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Hip Hop & Culture

Hip-Hop Vocabulary

The terms in the vocabulary were defined by Toni Blackman, Terence Nicholson and Henry Obiospo. We are continuously adding vocabulary terms to the glossary. If you would like to add your hip-hop vocabulary to the collection, please go to the Hip-Hop Glossary.

Beats:

Many MC's call the music they perform to beats. Their producers "make beats".

Beatbox:

This art form involves having the ability to create sounds with the mouth that often sound like music, vocal percussion. At one point, beatboxing was an essential part of one's act. Beatboxing can be very simplistic where one creates rhythmic patterns or if done by a master like, Rhazel (the Godfather of Noise) from the Roots, the person beatboxing can reproduce entire songs with his mouth.

Biting:

Although some may consider this word to be dead, those within hip-hop still use it to describe one who steals styles, concepts or lyrics from someone else.

Cipher:

A group of MC's, usually in a circular formation, who perform either improvised or pre-written lyrics. On a more symbolic note, the circle represents completion-360 degrees, or the idea of coming full circle in thought.

Freestyle:

To improvise vocally. This intuitive process is both a skill and an art form. While freestyling is popular among MC's, it appears in many other artistic circles and forms of expression.

Flow:

Flow describes a lyricist's cadence. It is in the interaction of words with musical arrangements, with beats or the way the lyricist creates the rhythm with words; the intermingling of words with rhythmic patterns.

Graffiti:

Mural type art work usually done with spray paint. Graffiti serves numerous purposes to the artists. For some, it is a means of exemplifying craftsmanship, while for others it serves to show rival graffiti artists how much one gets around. Of course, there are plenty of gray areas in between.

MC:

Traditionally, MC has stood for master of ceremonies. This is the same in the realm of the Hip Hop culture. However, in this context, it begins to transcend the normal meaning. To be a true MC means being able to perform under any circumstance, to be the ultimate performer; be it the microphone malfunctioning or forgetting ones written material and improvising. An MC masters the moment and makes every move appear deliberate.

Old School:

Identifies the early days of hip hop and might also be used as a way to reference one's style. Depending upon the age and one's first exposure to hip hop music that's categorized as old school could have been released anywhere from 1979 to 1986 or even 1988.

Rhyming:

Rhyming is synonymous with the word rapping. The word rap is often used to communicate with those outside of hip hop culture.

Underground:

Underground refers to music that is not mainstream. The term is also used to refer to a certain sound or feeling that one gets from that sound.

Whack:

This word has been with us for over two decades and is used to describe work of poor quality. To say that something or someone is whack is to say that it is terrible.

All-City:

When a writer or crew bombs all major subway lines.

Beef:

Disagreement or conflict.

Bench:

(n) Subway station where writers congregate and watch trains. Benching (v) The act of watching trains.

Bite:

Plagiarism.

Block Buster:

Wide lettered piece stretching from end to end done below window level on subway car.

Bmt:

NYC subway division called Brooklyn Mass Transit. Includes J, L, M, N, Q, R, Z subway lines.