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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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


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.


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.


When a writer or crew bombs all major subway lines.


Disagreement or conflict.


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



Block Buster:

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


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


Prolific writing.


Removal of writing/art work.

The Buff:

The MTA's graffiti removal program.


1. To out do the competition. 2. To ware out.


A technically and stylistically well-executed wild style piece. Generally done in bright colors.


(Fat, skinny, German thin) Interchangeable spray-can nozzles fitted to paint can to vary width of spray.

Clean Train:

Current term for all New York City Subway cars. They are difficult to hit and rarely go into service with writing on them.

Coal Mine:

Older IND and BMT (R1s-R9s) subway cars characterized by a unpainted brown dusty surface. Retired from service in 1976. See image at NYC Subway Resources. Photo by Doug Grotjahn. Collection of Joe Testagrose.


Organized group of writers.

Crossing Out:

To scribble or write on someone else's name. It is considered highly disrespectful.


Excellent (derived from definite and death).


Polka dots, checkers stars swirls are placed over the fill-in to in hence and compliment fill-in. Designs are limited only by an artists imagination and technical ability.

Ding Dong:

Stainless-steel (R-46) subway car, so named for the bell that rings alerting passengers of closing doors.


Excellent, of the highest order.


Part of a group or action.


Plain cloths police officer or detective.


Slang for police. Derived form the television series Hawaii 5-O.


Graduation of colors.


Rows of throw ups of the same name.


Throw ups done on subway car panels at window level.


Railroad freight cars.


Painted steel subway cars with flat surfaces. (The preferred subway cars of old school writers. During the 1970s the IRT division was composed exclusively of flats).

Getting Up:

When proliferation of name has led to high visibility.

Getting Over:


Going Over:

Writing over another writers name. It is the ultimate act of disrespect.


The base colors of a piece, falling within the outline.

Hand Style:

Handwriting or tagging style.

Head Buff Spot:

The portion of wall panels of the subway car interior above the seats located at passenger's head level. The mild though frequent abrasion from passengers heads eventually buffs (removes) tags on these locations. (It is an undesirable location to tag).

Henry Shots:

Photographic technique developed by Henry Chalfant. The camera remains in one spot with automatic film advance while the subject (train) moves. The end result is a straight forward single image built from several frames providing more detail. Though the term is used infrequently the technique has become one of the standards for photo documentation of trains.


(n) A tag, throw-up or piece (v) the act of writing.


NYC subway division called the Independent. Includes A, B, C, D, E, F, GG subway lines.


Subway car interiors.


Shoplifting or stealing. This term was used prior to 1974. The contemporary term is RACK.


NYC subway division called Interborough Rapid Transit. Includes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 subway lines.


To bomb excessively.


The most accomplished writer in a given category.


A single or double track where trains are parked during off-peak hours. Both tunnel and elevated lay-ups exist.

Letter Lines:

The IND and BMT divisions of The New York City Subway.

Married Couple:

Two subway cars permanently attached which share a motor. Identified by their consecutive numbers. These cars were desirable when art work on connected car was directly relevant.