Hip-Hop Culture: What Philosophy to Choose?


Once in life, a day of great decision comes. One has to firmly define what his or her life principles are and what philosophy he/she has to follow. Hip-hop culture helped me to work out my own credo and to realize the importance of keeping to it every new day of my life.

I frequently asked myself what is good and what is wrong with hip-hop? Now I understand that any answer to this question will be rather subjective, therefore, I do not profess to be the only person who is correct in one’s judges about the culture. My position is that hip-hop is a kind of mixture of all existing philosophies and it is up to the reader to what philosophy to keep. In this paper, I will focus on the two aspects of hip-hop philosophy: the artists’ views concerning the category of justice and their treatment of the sexism problem.

Main body

The 1970s witnessed the emergence of the hip-hop movement. It began in the poorest and most crime-ridden jurisdictions in the United States. The South Bronx, New York, was a place where people found themselves talented enough to reflect the world as they saw it. The way citizens talked, dressed, danced and drew reflected the desperate, hard-knock creativity the city lived in.

The influence of hip-hop has spread far beyond the CD deck: clothing, dance, theater, television, film, and advertising – the most important areas of modern life have undergone the influence of hip-hop. Within several decades rap has developed from an underground music to the number one selling musical format, complete with Grammy awards and mainstream corporate support. Rappers themselves have shaped hip-hop culture and influenced countless members of the generation (Crossley 501). Hip-hop is the second best-selling genre of music in the United States (Butler 983). It has become big business: estimates of its contribution to the United States economy range to the billions (Hughes).

The fashion industry is one of the niches influenced by hip-hop. P. Diddy and Jay-Z are just a few rappers to name who stand to represent fashion brands such as men’s wear at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Loose, baggy clothing is a distinctive feature of those who belong to hip-hop generation. The garments that prison inmates wear were also influenced by hip-hop fashion. Liquor, energy drinks, gym shoes marketing and advertising firms are ran by hip-hop entrepreneurs.

The popularity of hip-hop movement is rooted in its reflection of the every day issues. In particular, it is a specific response to the social and economic scourges of African American community, such as joblessness, disempowerment, and poverty (Smitherman 260). Representatives of hip-hop culture find themselves in constant antagonistic relationship with the institutions engaged in structuring and controlling their lives. Paul Butler in his research Much Respect: Toward a Hip-Hop Theory of Punishment (2004) does not merely admit the overall importance of hip-hop movement but claims that Hip-hop culture makes a strong case for a transformation of American criminal justice: It describes, with eloquence, the problems with the current regimes, and articulates, with passion, a better way. Its message is one that we should heed for reasons both moral and utilitarian (Butler 990).

According to the scientist hip-hop is the necessary tool to analyze persistent unresolved problems existing in criminal law theory, such as the problem of cause determination, the relationship between responsibility and blame, and the adequate response to the state of law-breaking (Butler 990).

Hip-hop works seek to answer the following problems in punishment theory: Why do we punish? What should we punish? How should we punish? Butler analyzes various samples of hip-hops works and identifies six perspectives through which hip-hop culture addresses these issues:

  1. the purpose of punishment should be retribution;
  2. punishment should be limited (but not determined) by utilitarian concerns, especially the effect of punishment on people other than the lawbreaker;
  3. punishment should be designed to “catch” the harm caused by rich people more than poor people;
  4. people probably should not be punished for using or selling intoxicants;
  5. punishment should be imposed only by people within a community, not outsiders;
  6. prison should be used sparingly as an instrument of punishment (Butler 995).

The United States incarceration rate is the second highest throughout the world. Hip-hopers appear to be the most visible critics of the massive punishment regime. The claims that they make concerning the potential of the United States to achieve justice seem more optimistic than those of some critical theorists. Though focusing on different aspects, often rather contradictory to each other, hip-hop songs this way or another render some faith in the potential of the rule of law, even if this potential is not now realized (Butler 996).

Speaking of positive impacts of hip-hop I don’t forget about the harmful it can cause to society. The thing is that hip-hop music is rather contradictory; the work of one person can have both positive and negative impacts on the audience. For example, along with misogynistic attitude that comes from rappers who sell multi-platinum records their lyrics offers a message that the society badly needs changes, the issues of education and employment are crucial. There a rather objective regularity appears: the music is contradictory because the messages that society is sending are contradictory too. The hip-hop nation is a diverged one, therefore, different views on controversial issues concerning capitalism, feminism, abortion, gay and lesbian rights, religion and immigration can be found in hip-hop music and other representations of the culture. The difficulty and the diversity of problems that the life is full of arouse the contradictory issues that hip-hop covers and, consequently the impact it has. Still, as for the social meaning of punishment I talked above, the hip-hop nation speaks as one: gansta rap and conscious hip-hop samples are similar in their authors’ critique of American criminal justice in general and its heavy reliance on prison in particular.

Considering the negative impacts that hip-hop might have on society I think of sexism problem that it causes. Bakari Kitwana’s work Where Did Our Love Go? offers a lot of considerations concerning sexist issues in hip-hop. The author considers hip-hop music one of the “few existing arenas where the full range of gender issues facing young blacks is documented in the voices of black youth themselves,” noting that the lyrics “reflect the extent of the tension brewing between young black men and women.” (Butler 999) Further, he claims that hip-hop is “misogynist” and full of “antagonistic depictions of young black women.” (Butler 999) From my personal experience as a hip-hop listener I believe that the author is quite correct in his suggestions. Unfortunately, I have to admit that the statement that words can hurt is rather applicable to hip-hop lyrics.

Though the society we live claims to be a highly-developed one, gender battles do not stop to appear. Since the 1960s there has been a growing war between black men and women and hip-hop continues to play an important role in the cultural war between the sexes. The appearance of gangsta rap is of no way accidental, it is rooted in the patriarchic values that are pervasive in the American society.

Going by these values, gangsta rap proclaims men to be prior to women. This message is revealed through obscene language, glorification of violence and profound objectification and disrespect of women (Cole 90). Hip-hop lyrics often refer to rape and other forms of violence against black girls and women that is potentially harmful to them. Those who listen to the songs of the kind are apt to form the same opinion about the issue, such lyrics encourages misogynistic attitudes and behaviors that does not contribute to good relationships between the sexes.

I believe that this kind of attitude towards women warn the listeners that they should clearly see what is good and what is wrong, even through I would not like to think of hip-hop in terms of the categories of good and bad. Cruel and disrespectful attitude to women is, unfortunately a kind of philosophy some rappers advocate. What is important is that the listeners should understand that there exist other aspects of hip-hop philosophy. Rap classsics by Lauren Hill, OutKast and the Notorious B.I.G. can help them uncover the meaning of love Plato’s spoke of in his Symposium. Run-D.M.C., Snoop Dog, and Jay-Z teach Hegel’s self-consciousness and dialectic. Rakim, 2Pac and 50 Cent’s works are full of valuable ideas concerning God’s essence (Darby 288). Hip-hop lyrics of this type help the listener to understand the most profound mysteries of human life.


Both positive and negative impacts of hip-hop music considered I am inclined to think that hip-hop revolution that is now taking place should reduce the risk that hip-hop culture potentially presents to public to minimum and to develop the strength that this culture posses. I believe that the eternal truths that hip-hope culture advocates make it unfading and give us some hope that the changes hip-hopers bring about will one day appear.

Works Cited

Butler, Paul. “Much Respect: Toward a Hip-Hop Theory of Punishment.” Stanford Law Review 56.5 (2004): 983.

Cole, Johnnetta B. “What Hip-Hop Has Done to Black Women.” Ebony Mar. 2007: 90.

Crossley, Scott. “Metaphorical Conceptions in Hip-Hop Music.” African American Review 39.4 (2005): 501.

Darby, Derrick. Hip-Hop and Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reason. Open Court, 2005.

Gilmore, Brian. “Fear of a Hip-Hop Planet.” The Progressive 2002: 41.

Hughes, Alan. “Hip-Hop Economy, BLACK ENTERPRISE.” 2008. Web.