the a-z of hip-hop

Hip-hop is constantly evolving, and what’s hot today may be completely out of style tomorrow. To bring you up to speed, i-D has put together the most current A-Z of what you need to know about hip-hop right now. Don’t refer to this alphabet next year...

by Kathy Iandoli
13 February 2015, 10:10am

Outkast, The Youth Issue, No. 271, November 06

Not a good thing, but a thing nonetheless. This concept isn't new, but with the ever-growing "white-washing" of black musical history, cultural appropriation has grown in prominence and been promptly pointed out — especially in hip-hop. Bottom line: if you're going to be a part of hip-hop, don't exploit it.

B is for BAE
Some hate the word, others embrace it. Your bae is your babe, baby, boo, shawty, blah blah blah. Nevermind the fact that in Danish, "bae" means "poo," in the world of hip-hop, bae is who you're attached to during cuffing season before you dump him or her to be single for the summer. Welp.

For years, having a prominent chain was the thing for rappers to own. Now those chains are getting snatched. It's the ultimate sign of disrespect when it happens, like getting a patch ripped off your coat in the military. Just ask Slowbucks, Yung Berg, and Quavo from Migos all about that.

D is for DRILL
Remember Drill? That was the sound out of Chicago, led by Chief Keef and his GBE crew. The sound was specific, with minimal lyrics rhythmically uttered over threatening beats. Last year, the Chicago Tribune announced that Drill Music is dead. So this entry is basically to let you know to stop using the term "Drill."

Just a reminder, there are still only four: emceeing, deejaying, breaking, and graffiti writing. Now over the years people have argued that things like production and hip-hop journalism should be added, but no, there are still only four. Maybe some more should be added, but we'll wait for the official word on that one.

F is for FeMC
Do NOT use this word to describe a female MC. It's derogatory, suggesting that women who rap must be in some sort of a special category since it's such a weird and new concept. Not true. Not true at all. However, female rappers are growing in mainstream population. Nicki Minaj being the obvious torch-bearer, Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks being the troublemakers, and artists like Rapsody champion for the real lyricists.

Another sub-genre that was declared dead as of last year. While the late 80s and early 90s brought forth the gangsta rap movement out of Long Beach and Compton, 20 odd years later, the revival happened when artists like The Game and Kendrick Lamar popped up, bringing their own tales of the same streets guys like Eazy-E once walked on. But with the commercialization of hip-hop, that sub-category is once again a non-issue.

H is for HIPSTER
The tighter the pants, the closer to God. Isn't that the expression? No? Well hipsters are still a necessary evil in hip-hop. Rappers have since evolved into them, hipster journalists chronicle the culture to the best of their nerdgasming abilities, and let's be honest, once your career becomes hipster fodder, you're as good as golden at SXSW.

Instagram is the place artists make announcements about their label situations and personal relationships, give you snippets for their new singles or videos, show you pictures of their other famous friends, and post memes that can spark beef in a matter of seconds.

Journalism has evolved in hip-hop, but continues to play a vital role. A few years ago, blogs were the new wave, being the breeding ground for upcoming artists and an A&R's haven for discovering new talent. From there came sites looking to return to the pure roots of print journalism, bringing back longform pieces and thoughtful Q&As. Then of course we have the almighty think pieces, which tackle any and every topic affecting the hip hop community. Write on.

K is for KANYE
In the world of Kanye West, his name is the most important K in the alphabet. Next to Kardashian of course. But seriously, the man who calls himself "Yeezus" is partially responsible for thrusting hip-hop into a whole new sound with more dimensions imaginable. Hate it or love it.

L is for LYRICS
Lyrics. Sometimes you need them, and sometimes you don't. Call that blasphemy, but we call it the truth. Hip-hop is currently divided among artists who can still bring impeccable wordplay and those whose songs have three words in them, but become chart-topping hits. If you're dancing to a three-word song, you can't be mad at the deficit of lyrics.

Mixtapes are a funny thing in hip-hop. For one, when is the last time a mixtape was on an actual tape? Nevertheless, a few years prior, mixtapes were a bigger priority for rappers than their actual albums. That has since died down a bit, since single sales and other non-mixtapey things are on the rise. But mixtapes are still a necessary piece in the career puzzle.

Let's be very clear: i-D does not advocate drugs of any kind. They're a part of hip-hop though. Always have been, but have been increasingly popular over the years. From the traditional weed to prescription pills, lean, and the return of the "Co-Co," drugs are still there, and odes to them are still being crafted into hit singles.

O is for OG
We are lucky enough to have OGs in hip-hop in every facet - from rhyming to production to journalism to film. The interesting thing here is though, the years invested to claim an OG status is getting considerably shorter: Like, you could be in the game five years and be pegged an OG, based solely upon the theory that not many have careers that long. Scary isn't it?

Producers are the real MVPs nowadays. The beatmakers have moved to the forefront and become the celebrities. You can have MC Nobody on the track, but if that track is produced by DJ Somebody, watch how fast it moves up those charts.

The ringleader-slash-drummer of the Roots. The man with the amazing hair. The NYU professor with the impressive vinyl collection. That famous guy with famous friends who performs on Jimmy Fallon every night. Shall we go on?

Everyone loves a good rap reunion. From Outkast to G-Unit and Dipset, rap fans get a kick out of seeing their favourite groups get back together for a mixtape or even a performance at a festival. It's always a good time when the band gets back together.

Just to clarify, these aren't independent artists looking for their big break. These are rappers who @ reply you on Twitter with their Soundcloud links, tag you in their songs on Facebook, send you Instagram videos in your private message box, and make you want to abuse your "block" feature on all social networks.

T is for THOT
Short for "That Ho Over There," it should come across as derogatory, but oftentimes it isn't to most women. Honestly though, the sting has been removed from the meaning and terms like "THOTful" carry more humor than offense. Plus, you know at least one person who exhibits THOT behavior.

There are a lot of artists that currently fall into this category, yet because they rap they're called "hip-hop." Since rapping is one of hip-hop's elements, the controversy behind someone rapping on let's say a pop track and then being called a "rapper" is continuously growing. It's a catch-22, really, because while it's making hip-hop more commercially viable, it's diluting the purism of the culture.

V is for VINYL
For a while, vinyl took a hiatus, but it's back on the rise. Every year, the sales are growing — just last year they were up 38%. It's become more common again to have your album pressed on vinyl. Maybe now DJs will return to scratching on actual vinyl with their turntables. Probably not though.

No, not Iggy Azalea, but white girls have been a staple in hip-hop since the beginning. Just ask Debbie Harry of Blondie. But in recent years, white girls have popped up everywhere from hooks and remixes (Jessie Ware, Ellie Goulding, Lana Del Rey, etc.) to being sampled (Björk, Adele, Beth Orton of Portishead, Imogen Heap).

X is for X
This is what's used when someone has collaborated with someone else and has an ego too big to be considered just a guest feature OR when an artist remixes someone else's track and doesn't want to be sued so they just throw that X in there like "Hey, this is me doing a free mashup. Please don't call your lawyer!" Example: DJ No Lawsuit X Drake - Trophies Remix.

Y is for YN
AKA Elliott Wilson who also goes by the nomenclature of Yellow N***a. From the Editor-In-Chief of XXL to the founding father of Rap Radar, Elliott is hip-hop's statesman, exhibiting constant innovation. His latest endeavor, CRWN, brings a one-on-one situation where YN interviews a renowned artist on stage before a live audience. Past guests include Nicki Minaj, T.I., Drake, and J. Cole.

The Zulu Nation has been here from the beginning, and it's still here now. The universal organization - headed up by the almighty Afrika Bambaataa - promotes hip-hop awareness has recently invited some new inductees. Jimmy Fallon, Nas, Big Boi, and Lil Wayne are some of the recent ones. One thing's for sure, when it comes to hip-hop, things done' changed.


Text Kathy Iandoli

Kendrick Lamar
Chief Keef
Jay Z
kanye west
Nicki Minaj
Think Pieces
zulu nation
a-z of hip hop
elliott wilson