Why Hip Hop???

Hip Hop Hut. ©Melissa Adams 2005
Hip Hop Hut. ©Melissa Adams 2005
In addition to my focus on strengthening the Hip Hop Therapy Project, I was also interested in learning more about why young people in northern Uganda were drawn to Hip Hop music and culture. I informally interviewed approximately 20-25 youth participating in the Hip Hop Therapy Project. Most of the young people I spoke to were young men between the ages of 14 and 18. I asked each of them the following questions:

• What do you like about Hip Hop?
• What do you dislike about Hip Hop?
• How did you first hear about Hip Hop?
• Who is your favorite Hip Hop artist and why?
• What influence do you think Hip Hop has on young people in northern Uganda?

The main findings from these interviews are outlined in this blog. Please note that the young people I interviewed usually referred to Hip Hop dancing (i.e. breakdancing) when I would ask about “Hip Hop” unless I specifically asked them about Hip Hop music. In some cases they spoke about Hip Hop dance and music interchangeably.
Hip Hop Likes and Dislikes
The main reasons that were given for liking hip hop (i.e. dancing) was that it was good for physical fitness/exercise, it gives you something positive to do with your time, and it brings people together.
The quotes below illustrate these points:

“When I’m dancing, I feel at home and don’t go for bad behaviors like early sex.”

“It brings us together, rich and poor.”

“It makes your muscles strong.”

In reference to Hip Hop music specifically, most young people I spoke to said they like Hip Hop music because it is entertaining, easy to dance to, and that they can learn from some of the songs. In one instance, the popularity and wealth of Hip Hop artists was mentioned: “Hip Hop musicians are wealthy and popular. I want to be popular too.”

When asked about the things they did not like about Hip Hop most of the youth answered that there was nothing they didn’t like. A few, however, expressed disapproval at the type of language that is used in some Hip Hop music and the negative influence that Hip Hop can have on youth behavior. One person also added “Some Hip Hop artists commit crimes like fighting and killing. I don’t like that.”

First exposure to Hip Hop

When I asked the youth where they first learned about Hip Hop, the most popular responses included: the radio (particularly a local radio station called Mega FM), music videos, and movies (Stomp the Yard was mentioned specifically). Since the majority of people in northern Uganda do not own televisions, some pay to watch movies and videos at local places called entertainment halls. Several youth mentioned visiting these entertainment halls. Some also stated that they first learned about Hip Hop when they saw a performance by Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU). The barbershop and nightclubs were also mentioned as places of exposure to Hip Hop.

Favorite Artists and Why

In response to the question “Who is your favorite Hip Hop artist?” the names that were most frequently mentioned were American rappers Lil Wayne, 50 cent and Akon, and a Nigerian group called P-Square. Other artists that were mentioned include: Snoop Dog, Fabulous, Rick Ross, Tupac, Kanye West, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Usher, R Kelly and Michael Jackson.

The most popular reasons for likely a particular artist were “he sings well” or “he dances well”. Some youth spoke of enjoying the lyrics of an artist’s music and respecting artists that write their own rap lyrics. In reference to Kanye West, one young person said “I like him because he puts black people in his music videos and his videos aren’t pornographic.”

Understanding Lyrics

I asked the young people I spoke to if they understood the lyrics of their favorite Hip Hop artists. Most said that they did understand, but admitted to not understanding all of the lyrics. In two instances I found the interpretation of the Hip Hop lyrics to be particularly

In the first instance, a young person said his favorite song was “Make it Rain” by Fat Joe featuring Lil Wayne. I asked him what the song was about and he said: “He’s talking about money. If you have money you can do what you want.” That is essentially what
the song is about and it was interesting to me that he understood the lyrics despite English
being his second language and the heavy slang that is used throughout the lyrics. The second instance that I found interesting was a young person who said that his favorite song was “Homecoming” by Kanye West. When I asked what that song was about he told me “it’s about coming home, like when you’ve been away in the bush.” I thought that this interpretation was interesting because this young person was applying his reality to the lyrics of his favorite Hip Hop artist. This youth lives in a place where children were regularly abducted by rebels and made to live in the bush and fight against their will. Therefore, while “Homecoming” would mean something completely different to a young person in North America, to him it makes sense that it’s a song about coming home from the bush or from war.

Hip Hop’s Influence

The last question I asked was about the perceived influence that Hip Hop has on young people in northern Uganda. The youth I spoke to listed mostly positive influences of Hip Hop but also listed some negative influences. The positive influences they mentioned were:

“It makes people in Gulu happy”

“It’s good for leisure, it makes you active in music and dance”

“Hip Hop can be a source of income” (i.e. through breakdance performances or teaching)

“It helps young people to stay healthy and fit”

“You get to go to other towns and districts” (i.e. through breakdancing performances)

“Instead of watching bad movies and doing bad things, I go to Hip Hop class”

“Breakdancing helps to forget problems from the war”

The negative influences that were mentioned include:

“Some people imitate what they see in videos and movies so they smoke, wear big clothes, pull down their pants and act like n***as”

“It can sometimes promote drinking, smoking, stealing, and gambling.”

In conclusion, I think that these interviews and my interactions with youth living in northern Uganda gave me a better understanding of the role that Hip Hop plays in their lives. I got the sense that involvement in Hip Hop culture (particularly dance) allows them to feel connected with other young people; gives them the opportunity to do something different and positive with their free time, and provides them with an emotional outlet. Through my involvement with the Hip Hop Therapy project, I hope to continue strengthening the positive influences that Hip Hop can have on young people while working to reduce the negative ones.

6 thoughts on “Why Hip Hop???

  1. Hip Hop (music and dance) is global. The creativity and energy are a part of a universal language that transcends cultural differences. It is a culture of its own that we are all a part of. Much respect to you, the children of Uganda, and people everywhere who love hip hop.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s