Buffalo Save the Kids youth hip hop program participant

Youth and Hip Hop

Hip hop is a global cultural communication style including the pillars of music, art and dance. Born in urban American environments, the arts of DJing, MCing, graffiti, breakdancing, slam poetry, beatbox and beatmaking have become worldwide ways young people and adults use to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, values, knowledge and wisdom in urban, rural, suburban and other environments. Today, youth and hip hop are tied up together around the world as an avenue for social change that can build power, ability and inspiration. According to Save the Kids, a Buffalo New York youth hip hop activism program, youth who are engaged in hip hop activism take four tactics:

  1. Reclaiming place through breakdancing
  2. Expressing themselves through graffiti
  3. Making noise and beats with DJing
  4. Speaking out through Emceeing.


Activism, attackin’ the system, the blacks and latins in prison Numbers of prison they victim lackin’ in the vision… Sh– and all they got is rappin to listen to… ―  Talib Kweli in Get By

Hip Hop Generation captures the collective hopes and nightmares, ambitions and failures of those who would otherwise be described as “post-this” or “post-that.”
― Jeff Chain in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop A History of the Hip-Hop Generation


Ways Youth can Change the World Through Hip Hop

Youth as Artists — Creating and sharing hip hop culture focused on changing the world is a powerful way young people can make a difference. Organizing other youth through hip hop, using hip hop to share powerful messages and building the hip hop movement are all important actions for youth as artists.

Youth as Teachers — Young people can learn the skills needed to be effective teachers, facilitators and leaders who use hip hop to educate people, and to educate people about hip hop. Engaging youth as teachers can allow communities of learners to flourish. As a culture, hip hop can allow learners to become more engaged in more ways that mean more to them; as a topic, hip hop can be hyper-relevant and empowering to study.

Community Organizing — Hip hop youth activism is an empowering approach to advocacy, education and empowerment. Young people can use the elements of hip hop to advocate for the issues that matter most to them and their communities while bridging generations and cultures. This approach can energize and activate other people to become organizers, too.

Music Making — The act of creating conscious hip hop can be empowering, engaging and enlightening to children and youth as well as adults. Hip hop music can teach people about the politics that affect them, the cultures they are part of and the other elements of society they live in, and engaging young people in music making can be a powerful way to encourage that to happen.




Things Youth Need to Change the World through Hip Hop

Opportunities — One of the most powerful parts of hip hop is that young people can engage in its many elements without seeking permission from adults. However, when adults are allies with youth, they can foster hip hop throughout communities. More than simply playing a song, hip hop can be a spine for teaching, empowering, engaging and immersing children and youth in the realities of society. Nonprofits, schools, families and communities can all create avenues for that to happen.

Technology — Hip hop can be hold an organic, natural basis that centers on poetry, art, dance and emotion. It can also be moved along through tech-driven, synthetic ways that infuse electronic beats, voice modification and computerized instrumentals into all aspects of the culture. Providing access to technology can allow young people to choose whether they are organic or synthetic, or some mix of both. Tech can also allow children and youth to share hip hop culture globally, too.

Exposure — Hip hop is worldwide today. People speaking every language in almost every nation attach to some part of hip hop, creating, consuming and promoting social change at every turn. Exposure to diverse hip hop can engage young people in transnational, globalized culture without ever leaving their community, allowing them to infuse worldwide perspectives into places where people can’t or don’t ever leave.


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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in Hip Hop in your community or organization, contact us.

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