To the question “What is hip-hop?” the first answer is “a unique American cultural force.” “As a form of culture with literally millions of participants across the globe…[hip-hop is] the best aesthetic gauge of the consciousness of the masses of people throughout the world and it expresses not only all that is ugly about them, but all that is beautiful and all that yearns to be free.” Beyond a cultural phenomenon, or a movement, hip-hop is an art form; a paradigmatic art form for the postmodern age. Hip-hop is a versatile arrangement that cuts across four key arts: music, dance, painting, and poetry – these four elements developed simultaneously to create hip-hop.
In abstract terms, hip-hop is an attitude; it is an active interference with the structure of society; the communication of the disadvantaged in lower class communities of America. This communication is used both as a shout of defiance against the conditions forced on the lower class and also as a tool for self-definition. Hip-hop is brash, confrontational, and critical – concerned with the structures of power in society and obtaining power by relieving others of it. This makes hip-hop a revolutionary, and also predatory, form.
Hip-hop was created by minorities in America – particularly African-Americans and Latinos. As such, it articulates the voices of those who traditionally have had no voice in American society. Hip-hop is celebrated and practiced all over the world today as a way to counter societal ills and a way to define yourself in opposition to dominant ideologies. It is incredibly adaptive, and has proven itself able to be situated in a wide variety of global contexts. “Hip-hop is an inherently democratic organism. While hip-hop finds expression in a variety of communities, anyone, regardless of skin color, gender, or locality is able to participate within it and to offer it new dimension.” Beyond an art form, beyond a cultural movement, hip-hop is a way of life.
Hip-hop is a postmodern art form, which means, it thrives on pastiche and re-appropriation. This reliance on re-appropriation has a social determination: hip-hop was born in economically-ravaged communities with no means to appropriate commodities; therefore existing commodities were taken, re-utilized and re-combined, and molded into the different elements of this outlaw art form. Hip-hop was created in the late 1970s, at that shift in time when postmodernism in the arts was proliferating. As literary critic Northrop Frye says, new forms are born when old criticism no longer gets the job done. Thus the birth of hip-hop, as a novel challenge to the new social injustices of its time, when the protests and styles of the civil rights generation had run their course. “Hip-hop is about our modern struggles for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and how this 200-year-old vision has been a process of unfolding and never static.”
To the question “What is hip-hop?” we can quote the poetry of Tupac Shakur: “The Rose That Grew from Concrete.”
 General Baker and C.L.R. Odell. “Theses on hip-hop: preface to the second edition,” (Tuesday, November 07, 2006), http://democracyandhiphop.blogspot.com/2006/11/democracy-and-hip-hop-our-line_02.html (accessed October 12, 2008).