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New American Songbook

New American Songbook: The Hip Hop Way


There’s a scene in the 1997 documentary ‘Rhyme and Reason’ where the emcee Taz demonstrates how to hand someone a hat. It isn’t enough to merely give someone a hat, he explains, you have to hand it to them in a hip hop way. As he performs the difference, you can see he knows this is over the top, but you can also see there’s a part of this that’s true: there is a hip hop way to hand someone a hat, and it’s a little funkier than any other way.

I think about this scene nearly every time I put on a ball cap—a slight tilt of the brim to one side is standard, and like Taz, I know this is both over the top and also, at the same time, serious. Culture is quilted together by the threads of these small gestures; the daily performance of the incidental trains our minds to see reality in a certain way.

In other words, the vocabulary of hip hop culture is expressed in more than raps on tape, or ciphers on the corner, although it’s expressed there, too. Hip hop, like jazz or blues, or even punk rock, is an ideology of style. It’s a thing that happens even when the music is off, a sense of the world that persists in moments in between moments. Like KRS-ONE says—rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.


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