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N. Rashad Jones is currently a Vice Consul at the US Consulate Guangzhou. He has been working in China for nearly two years and has enjoyed every minute of it. He is particularly fond of the local cuisine. Before arriving in China, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in International Politics from Georgetown University and his master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School. He is a native of Atlanta, Georgia and has studied Chinese, French, and Arabic. In today’s time, hip hop is often  labeled by the media as a bad influence on youth. Critics complain that hip hop glorifies sex, violence, and drugs. However, this is not the inherent nature of hip hop culture nor is it a complete picture of this artistic movement. When hip hop first started, it was used as a means of self-expression for those who came from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many of hip hop’s early artists created songs that told the world about the artists’ struggles in life and the obstacles that they frequently face. While the original intent of hip hop was never meant to promote negative images, the evolution of the movement has led to a new, commercialized version that continues to supply the type of music and culture that society demands. What is Hip Hop? Aren’t rap and hip hop the same thing? Hip hop is a cultural movement that involves various forms of artistic and musical expression. This includes DJing, spoken word/poetry, graffiti, beat boxing, rapping, fashion and break dancing. Each element has played a distinctive role in developing this movement’s reputation.  In the United States as well as in many parts of the world, it is often assumed that hip hop is just rap music. However, while rap is a major part of what we define today as hip hop, it is really only a subset of a larger cultural lifestyle. Specifically, rap is the musical melody that emerged from the hip hop movement, but does not encompass as many aspects as the broader category of hip hop. One popular rap artist says that the difference is simply that “hip hop is a way of life, while rap is what you do.”How did hip hop start?The hip hop movement started during the early 1970s in Bronx, New York. The father of hip hop is known as Clive Campbell (aka DJ Kool Herc) who is originally from Jamaica but immigrated to the US in 1967 at the age of 11. Six years later, in 1973, he held a huge block party for his sister’s birthday, in which he served as a Disc Jockey (DJ) for the first time. After this block party, he became very well-known for his unique style of buying two copies of the same record and using two turntables to extend the breaks in both songs. As he began DJing more parties, the young men and women that were dancing to the musical break beats created by Herc became known as “B-boys” and “B-girls.” (Break dancers) Soon many people were attending Herc’s parties not only to hear his music, but to see the break dancers battle in the middle of a large circle.                                      By 1974, several other DJs who attended Herc’s previous parties decided to start hosting parties in the Bronx as well, using Herc’s break beat style. Among these DJs, two of the most notable ones emerged: DJ Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaatta. These two helped further develop hip hop during its formative stages. Until 1979 when a new group called the Sugar Hill Gang released the first rap hit, “Rapper’s Delight,” hip hop remained outside of the mainstream of society. This record was quite popular and marked the beginning of commercialized rap as it reached #36 on the Billboard Charts. From that moment on, more and more artists would sign on to record labels in order to get their music heard by a wider audience and make more money.In what ways can hip hop be socially conscious?While many people are aware that the hip hop movement has gained a bad reputation for promoting violence, sex, and drugs, very few people know that it has also been instrumental in promoting positive themes such as anti-violence and raising awareness about poverty and the importance of education.  The vast majority of pioneers in the hip hop industry have been African-American and Latino. Both of these groups have historically been disproportionately affected by poverty in the United States. With nowhere else to turn, many decided to use rap, spoken word, dance and graffiti as their outlet to deal with this issue.In Grandmaster Flash’s popular song, “The Message,” he describes the harsh realities of living in the ghetto or city slums. “Broken glass everywhere, People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care, I can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise, Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice.”  A similar song was released by Slick Rick entitled, “Hey Young World,” in which the artist warns the youth about society leading them down the wrong roads in life. “Here’s a rule for the non cool… your life, don’t drool. Don’t be a fool like those that don’t go to school. Get ahead… and accomplish things. You’ll see the wonder and the joy life brings.” How has the American hip hop movement influenced the rest of the world?As American hip hop artists continued to promote their music works into the mainstream of society, much of their music was also heard by overseas listeners.  Over the course of the last two decades, hip hop culture has permeated various communities abroad and has particularly resonated with impoverished and/or marginalized groups. American artists’ lyrics about having a tough upbringing, growing up in dangerous neighborhoods, and encountering discrimination are all themes that certain populations abroad could relate to directly. As a result, some of these disadvantaged groups began to develop their own local hip hop culture that would highlight particular issues facing their communities in an effort to call the international community to action and/or raise awareness. Although there are now many hip hop artists in every region, three of the most popular and inspirational artists who have acquired international acclaim are K’naan, Emmanuel Jal, and DAM.First, K’naan is a hip hop artist born in Somalia who grew up in Mogadishu during the civil war that broke out in 1991. When he was a young teenager, he, his mother, and three siblings were able to leave the failed African state and move to New York City and later to Toronto, Canada. While in Toronto, K’naan began learning English. One of his language learning strategies was listening to hip hop albums from socially conscious American rappers such as NAS. Secondly, Emmanuel Jal is a former child soldier from southern Sudan who was adopted by a British aid worker and taken to Kenya where he was introduced to American hip hop music. Despite his lack of music background, Emmanuel Jal believed hip hop provided the best forum for him to tell his story and lobby for change and peace in his home country of Sudan. Lastly, DAM is a hip hop group of Israeli citizen Palestinians. They tend to write songs in both Hebrew and Arabic about the search for freedom from the incessant conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. As they live in a mixed town of Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, they use hip hop to describe their people’s daily struggle of being called traitors by one side and terrorists by the other side.As hip hop continues to reach wider audiences around the world, it will indeed change its form in order to adapt to each place’s local musical tastes. This transformation has already begun to take place in various regions like Asia where traditional and local music are mixed with hip hop in order to create a new sound that the masses will enjoy. While it is uncertain whether a more socially conscious hip hop will develop in Asia, it is likely that the hip hop will permeate more facets of society due to its popularity and ability to be mixed with other musical movements. For more on Hip Hop, N. Rashad Jones recommends the following: