video blog. Catch him alongside his adorable cat for opinionated commentary on what's happening in the world.
“...They can’t stop me ...best bet is to fall back and watch me” (Little Brother, Watch Me)There’s no shortage of films that feature hip-hop as a central theme, but these are revered among legends and fans alike as some of the best and most comprehensive:
Style Wars (1983)
This Sundance Festival Award Winner focuses on breaking and graffiti art, forms that can fade into the background while MC-ing and DJ-ing serve as dominant representatives of the culture. Style Wars celebrates how these essential elements spread hip-hop’s influence across the five boroughs and beyond.
A tribute to turntablism, this feature-length film digs deep into the crates to explain the arts of cutting, scratching and mixing on the 1s and 2s. With personal accounts from the likes of the legendary Afrika Bambaataa to current sensations like Madlib and DJ Premier, Scratch comes full circle to tell the story of hip-hop through the lens of the DJ.
Planet B-Boy (2007)
A more recent work on breakdancing, Planet B-Boy traces the history of breakdancing while following the journeys of b-boys and b-girls (breakdancers) from Japan, France, South Korea and the United States as they aim for the pinnacle in breakdance competition – the Battle of the Year. The film illustrates the unifying global reach of one of hip-hop’s most enduring elements. Bonus: Knucklehead Zoo, seen on the New Vic stage in 2008 is featured in the film.
For a broader listing of films that focus on specific artists, rivalries and critiques of hip-hop, check out Complex Magazine’s 25 Best Hip Hop Documentaries.
“one-two .. this is somethin’ that all you need to hear” (E.M.P.D., Listen Up)We’re no experts, but here’s a list of some hip-hop tracks we know and love.
For further listening, we'd also suggest:
Brooklyn Radio’s History of Hip-Hop
Brooklyn Radio presents a year-by-year compilation of their take on the most influential songs in hip-hop. You can soak in the classics or sample the game-changers that have shaped hip-hop’s evolution. For a taste of history, I recommend queuing up from the start … 1980. You might recognize some of the originals sampled in today’s hits!
Rolling Stone's 50 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of All Time
While hardly comprehensive, this list (created based on the suggestions of 33 artists and experts) is another great place for any rookie to get started. I'd also encourage you to read the great introduction by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.