I recently visited a Hip Hop 101 class on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia and was enlightened by the conversation the featured film and the attendees. According to the facilitator, Adam Johnson, the class has been offered for 10 years and was designed to inform and educate those who are interested in or seeking a career in Hip Hop industry.
He said, “If you have never been to a Hip Hop event or concert, then you should come to Hip Hop 101 because the environment is centered purely around Hip Hop.” The free open forum is filled with an eclectic group of avid Hip Hop artists, enthusiasts and fans ranging from the ages of 18 – 70. The conversation was fueled by the documentary the ‘Art of 16 Bars,’ narrated by Method Man and produced by QD3 Entertainment.
The first topic was how an artist goes about selecting his or her name. Many names are earned on the streets, some are self-created. Either way, the name should be meaningful and describe the overall personality of the artist. The class wanted to know if there were any meaning to names such as Waka Flocka Flame or 2 Chainz.
For the record, 2 Chainz told Shade 45 that he changed his name from Tity Boi because he always talked about jewelry and his name signified his second chance in music and was more family friendly. Waka Flocka Flame was named after the Muppet’s star Fozzy Bear by his cousin and Gucci Mane gave him Flocka Flame.
There is definitely an interesting contrast between the new school of artists and the veterans. Many of the veterans pay homage to characters in movies, significant people, and acronyms associated with their real names.
One participant, ‘Brasco,’ said he got his name from his fixation with Italian movies. And he added ‘I-Know’ to be clever. He said he knew people always like to say I Know Brasco so he calls himself “I-Know Brasco.”
The most controversial topic of the evening was biting or borrowing sounds and/or lyrics. Many in the class considered biting a huge disrespect while others reasoned that it was a way to pay homage to leased lyrics or beats.
In ‘The Art of 16 Bars,’ Rakim said the music did a 180 from being original to flowing like the next man. He stated that biting was not allowed in the early days, and it was all about originality. No one wanted to sound like anybody else. Kanye West believes Hip Hop is based on biting because a lot of the music is sampled from older generations. He said the real issue is about how you bite. A serious classroom debate ensued regarding Jay Z and his excessive use of recycled lyrics, from Biggie Smalls and a host other MCs.
It was at that moment that I realized that there is a huge difference between the art of Hip Hop and the business of Hip Hop. I pointed out that Jay Z and groups such as Cash Money have mastered the business of Hip Hop
Lastly, the class reviewed the art of freestyling. Johnson was quick to point out a freestyle is a verse that comes from the top of your head that no one has ever heard. The late MC Guru of the legendary group Gangstarr said “Freestyling is a necessary element to being an MC; nowadays you would never know that because most of the top MCs can’t even freestlye.”
So what does that mean? Does it mean Hip Hop has evolved to making albums that make money only? The myth is that Freestyle MCs can not make good records. Kool Moe Dee pointed out that the reason a battle MC has a hard time making a transition into record is because their mind is not wired for record sales; they are only trying to be as lyrical as possible.
Most of the class felt that the freestyle has been lost and someone even said that it was overrated. I believe when you eliminate the freestyle from Hip Hop, you allow anyone to call themselves an MC. The freestyle is what made the artists one of a kind. It was the skill of free association that protected Hip Hop from being anyone’s sport.
Overall my experience at the Hip Hop 101 class was a positive one. Johnson said it was about fellowship and having people come out and share their experiences and express themselves and share knowledge and information one with another. He actually made me remember that is what Hip Hop is all about.
Jineea Butler, founder of the Social Services of Hip Hop and the Hip Hop Union is a Hip Hop Analyst who investigates the trends and behaviors of the community and delivers programming that solves the Hip Hop Dilemma. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet her at @flygirlladyjay