Towards A Hip-Hop Aesthetic: A Manifesto for the Hip-Hop Arts Movement

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Excerpt

Towards A Hip-Hop Aesthetic: A Manifesto for the Hip-Hop Arts movement By Danny Hoch

More than twenty years ago, in 1984, I was a graffiti writer, a breakdancer and a rapper. I was pretty damn good, too; I was, however, not an artist in any of the above categories. I toyed with each discipline, didn’t work too hard at the craft, and had no vision for a career as a hip-hop artist, because hip-hop was not viewed as “art.” Instead, I went to school to study theatre and became an actor and playwright.

Now, after serving as artistic director of the NYC Hip-Hop Theater Festival for five years, I am asked by folks inside and outside the culture to discuss hip-hop’s aesthetics. As great as these conversations are, the consistent challenge has been to define not what hip-hop means as culture, but what hip-hop means as art—in fact, to make the case that hip-hop is art.

Hip-hop art, when it is bad, is often embraced by the mainstream as the entirety of the talent and voice of the hip-hop generation. When it is good, outsiders and insiders alike misunderstand it for reasons of politics and fear. Bad hip-hop art is invariably inarticulate, unpolished, amateurish, juvenile. Good hip-hop art is highly articulate, coded, transcendent, revolutionary, communicative, empowering.
Unfortunately Hip-hop, bad or good, is almost always relegated to a marginalized gray area, a penalty box, if you will, where it is denied the status of art; it is seen either as radical political thought, a really bad manifestation of pop culture, or, with some luck, as novelty entertainment.

But if hip-hop is to be discussed as art, then what are its aesthetics? And, just as important, what happens to hip-hop’s aesthetics when they are mixed with the aesthetics of “recognized” art, or when hip-hop’s venue changes from the street to the stage, from the subway car to the gallery, from the schoolyard to the screen?

Additional Info

  • Title: Towards A Hip-Hop Aesthetic
  • Alternate Title: A Manifesto for the Hip-Hop Arts Movement
  • Author: Danny Hoch
  • Date: 2006
  • Language: English
  • Type/Format: essay
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