– It can be used as a community and personal development tool FRONT COVER NEWS FEATURE Robert McNamara reports Hip-hop is a cultural phenomenon we all know about. Whether we like it or not – or even understand it – it’s everywhere. It’s on TV, the radio, the internet, in clothes shops and on the […]

– It can be used as a community and personal development tool

Robert McNamara reports
Hip-hop is a cultural phenomenon we all know about.
Whether we like it or not – or even understand it – it’s everywhere.
It’s on TV, the radio, the internet, in clothes shops and on the streets.
Kids love it, they engage with it; more importantly, they identify with it.
It’s a subculture that originated in the seventies on the other side of the Atlantic, in the clamour of the Bronx, a concrete jungle dominated by high-rise buildings and apartment blocks, far different to the rural/urban overlap of most Irish towns.

In the poor areas it flourished and among African and Hispanic communities it became a way of life.
In recent years, in every town and city, Ireland’s youth has adopted elements of hip-hop’s culture as a symbol of identity – particularly in disadvantaged communities.
Ireland is not alone.
In Japan, Kenya and Bangladesh, among others, it’s become a mainstream form of music.
National Geographic has labeled it “the world’s favorite youth culture” in which “just about every country on the planet seems to have developed its own local rap scene.”
Irish people identify with hip-hop
Stewart O’Keeffe (24) – aka JackOfAllTradez – is an independent rapper/producer originally from Cork, but living in Limerick.
“Irish people identify with hip-hop because it’s a way of expression and we generally can’t express our emotions openly without being discouraged or picked on for our flaws.”
“I think we relate to rap and hip-hop because it makes us feel accepted, but different. At the moment, Ireland is a down and out culture. Well, rap came from the voice of a down and out culture. So it gives us a say. I definitely feel like it gives me a purpose.”
Hip-hop and community development
So, how can communities in Ireland use it? Connecting with young people seems to be the key.
Ross Herlihy is one of the people behind ‘LiveStyles’ Fest in Cork, an annual event that made its debut in 2012 to much acclaim. It featured Bboys, Bgirls, DJs, MCs as well as barbeques and workshops.
“A lot of young people who get into hip-hop would have felt very disenfranchised growing up,” says Ross. “Some kids feel a bit disconnected – I wasn’t really one for GAA for example.
“What we are trying to do is develop that connection from primary schools up, to show that there are active role models that children can engage with who are into the same things as them.
“They participate with the same kind of dedication that people who partake in sport or any other kind of recreation do.”
Community groups have been among the first to spot the movement’s potential and local development companies from Cork to Donegal and Dublin to Clare have supported the promotion of hip-hop in recent years. In Offaly, hip-hop is part and parcel of Shakefest 2013, an annual event support by Offaly Local Development.

‘You learn how to behave’

Limerick’s first hip-hop festival, ‘Make-a-Move’, took place last June and was partly funded and supported by PAUL Partnership. It featured workshops, live performances and street art displays.
 “Two participants from a community arts group that PAUL had paid for and supported wanted to do something around hip-hop, as it’s very popular and lots of young people are engaged in it. We saw the sense in that and we wanted to continue that supports,” says development worker, Karen O’Donnell O’Connor.
One of those participants, Barry Burke, otherwise known as Bazzy-B, is a co-founder of Limerick hip-hop group ‘Limrockers Cru’ and was instrumental in the organisation of the dance element of Make-A-Move.
“Sport is done very well here in Limerick, it’s brought a lot of people and business to the city. The same could be done on a smaller scale with dance. It’s all about using dance like you use sport for self-discipline and self-control, learning about who you are and how to behave.”
“Nearly every other city in the world has a government funded building or a city centre location where people come together, dance and share ideas. There are so many possibilities for hip-hop.”
Make-A-Move will again take place in Limerick this July and will feature all elements of hip-hop including Street Dancing, Mc’ing, Rapping, Street Art and Graffiti.
Hip-hop as a vessel for change
Hip-Hop has long been used as a tool to encourage societal change and community and personal development.
Across the Atlantic in Boston, the genre is used by an organisation that call themselves ‘Project Hip-Hop’ as a platform to help young people address issues around social justice.
The organisation was formed in 1993 to raise awareness among young people about institutional racism.
They sent a multi-cultural group of nine youths and four adults down to the South in a van to meet civil rights veterans and visit sites that are important to the civil rights movement.
A “rolling classroom” if you like.
Teachers began to take heed of the peer-to peer learning benefits of hip-hop and they welcomed members of ‘Project Hip-Hop’ into their schools.
Today the organisation uses hip-hop culture and the history of resistance to injustice as the primary tools for engaging and developing young people as artists and community organisers.
What about all that gangster rap?
Anyone with a knowledge of hip-hop will know it can be intellectually articulate, politically aware and a tool for unleashing young people’s talents.
Some, perhaps ignorant about its origins and culture argue that hip-hop has been used to promote materialism, sexism and the glorification of crime.
They’re missing the real point, says Dion Brownfield of Indigenous Hip Hop projects in Australia: “We never play or support any of the music artists that explore that derogatory, sexist, violent side. For example, in a confidence circle you would be more likely to hear James Brown’s ‘Turn It Loose’ than some sort of gangster song. Once communities see how we work they love it.
Poverty means having more stress to let go
He says hip-hop doesn’t require any expensive equipment and it is healthy.
“You don’t need money to dance, or to write rhymes. All you need is music. Most youth from low-income families have experienced more traumas in their lives than others. They have more built-up stress and trauma to get out of their bodies and minds and they love to release that by getting creative and dancing.”
Many forms of art have evolved under the umbrella of hip-hop including rapping, break dancing, graffiti art and beatboxing. It’s cool, it’s contemporary and as Ross Herlihy points out:
 “When politicians talk to some of the older people involved in hip-hop, they see it’s not just teenagers running around doing whatever they want… There’s people who are still active in hip-hop into their forties.”

DEFINED: Hip-hop

The phrase hip-hop is derived from two different slang terms. Hip meaning cool, current and fashionable and hop meaning to dance.

It originated in the Bronx, New York City, among African/ Americans playing records and incorporating their own “shouts” over them. This led to mixing, sampling and rapping which are common place in today’s music.
There are a number of elements of hip-hop culture. They include rapping, DJing, beatboxing, dancing, graffiti writing and subversion of language.
Community workers have learned that hip-hop frees young people to express themselves and it can be used as a tool for personal and community development.