Skip to main content
Breakdancing, a free-form style of street dance to hip hop tunes

Hip Hop in Pop Culture: How the Music Changed the World

By: Peter Bothum

1 of 1

A genre created on New York City’s streets, hip hop continues to transcend its musical impact and influences many aspects of U.S. culture.

Since its launch 40 years ago in Brooklyn, hip hop has been a trendsetter for the clothes you wear, the way you dance and the way you think. From fashions to films, celebrities and sports, you’ll find hip hop trends almost everywhere you look.

Soundtrack to a Movement

Hip hop is the voice of the people. N.W.A. (with the albums “Straight Outta Compton” and “100 Miles and Runnin’”) and Ice-T (with his band, Body Count) chillingly foretold the early 1990s social strife in Los Angeles, California, while Ice Cube captured the post-riot fury in his album “The Predator.” L.A. also was the capital for the West Coast-East Coast war in the late 1990s that produced some amazing music from Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. With a two-decade truce going strong, a new generation of L.A.-based rappers, including rap battle king Dumbfoundead, the G-Funk-influenced Trizz and Ill Camille, is churning out more socially conscious lyrics.

Legendary performer Ice Cube, known especially for “The Predator”

Legendary performer Ice Cube, known especially for “The Predator”
View more

Taking a Stand in Miami

Discussions about Southern rap tend to center around Atlanta, Georgia. Farther south, you’ll find a hip hop factory in Miami, Florida, with the likes of Rick Ross, Flo Rida, Trick Daddy and Trina. Miami’s 2 Live Crew was the first to put the city on the rap map when the party rappers became the unlikely defenders of free speech. Their 1989 album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was almost banned by the U.S. government, which only served to boost sales of that record and furthermore encouraged other artists to share their voice.

2 Live Crew performing to an enthusiastic audience

2 Live Crew performing to an enthusiastic audience
View more

Style’s Impact on a Genre

When Run-D.M.C. climbed the charts in the early 1980s wearing Adidas shoes, the masses started wearing Adidas. Other early fashion icons included L.L. Cool J’s Kangol hat and Salt-N-Pepa’s colorful Dapper Dan jackets. Things went corporate in the mid-1990s when Snoop Dogg started wearing Tommy Hilfiger-branded sportswear. Later, artists took control. Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy or P. Diddy, changed the industry in the early 2000s with Sean John, his boardroom-meets-street brand. Others soon followed: Jay-Z has his dapper Gucci line while Kanye West launched his sophisticated but basic Yeezy line.

The mark of success: Run-D.M.C. branding extends to shoes

The mark of success: Run-D.M.C. branding extends to shoes
View more

Rap, Sports and Movies Mix and Mingle

Everyone thought they could Rap in the early days. Comedian Rodney Dangerfield took a stab with “Rappin’ Rodney” in 1983 and actor Mr. T (“The A-Team”) released the well-meaning “Be Somebody (Or Be Somebody’s Fool)” in 1984. Though silly, these releases opened the floodgates to crossovers. During his successful run alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff as the Fresh Prince, Will Smith, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, became a successful TV and film actor while continuing his music career as a solo artist. Even the sports world got in on the act. Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson was among several basketball players who recorded hip hop albums along with NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal, who released five albums in the ’90s.

On the Move

With its roots on the streets of New York City, New York, in the late 1970s, breakdancing was as much a symbol of rap as boom boxes. The art form evolved with updates like uprocking – the fight-style dancing involving two b-boys seen in videos like Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “I Wonder If I Take You Home.” Hip hop eventually moved on. In 1987, the Gucci Crew II’s “Cabbage Patch” inspired a dance where one swings their arms around in a circle. In 2010, the dab was invented when Atlanta’s Skippa Da Flippa did it several times on the beat in his “How Fast Can You Count It” video, only to be popularized even more by his buddy Migos.

Taking a turn to perform impressive breakdancing moves

Taking a turn to perform impressive breakdancing moves
View more

Word Up: The Vernacular of Hip Hop

Hip hop influenced the way we talk. “Def” and “bad” came out of hip hop as did “chill” (EPMD’s 1988 single “You Gots To Chill”) and “fly” (originated in the 1971 flick “Superfly”). You’ll recognize “word” (crystalized in Cameo’s 1986 single “Word Up”) and “fresh,” which was used as names for MCs (’80s legend Doug E. Fresh) and songs (Outkast’s 2000 track “So Fresh, So Clean”). Gangsta Rap rebirthed “sucker” and “chill” from the 1980s, but also gave us “G,” (gangster), “gat” (pistol) and many unprintables in the 1990s. “Shizzle” and variations emerged in the 2000s.

The hip hop duo Outkast got their start in Atlanta, Georgia

The hip hop duo Outkast got their start in Atlanta, Georgia
View more

Impact of the Silver Screen

Films like “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogalo” in 1984 and 1985’s “Krush Groove” helped introduce the world of hip hop to the masses by offering a playlist and a virtual how-to for wanna-be breakdancers. Later, hip hop’s impact on American culture went deeper. Spike Lee’s 1989 flick “Do The Right Thing,” which was set in Brooklyn in New York City, and two Los Angeles-based films –1991’s “Boyz N The Hood" and the 2015 N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” – provided glimpses into worlds many never knew existed. In 2005, “Hustle and Flow,” based in Memphis, Tennessee, captured the rap game better than any other U.S. film with its signature track, “It’s Hard Out There for A Pimp,” winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Cast and crew members of the 2005 movie “Hustle and Flow”

Cast and crew members of the 2005 movie “Hustle and Flow”
View more
Explore more