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The 5 Elements of Hip-Hop, In Playlists

Written by on February 7, 2020


Hip-hop is more than just a genre of music — it’s a culture.

In these playlists, we pay respect to what Afrika Bambaataa of the hip-hop collective Zulu Nation outlines as its main pillars:

1. Lyricism (also called MCing or emceeing)
2. DJing (and turntablism)
3. B-boying/b-girling/breakdancing (movement/dance)
4. Graffiti
5. Historical Knowledge of the movement


1.  Lyricism (Rapping)

We’re highlighting some of the greatest emcees to ever pick up a mic. These are storytellers, poets, and wordsmiths. These are sharp-tongued, fast-talking, diss purveyors. These are RAPPERS.


2.  Turntablism (DJing)

You can get lost traveling between the 1s and 2s like these scratch masters do. But, the turntablists on this list don’t need a map. Some of them paved the roads, while others have erected futuristic skyscrapers on the foundation that Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc built.


3.  Breaking

Hip-hop doesn’t care if your knees and back don’t want to dance. There’s a b-boy or b-girl inside of all of us ready to lay it down at the altar of hip-hop. Sometimes, an altar is made of cardboard and the DJ leads the service. You don’t want to get raptured, so you better get to poppin’ and lockin’.


4.  Graffiti

If emceeing and DJing is what hip hop sounds like, graffiti is what hip-hop LOOKS like. Every album needs a cover, every crew needs a logo, and every tagger needs a soundtrack. The songs here know that graffiti is ART, and the impermanence of it is part of what makes it so beautiful.


5.  Knowledge

The streets have histories, and through hip-hop, that history will never be forgotten. In these songs, we hear about life and death, joy and pain, knowledge and ignorance. And we need these perspectives to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of generations past. Hip-hop is an ever-changing, ever-growing genre and way of life. Don’t come at it without being willing to learn and grow alongside it.

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