004_ HIP HOP


Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the similarities between Hip-Hop and Modernism is their ability to be adapted and appropriated by countless different cultures, languages and countries across the globe, while still retaining the key principles which define them as a movement


Hip Hop and Modernism

The parallels between Hip-Hop and Modernist architecture may not be immediately apparent at first glance, but on closer inspection both these movements’ origins, development and global reach have many similarities. Their similarities are most apparent in relation to the regionally discernible traits of their sub-genres which have spread globally with their own unique dialects, adapted – but still distinctly Hip-Hop or distinctly Modernism.


HOPE IN DECAY – South Bronx, 1970s | London after the Blitz, 1940s


Hope in Decay

Hip Hop originated as an amalgamation of the existing musical styles of Funk, Disco and Spoken Word poetry which combined to create a new era-defining genre of music. Developing from the urban decay and social turmoil of late 1970s inner city New York, more specifically the South Bronx, Hip Hop gave a voice to its disenfranchised inhabitants who created it.

Modernism too, was an amalgamation of various existing architectural styles. The ideas of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Futurism, Constructivism and the functionalism of industrial architecture were combined and advanced to create a new architectural style which would reject that which preceded it. Modernism’s early origins can be traced to the Bauhaus school in the Weimar Republic, eventually finding its voice in decay, thriving as an architecture of hope in the aftermath of the destruction caused by World War 2 across Europe. The incoming US president even made a salient, if unwitting, comparison between the environments which shaped modernism and hip hop stating in his 1980s campaign that he had not “seen anything that looked like this since London after the Blitz.”


ANGRY, YOUNG, TALENTED – Public Enemy | The Bauhaus


From the margins to the mainstream

According to rapper Ice-T, ‘Hip hop is a culture based around dj’ing, rapping, graffiti, break dancing’. This culture was often vilified by the establishment in its early days as representative of a culture of crime,violence and misogyny, with the Los Angeles group even being accused by the FBI of ‘encouraging violence against and disrespect for law enforcement officers’.  Eventually however, Hip Hop became built into the fabric of popular music in the course of a decade between the mid 1980s and early 1990s with rappers winning Grammys, international acclaim, and multi-million selling records. Hip-Hop’s ability to absorb multiple influences and create its own varied tapestry of sound crossing over to the mainstream, has allowed it to become the dominant music genre of the last 25 – 30 years.

This ability has also influenced many aspects of culture outside of music. Over 30 years since its creation – Hip-Hop has influenced the language we use, the clothes we wear, the films and TV programmes we watch, and even our politics. This marginal movement has evolved to become embedded not just in popular music but mainstream culture and society in general.


MAINSTREAM ACCEPTANCE – Jay Z and Kanye West Stadium Tour, 2010 | La Defense Business District, Paris, 1970s – 90s


Similarly, the validity of Modernism was challenged by the establishment from its inception. The famous Bauhaus school was shut down by the Nazi party in 1933 for alleged Communist sympathies and refusal to conform with Nationalist Socialist ideology. Just like Hip Hop however, Modernist architecture too became the dominant architectural style across the globe in a 30 year period following World War 2 from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s. Through its combination of rationalism, visual clarity and internationalist principles – Modernist architecture developed from a small radical movement of forward thinking architects and designers to become the preferred architectural style of government and big business. Just like Hip Hop, modernism has also pervaded domains outwith its origins to become a neatly packaged commodity by global companies such as Ikea and Apple.


FROM A CULTURE TO A COMMODITY – P.Diddy, Ciroc Vodka Billboard, Las Vegas | Marcel Breuer’s Pirelli Tire Building used as an Ikea Billboard, 2000s, Connecticut


Hip Hop, Modernism and Dialect

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the similarities between Hip Hop and Modernism is their ability to be adapted and appropriated by countless different cultures, languages and countries across the globe, while still retaining the key principles which define them as a movement. Despite originating in the South Bronx of New York City, Hip Hop has spawned numerous national and international musical styles from West Coast Rap in Los Angeles to Baile Funk in Brazil to Grime in the UK, and even to Kuduro music in Angola and Folkhop in the Punjab. The key similarities between all of these varying musical styles are those which define their parent genre Hip Hop – A DIY, raw approach to musical production; the marriage of bass heavy beats and spoken word; and the culture of telling everyday stories about everyday life.

Modernist architecture too can be found in all four corners of the globe from Italy to India; the USA to Uzbekistan. Again, despite distinct regional differences, the key principles of Modernism remain – an unflinching belief in purity of form and structure; the use of a limited palette of materials devoid of unessential ornamentation; and an overriding view that modernism was promoting and creating a better world.

When looking at examples of dialect in both Hip-Hop and Modernism, we can see that even the patois of certain countries align across both disciplines. West Coast Hip-Hop developed a sunshine kissed sound with a dark lyrical underbelly reflective of Los Angeles’ unique combination of glitz and sleaze; Grime Music in the UK, was born in the Brutalist housing estates built by architects such as the Smithsons and Erno Goldfinger and shares their intense, almost menacing air; the raucous Baile Funk party music in Brazil possesses the same sensuality and sense of abandonment that Niemeyers’ best buildings portray; Folkhop in the Punjab combines the richness and complexity of its native instruments with everyday Hip-Hop narratives just as Indian Modernism combined its rich vernacular architecture with new sculptural forms; while the energy and primality of African Modernism is reflected in the continent’s prominent Hip-Hop derived musical genre, Kuduro.




Both Hip-Hop and Modernism share distinct regional patois, and even these regional patois possess the same qualities across the two different disciplines based on their unique set of social, geographical, and climatic differences. It is the adaptability and universality of both disciplines that have allowed them to spread globally; and conversely it is this reinvention in various global regions that has and will continue to sustain them as a cultural force. American Hip-Hop has subsequently taken influence from its patois such as some of Hip-Hop’s biggest American acts such as Jay-Z and Timbaland collaborating with Indian artists; Modernism in its European birthplace has also developed to combine elements of its patois, from the curves of Niemeyer to the complex formal compositions of Charles Correa.

Hip Hop and Modernism found their expression in the decay of 1970s New York and 1940s Europe, both evolving to become the dominant movement in their respective fields. In their inception both characterised progressiveness and hope for a better, more inclusive world based on universal principles of rebellion, solidarity and pursuit of new forms of sound and space. These principles, while besmirched in their birthplace as both movements became a victim of their own success, have lived on in various regional dialects to become essential elements of the universal tapestry of both these epochal movements.

The lesson in the comparison between Hip Hop and Modernism is that this continual cross fertilisation sustains them both as new influences and cultures remodel and reaffirm their core values. Both Hip Hop and Modernism possess a flexibility and adaptability that allows these once local movements to become global, rediscovering and reinventing their core ethos with the creation of each new dialect. A universal message in a multitude of languages both verbal and visual.

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