The Impersonation of Hip Hop

Dancers are imitating iconic hip hop artists without appreciating the history of the culture.

Hip hop as a style of dance started at block parties and in clubs. The dance moves, or “party grooves,” were created by an oppressed group of African Americans in New York City who were constantly dealing with gang violence and racism. Recently, there has been a rise in the popularity of rap music, coinciding with a rise in popularity of street styles in dance. The issue is that people are taking the moves created by iconic hip hop artists and the communities they came from, without taking the time to learn them properly or understand where and who they came from. Ultimately, it is an act of disrespecting the people who identify with the culture. 

Ebone “Vanity Zo” Johnson is a well-known hip hop teacher and choreographer in New York City. She primarily teaches 90s hip hop techniques or “New Jack Swing” because she feels that being thoroughly trained in foundational hip hop is more important than trendy dances. Johnson often speaks about how dancers need to remember their roots and know their history.

“We’re living in a time where dancers are producing mass amounts of content to popular, trendy music for others’ approval vs making art […] for yourself,” Johnson wrote on Instagram.

In the world of competitive dance, hip hop has become more popular than ever before. The thing about this style, however, is that it was started in clubs and the streets; in other words, it did not have a formal way of training early on. Because of this, people who did not understand the culture took what they saw and tried to imitate it.

Hip hop is more than just steps: it’s a mood, a way of living, and an attitude.”

Hip hop is more than just steps: it’s a mood, a way of living, and an attitude. If you cannot embody these things, then it is not hip hop. It is inauthentic. It is the same as performing a traditional Indian dance, and not taking the time to understand Indian culture. 

This problem is beginning to be resolved. More and more dance studios are beginning to teach the five elements of hip hop: MCing, DJing, breaking, graffiti, and knowledge. This is spreading awareness that street jazz and hip hop are not the same thing. 

The same situation has been happening in rap music because it is so easy for people to upload music they made themselves. Rap is a part of hip hop culture and, like hip hop, it originated from people who were suffering from gang violence and poverty in their communities. For white suburban boys to talk about being “in the hood” is disrespectful to people who have had to live with hearing gunshots out their window at night. These “rappers” need to educate themselves before releasing music with a label that carries so much weight.

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