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Hip-hop is more than just music, it is a form of popular culture and expression. While rap serves as an expression within hip hop, this article focuses on hip-hop culture as a whole, and the relationship between hip-hop and public relations. The theoretical framework for this literature is rooted in Culture and Public Relations. These theories will be used to measure the influence of public relations in the hip-hop industry. Hip-hop music came from other forms of music, to help visualize oppression from living in the ghetto. Hip-hop has stemmed from many genres, disco, jazz and blues. The development of hip-hop culture, and how public relations fits into that culture will be explored. This paper will also look at how museums are important venues that help to showcase this culture.
This paper also serves as a starting point for future research in this field of public relations. There hasn’t been much literature on how hip-hop and public relations intersect, and this paper will hopefully close that gap. With new technologies and social media platforms, hip-hop has now been introduced to the world of public relations and marketing, and public relations will now have to adapt to the hip-hop industry.
In order to understand hip hop’s inheritance or background one must understand hip hop culture within the context of African American history and culture (Rabaka, 2013). This research will cover the background of hip-hop culture, and how it relates to public relations, and also how hip-hop and African-American culture is preserved through museums.
There are four original elements of hip-hop, each of which have helped cultivate hip-hop into what it is today. DJs would be the ones to play the music, and “get the party started.” Break dancers would dance to to the music played by djs. Graffiti artists would “mark” their territory around their communities by spray-painting their names or murals in different areas. Emcees (Rappers) used microphones to talk to the audience, or used their voices as an instrument to rhyme about the things that were happening in their communities; whether it be drugs, gang violence or money.
Hip-hop has expanded far beyond its originating four elements; this evolution is described by Kitwana (2005) who argues that the culture also includes, “hip-hop specific language, body language, fashion, style,sensibility, and worldview” (p. xii). According to Stoute and Rivas (2011), “hip-hop culture confronted the failures of religion, education, government and parenting, the aspirational content of rap music and it’s from nothing to something stories allowed the culture to become a commodity by linking it to major brands.”
A common mistake that is made about hip-hop is that hip-hop and rap can be used interchangeably, which isn’t necessarily the truth. By definition, rap is “a rhythmic monologue with a musical backing.” It was once said by KRS One, a famous rapper, “that rap is something you do, while hip-hop is you live.” (Cite KRS One)
As previously mentioned, hip-hop culture contains four elements: DJing, MCing, graffiti art and breakdancing. DJing and MCing showcase the actual musical part, breakdancing stands for the dance component of hip-hop, and graffiti represents a visual art component of the hip-hop culture. These four elements did not all come about at the same time, but the combination of all four assisted hip hop to come into existence. Below, you will find the descriptions of each of the four different aspects of hip-hop below.
DJing deals with the actual production of music. The DJ is the abbreviation for ‘disc jockey’ – a person, who plays recorded music or sound for an audience. The very first disc jockeys were radio DJs, who played the music to radio listeners and eventually, this practice evolved to DJs performing “live” at parties. Some of the most well known and popular DJ’s came out of Houston, Texas, including DJ Screw.
MCing is can be synonymous for rapping, but it is just one aspect of what MC’s actually do. The MC is the acronym of the phrase ‘master of ceremonies’ and over time, the title MC began to evolve. The initial role of the MC was to assist the DJ in keeping the audience entertained. MC’s had the opportunity to express themselves about how they felt about their current situations in their communities, as well as other cultural and societal problems. There are some Houston MC’s who are notorious for storytelling, such as Willie D, who was excellent in telling stories and painting vivid pictures of his reality.
B-boying is often referred to as ‘breakdancing’. Break dancing is essentially a combination of other dance styles that existed previously, but the dancers would adapt old moves and also invent new ones.
Nelson George in Hip Hop America wrote that “graffiti has been around since man encountered his first stone wall.” Graffiti has been around long before hip-hop came along, but the graffitti still has a significant link to hip-hop.
The city of Houston contains each of these aforementioned elements is different forms, and while we pay homage to originators and creators of hip-hop, the South has a different version of how it originated, and that story should be showcased and celebrated. In Houston, everyone is always curious about one of Houston’s many wonders, the “Be Someone” located above I-45.
African American music has influenced diverse cultures since the late 1800’s. Music was an outlet that generations utilized to release their pain. Most of the early music genres were created by African Americans, so these genres were easy for African Americans to identify and relate to during hard times.
Hip-Hop music extends further than just the United States these days. Hip-hop can be found all over the world today. One reason that contributes to this is the freeing artistic nature hip-hop music has on its cultural members. Hip-hop has been a way for not just African-Americans, but other minorities to express their oppression as well. Hip-hop has become a way for people to speak up on the setbacks they face in their everyday lives. Though there are physical borders that separate people who belong to hip-hop culture, the concept of hip-hop crosses socioeconomic and demographic lines.
According to McLeod (1999), “the nature of hip-hop allows its cultural members to actively engage in social action concerning their community and society as a whole. One prominent sentiment amongst hip-hop cultural members is that without hip-hop many minorities may feel less inclined to confront the societal constraints they experience in everyday life, where one is judged based on their race, gender, or other reasons associated with living in society, without the association of hip-hop culture in their lives.”
Hip-hop has always been an expressive tool for African-Americans and other cultures. The culture of music from African-Americans spread throughout the world, and it still remains one of the genres that can cross cultural boundaries.
It has been stated by many other public relations researchers that culture hasn’t been widely studied, and for those who have researched culture and public relations, much of it has been done on surface level. According to Sriramesh (2007), “Unfortunately though, culture has yet to be integrated into the public relations body of knowledge. Culture hasn’t been widely studied in the public relations field. Much of the literature and scholarship in our area continues to be ethnocentric with a predominantly American.”
When speaking in terms of culture and publics, even though we may all be American, we all have different traditions and things that make us different. The next section will go into detail about how organizations serve as cultures as well, and hip-hop is a culture in itself.
Hip-Hop Culture & Public Relations
The linkage between culture and public relations is logical. “Culture affects communication, and is affected by it. Because public relations is fundamentally a communication activity, it is logical to conclude that culture affects public relations as well. Therefore there is the need to link culture with public relations. In order to do so effectively, we believed it was important to distinguish between societal culture (Sriramesh and White, 1992) and corporate culture (Sriramesh, J.Grunig, Buffington, 1992).” Hip-hop in this case, would be considered a societal culture.
Sriramesh (2007), The Relationship Between Culture and Public Relations, goes into great detail about how organizations are cultures themselves. In this case, the hip-hop industry can be viewed as a culture. Public relations plays a role in the hip-hop industry through communication messages. The interesting thing about hip-hop as culture, is that hip-hop culture is very expressive; it’s not meant to be accepted by all publics, and even publics within the hip-hop community don’t always like the messages expressed by artists.
Merelman defined cultural projection as “the conscious or unconscious effort by a social group and its allies to place new images of itself before other social groups, and before the general public” (1995, p. 3). He said that “marginalized groups convey positive images to earn power or respect from dominant societal groups.” In regards to cultural projection, hip-hop is often left out of the conversation because of the media perceptions of hip-hop. Hip-hop in the media is portrayed as violent, materialistic and misogynistic.
“Analyses have enumerated how portrayals of Blacks in African American media differ from the more negative ones in general market media and how topics of interest to African Americans such as religion or community news are reported more frequently in Black newspapers” (e.g., Wang & Armstrong, 2012). “In fact, a study of an African diaspora newspaper in Britain also found more attention to culture and religion (Ogunyemi, 2007), suggesting that these characteristics of Black media extend beyond U.S. borders.”
This leads me to believe that hip-hop is portrayed poorly in the media due to stereotypes. Stereotypes have been defined as long-lasting “overgeneralized or oversimplified mental abstractions of social groups” (Dalisay & Tan, 2009). People who portray hip-hop negatively often only view hip-hop on the surface level.
Hip hop is one of the most popular music genres today, especially after the evolution of hip-hop from its early beginning to what it is now. “Naysayers will describe it as explicit, glorifying depictions of violence and misogyny- a general indicator of the deterioration of modern society.” (Citation) Those who subscribe to this narrative fall prey to the negative stereotypes commonly associated with hip-hop and the culture that comes with it. By subscribing to this narrative, people instantly miss out on the culturally significant experience hip-hop has to offer to society.
Hip-hop is an art form, that consists of multiple aspects that deserve to be explored and shared with the public. Houston, specifically, has a rich history in Southern hip-hop, and it has never been out on display for the public to see. Culturally the way we typically display rich history and culture is through museums.
Museum’s and Preserving Hip-Hop Culture
“The museum idea and the practice of collecting and preserving valued objects are generally considered distinctly western cultural inventions and preoccupations” (Ames 1992, Cannon-Brookes 1984, Clifford 1988, Pearce 1992). Most cultures will keep objects or structures that hold significant value to them.
“Another window to African American representations and Black culture is African American museums in the United States. These institutions were founded to educate Americans and other visitors about Black history, art, and culture.” (Johnson, M. A., & Pettiway, K. M. (2017)). In order to preserve hip-hop’s culture and to promote its progress and evolution, hip-hop communities should establish museum’s to preserve it’s history. Museums are known for preserving historical and cultural artifacts, and having one in the Houston area would be beneficial to the culture. My research question is:
Houston, Texas is home to a rich history and culture of music that is rarely recognized in mainstream media. Since Houston has been put on the map as a music powerhouse, it’s time that this talent is recognized in the form of a museum. Recognizing talent that has gone unnoticed, and also artists that have passed away, and deserve acknowledgement for their talents, and hard work to put Houston on the map. I would like to initiate a campaign to build a museum, devoted to documenting and displaying the history of the hip-hop industry through the lens of Houston, Texas and surrounding areas.
Hip-hop must be recognized as a musical form and not just a culture that is trendy. Because hip-hop has so many facets, there is a need to shed light on them and educate the public on its historical importance to the city of Houston. This paper is the beginning to bridging that gap.
“Museums achieve organizational objectives by relying on their websites to communicate with potential customers, members, beneficiaries of their services, volunteers, donors, activists, media, and other stakeholders” (e.g., Ingenhoff & Koelling, 2009; Kent, Taylor, & White, 2003; Reber & Kim, 2006). “In addition to using websites to help reach functional goals such as garnering donations or increasing media coverage of the organizations’ events, ethnic museums’ websites also play a broader societal role in highlighting social identity for the group’s own members and projecting the culture of the ethnic or racial group to non-members.” (A. Johnson, M., & Sink, W. (2015)).
“Typically, the stated goal is to project African American culture, with missions ranging from maintaining positive relations in the local community, to attracting regional or U.S.-wide tourists, to serving the Black global diaspora.” (Johnson, M. A., & Pettiway, K. M. (2017)).
This information is pertinent because in order for a museum to function properly, communication not only has to reach its members, but it also has to be inclusive of its non-members as well. The messages have to be able to reach a wider audience. In this specific case, communication messages for a potential hip-hop museum in the Houston area would have to be geared towards the entire Greater Houston community, even though in terms of hip-hop, it’s origins are mostly African-American.
This study, was quite interesting because it consisted mostly of me referencing articles on culture in public relations, and integrating that into the hip-hop industry. The hip-hop industry hasn’t been studied extensively in regards to public relations, so this literature review was a lot of cross-referencing from articles that I’ve read, with information and prior knowledge of hip-hop. This literature would hopefully serve as one of the first articles looking at the hip-hop industry and public relations.
Going into future research, this paper should provide a starting point and a framework for other articles related to public relations and hip-hop culture. The body of work needs to be advanced further, because there is very little studied on hip-hop culture.
- Johnson, M., & Sink, W. (2015). Ethnic Museum Websites, Cultural Projection, and Self-Categorization Concepts. Howard Journal of Communications, 26(2), 206–225. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.uh.edu/10.1080/10646175.2015.1014981
- Ingenhoff, D., & Koelling, A. M. (2009). The potential of Web sites as a relationship-building tool for charitable fund-raising NPOs. Public Relations Review, 35, 66–73.
- Johnson, M. A., & Pettiway, K. M. (2017). Visual Expressions Of Black Identity: African American And African Museum Websites. Journal of Communication, 67(3), 350–377. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.uh.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mlf&AN=2018871007&site=ehost-live
- Sriramesh, K. (2007). The relationship between culture and public relations. In E. L. Toth (Ed.), The future of excellence in public relations and communication management: Challenges for the next generation. (pp. 507–526). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.uh.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2006-11874-023&site=ehost-live
- Rabaka, R. (2013). The hip hop movement : from R & B and the civil rights movement to rap and the hip hop generation. Lanham, MD : Lexington Books, .
- Merelman, R. M. (1995). Representing black culture: Racial conflict and cultural politics in the United States. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Wang, Q., & Armstrong, C. L. (2012). Black newspapers focus more on community affairs stories. Newspaper Research Journal, 33(4), 78–90.
- Ogunyemi, O. (2007). The Black popular press: Challenges and prospects in the UK.Journalism Studies, 8(1), 13–27.
- Dalisay, F., & Tan, A. (2009). Assimilation and contrast effects in the priming of Asian American and African American stereotypes through TV exposure. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 86, 7–22.
- Ames, M. (1992) Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums, Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.
- Nelson George, Hip hop America (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1998), 11
- Sriramesh, K. , and White, J. (1992). Societal Culture and Public Relations. In J.E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in Public Relations and Communications Management: Contributions to Effective Organizations. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates., pp. 597–616.
- Sriramesh, K. , Grunig, J.E. , and Buffington, J. (1992). Corporate Culture and Public Relations. In J.E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in Public Relations and Communications Management: Contributions to Effective Organizations. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates., pp. 577–596.
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