Hip-hop rooted in African culture

Kawamabe-Omowale African Drum, an African dance group in Arizona, offers a glimpse into the world of West African culture through dance. (Photo by Johnny Soto/Cronkite News)

Hip-hop, crowned as a top musical genre, is rooted in the centuries-old cadence and storytelling of African dance.

Kawamabe-Omowale African Drum, an African dance group in Arizona, offers a glimpse into the world of West African culture through dance. Member Elana Payton says hip-hop is based on African dance.

“You can’t help but notice the connections to the rhymes, to the music, the sound, the essence of what it brings through hip-hop, through jazz, and all genres of music,” Payton said.

Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly is a prime example. Musically it ranges from hip-hop to jazz, but lyrically it tells the story of a young man (Lamar) dealing with conflicts, character struggles and living as a black man in America. Lamar reads a poem that grows as the album progresses and details African American issues. Lamar even incorporated dance to his music in his most recent performance at the Grammy’s.

“If you look at dance styles across the history of the United States from what was called the Jitterbug or the Lindy Hop to all the way up to hip hop and things that are going on,” said Kawamabe-Omowale member Debora Glasper. “The background coming from different African cultures is there.”

John “Candyman” Shaffer III, who teaches at Scottsdale Community College, was a part of N.W.A. and helping set the foundation for activist, modern day hip-hop. He points to artists like Lamar and J. Cole pulling from African dance to aid in their success.

“Everything comes back full circle,” said Shaffer. “People have to come back to their roots … The J. Coles, the Kendrick Lamars – all of those people are now putting the skills and lyrics back into the content.”

Despite hip-hop being musically different from Shaffer’s time, he sees modern hip-hop still relying on African dance.

“There are a lot of things that a lot of people don’t know originated in Africa. The drums, the music, and all of those different things,” said Shaffer. “It all stems from the Motherland and a lot of that the culture, the break dancing, the way we move our bodies, the way we play the drums, that’s where it originated from.”

Hip-hop has been immersed in American culture for decades. Now young rappers and other artists are looking at the groups from the 90’s for inspiration, just as those groups built on the work of ancestors.

“Maybe now they are asking about Ice Cube and Dr. Dre and all of these people. I just want them to know where it came from and how it got started,” Shaffer said.

From learning about hip-hop music in the 90’s to the teaching of men like Shaffer, youths are remaining rooted in African culture. The world is embracing the music and as a result, its popularity is soaring to new heights.

“Just like jazz filtered its way into the school systems and is a legitimate art form now, we are well over 30 plus years with hip-hop and not only is it still around, it is still the dominant music,” said Shaffer.

Just look at online streaming services.

Spotify data show that throughout the world, hip-hop topped all playlists regardless of language or geography in 2015. To Pimp A Butterfly alone had 9.6 million streams in one day, breaking the previous record set by Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.