• 13 May 2009

Underneath those flat tops and sweet kicks, there are four components to being a true hip hop devotee. What are B-Boys – and B-Girls – made of?

Breaking, or B-boyin’

This dance style started in 70s New York, in the South Bronx. It began at house parties and outdoor jams, where people stood in a circle watching others dance. The ‘toprock’ is the stance adopted when entering the circle, while the ‘uprock’ is when someone stays standing, using minimal footwork apart from a few shuffle-style moves. The ‘downrock’ uses more footwork, and ‘popping’ uses robotic, or mime movements. ‘Brooklyn uprocking’ or ‘burning’ is where the b-boy taunts his opponent; either pretending to beat him with a weapon, or just making fun of him in time with the music.


The MC (‘master of ceremonies’) raps over the top of music provided by the DJ (see below). Rap began as a way of speaking over beats, but evolved into more sophisticated styles like beatboxing, where the MC tries to mimic the noises, drums and samples made by the DJ. The classic DJ and MC set-up involves a DJ using decks and a crossfader to blend two songs together. Weirdly, this hip hop blueprint can be traced back to Sir Jimmy Savile, who was one of the first DJs to use it in the 40s, as a way of keeping music playing continuously.


It’s the DJ’s job to provide a backdrop for the MC to rap over. A DJ can use break beats to splice together songs without stopping to change the record. Turntablism has been turned into an art form, where skilled manipulation of record speeds, loops and the mixer allow for beat juggling and scratching.


Graffiti writers make up hip hop’s visual side. Not to be confused with mindless vandalism, graffiti was made popular by ‘tagging’ where a person’s nickname is drawn on a wall, subway train or bus shelter, and came to New York from Philadelphia in the early 70s. ‘Tagging’ evolved into more intricate murals or spraypaint portraits, and graffiti made the transition into the art world through artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat. Now graffiti takes many forms – stencils, paste-ups or pavement drawings.

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