"I've loved hip-hop since I was young. When I was 12 years old, young people would go to the parks with a microphone and CD player. I think that was in 1977. I still remember the Bronx in 79, people had musical equipment in front of buildings…The streets went crazy with dancing ... Break Dance, the beats and rhythms, you know ...

I loved it tremendously. I used to watch and observe this strange musical style. It was wonderful, bringing new energy of creativity. It
was Rap, and the competitiveness that comes along... undoubtedly, it served as the birthplace of an integrated cultural movement ... A way of expressing our dreams, aspirations, problems, and all things relating to our lives. "

The preceding conversation is by a girl called Sydney who was asked during the film "Brown Sugar" about the beginning of her connection with hip-hop. We can’t find words more expressive and beautiful about the state that swept through an entire generation. The effects of fascination with hip-hop continue to attract millions around the world.

The beginning and spread of hip-hop music

Hip-hop as a culture is naturally rooted in African communities that tend to use music as a sensitizing tool, to document events and details of everyday life with all its passion and challenges. It was natural for hip-hop to rise as a means of expressing the lives of African Americans in cities and slums, and as a voice expressing the suffering, injustice and discrimination within the American society. The forms of these expressions differed in their intensity, positivity and negativity. Nights came alive with clamor and emotions of African Americans through music and dancing, taking advantage of modern tools such as loudspeakers to convey rhythms and beats that link the rich musical heritage of African culture to the present reality of their lives. This has resulted in the production of different types of music such as reggae and jazz. The emergence of hip-hop was an extension.

Hip hop as a culture includes several elements such as a disc jockey (DJ), an art of playing music discs and manipulating them on different tunes. There is also graffiti painting as a visual expression of rap and hip-hop songs and break-dancing, a physical and dynamic expression of rap. It also includes beat-boxing, a rhythm based on drums and musical sounds created by using one’s mouth. Jan Davos recalls the beginning of rap in 1979 in the Bronx district of New York City, through the loud African American concerts where the MC (Master of Ceremony) spoke in the time space between each song to excite the audience. He would give greetings, jokes and some storytelling. Over time, this practice continued to become a distinctive technique. Later, it was defined as "Rap", which included speech, prose, poetry and singing with or without beats.

Afterwards, rap and hip-hop spread to other American cities such as Los Angeles, and many hip-hop groups emerged, such as Public Enemy- a politically oriented group fighting against racial discrimination of black communities in the United States. Grandmaster Flash was another famous hip hop artist, known for being the voice of the marginalized social class; the poor black slum dwellers. Hip hop and rap’s motto soon became "giving a voice to the voiceless." Subsequently, schools and forms of rap and hip-hop branched out; such as comic rap, educational, and obscene sub-genres. One of the most famous schools is Old School. The most popular type of rap is the gangsta rap or the gang rap. Gang rap introduced lyrics about the way gangsters live, the problems and challenges they face, the drug dealing and brutality of the police in dealing with most of these issues. This was a manifestation of the reality of social injustice, and how black Americans reacted to those problems. For instance, the experience of cocaine and crack cocaine that invaded black societies in the 1980s was a prominent theme. Some of those who dealt in crack became famous hip-hop singers, such as Snoop Dogg and others. Rap music was best known as a tool to spotlight the lives of black American communities. That's why it was called CNN Black, and rappers were called street journalists.

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Grandmaster Flash via DigitalDJTips

The spread of Hip Hop outside America, and the birth of Afro Hip Hop 

The impact of hip-hop abroad spread to European countries such as France, Belgium and others. The African continent has been one of the most influential areas for hip-hop due to its strong roots in African cultural traditions, adding to that the close ties between African Americans and African people. All this has led to the emergence of Afro hip-hop in about 1989 through a rapper from Senegal called MC Solaar and the Positive Black Soul group. By mixing rap, pop and Senegalese “mbalax” dance music the genre was spread far and wide. It then moved to South Africa via “Black Noise” band, and to other African countries such as Tanzania, Nigeria and Algeria.

One of the reasons why Afro hip-hop was born was because African rappers could not use American rap beats, which would have led to a violation of the intellectual property law. So the solution was to create their own beats.

Influence of Hip Hop on South Sudanese music

Compared with jazz and reggae music, the impact of hip-hop in South Sudanese music in particular came late. Listening to such music began in the first part of the century. The earliest influences of hip-hop culture were through listening to rap music at public concerts and birthday parties of young people, which was accompanied with clothing and accessories styles such as chains that symbolize the culture of hip-hop. The adoption of hip-hop by young singers as a style and recent manifestation of graffiti through the group Ana Taban cemented the hip hop culture in South Sudan.

Nicky Tesco and Lual Dawol are among the leading hip-hop artists in the South Sudanese music scene. They both formed what was known as the “lost boys” community, the first seed that was affected by that music. The majority of the lost boys were fleeing from the hell of civil war, which subjected them to difficult
conditions such as becoming homeless children, and lacking the basic elements of life. They were given the opportunity to migrate to Europe, America and Canada, and have benefited from the new conditions of life in their newfound homes. Some discovered their musical talent and moved into hip-hop, such as Emmanuel Jal, Lucky Owner, Louis B. and others.

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Emmanuel Jal via Denverpost.com

South Sudanese artists elsewhere were also influenced by hip hop, thanks to the spread of modern media. The famous WAPI program for young rappers and singers in Khartoum was an opportunity for rappers like Deng Gulwa and others to come to the scene. According to musicians and hip-hop artists, this form of singing in rap and hip-hop is more likely to spread due to its easiness, because rap lyrics do not need to rhyme. In addition, the musical structuring of the hip-hop song does not require a particular tone. It is the DJs that regulate the beats and rhythm of the songs. The availability of modern technologies and hip-hop materials, and the environment that promotes hip-hop culture also benefits the movement.

Hip Hop Influences

Hip Hop as a depiction of reality

Hip Hop has indeed evolved to reflect the reality of black Americans. This has been the biggest motivation for young artists, which led to the lyrical and narrative style translation of their realities. Hip Hop and rap for South Sudanese music is a positive addition in the sense of expressing issues and problems of the South Sudanese community. Accordingly, a rapper is an expression tool of all the issues that are less talked about or can’t be disclosed to the general public through other outlets. Thus, hip Hop has become a channel that portrays reality in its various emotional, social, political, and personal issues, as well as reflecting the lives of refugee communities in the camps and the diaspora.

Hip hop as a means for change

Hip Hop played a major role in the United States in transforming a group of drug dealers into best selling artists, becoming a model for success and cultural contribution. It has also played an important role in bringing change to the lives of war affected children, such as Emmanuel Jal and Lam Tigur. They later became famous singers and advocates for peace, a stark transformation from being child soldiers and agents of death to becoming missionaries of peaceful coexistence. The story of Emmanuel Jal is the best evidence for such a transformation; after he survived the war, he moved to Nairobi and then to the West, where he discovered his musical talent through Hip Hop. He became more aware of humanity, and understanding of the roots of war, the horror and brutality experienced in his life, the killing and rape of members of his family. He turned the feelings of hatred and revenge to desire and passion for peace and coexistence, and he devoted his music career to these issues.

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Lual Dawol via Music in Africa 

Hip Hop as a sensitizing and political rejection tool

The main direction of Hip Hop was purposive, carrying political messages and refusal of the African-Americans reality in an invitation to change that. Public Enemy group, the Grandmaster Flash, and later the legend Tupac were among such examples. In South Sudan, hip-hop has become a tool of political rejection. The songs of the well-known singer Luwal Dual are the best examples for that. He was the voice criticizing the political situation in South Sudan, criticizing the spread of corruption and inequality. The South Sudanese security forces stopped his concerts a number of times, and resorted detaining him at other times. The famous song "We Must Find a Way Out" by singer Alex Jay is a milestone for political refusal, as it has become an anthem for young people who are dissatisfied with the tragic situation in the country. The song contained a satire and harsh criticism of the political situation in South Sudan, the lack of basic services such as: Security, drinking water, electricity, rampant tribalism, nepotism and hatred.

Hip Hop music was used for education and awareness by singers such as Nikki Tasco, Nancy and others, where awareness of AIDS, disadvantages of tribalism and the need for peaceful coexistence among communities have been the most important causes.

Hip Hop as documentation of local cultures

Hip Hop culture has been deeply rooted in African cultures. The practice of the MC and storytelling in the early stages of rapping during concerts is closely related to the storytelling cultural traditions in African societies. In terms of music format, singing with beats is an old art in African singing styles. Eventually, the influence takes a shape that is linked to local cultures, such as singing in local languages. For instance, the Street Boys rap band performing in Nuer, and the KTK rap in Dinka. Rappers and musicians consider it important that they come up with South Sudanese music tunes which offer a quality addition, as how the singers of Afro Hip Hop did.

Hip-hop music has emerged as part of the Hip Hop cultural, and as a result of the influence and impact of African American people with all their realities and history. It was natural for African music to be affected and find ways to adopt Hip Hop into local renditions, spreading the culture and music further.

References 

1 - The article was based on interviews with rappers and music experts.

2. Evolution of Hip Hop culture, Jan Devos

This post is also available in: Arabic


Adison Goseph

South Sudanese writer and activist.