Hip hop has undeniably, irrevocably, tremendously changed my life for the better. If you’re part of it in any way, I’m certain that the same goes for you.
But my on-and-off rollercoaster with rap music is a mere fragment of my experience within the greater culture. And to be honest, at the end of the day, rap had little to do with it.
What I know, and feel, and live, and respect about hip hop culture is thanks in large part to the local breaking and street dance community.
SOLACE IN STREET DANCE CLASSES
Around 10 years ago, long before I even wrote my first bars, I had found solace in street dance.
My long-term boyfriend at the time was extremely possessive and I had little to no social life. The very few times I had went out with friends from college were followed by passive-aggressive reactions and ridiculous fights. As a result, when I wasn’t spending my free time with him, I buried my head in books.
During my second year of college, I wanted to do something fun that wasn’t related to my studies (or boyfriend). Like everyone else around that time, I had marvelled at the Step Up movies. After a big “fuck it”, I googled street dance classes in my city and went with the first option that popped up in my search results.
For a good few months, twice a week, from 8pm to 10pm, I forgot about everything at home and school while sweating my ass off at these classes.
I felt free. I felt happy. And that was all that mattered.
“RAP IS SOMETHING YOU DO. HIP HOP IS SOMETHING YOU LIVE.”
Fast-forward to late 2011 and I had clumsily tripped into the music thing with my first (albeit cringeworthy) song. But the pro-bono music video was awesome for the time, thanks to Frategrafia and the local street dancers that were able to come through on their own time and money.
I remember that I had wanted local breaking crew Tupeu to come to the video shoot so bad. They were super open to it, but the 0 budget project couldn’t cover their transportation to the remote venue. It was a hard time money-wise for everyone, but I’m grateful that this initial interaction sparked my friendship with them to this very day.
After I dropped the music video, I plummeted into the hip hop community. Aside from my own music, I put my journalism know-how to good use and became highly involved in the hip hop blog project Bro News.
Fuelled with a passion for the entire culture, I got the green light to form a small editorial team that focused on the elements that didn’t get as much exposure as rap. Throughout 2013, we interviewed amazing crews like Freakquency and documented major events like Street Heroes.
Rap was my introduction to hip hop, but actively participating in the culture was what changed my life.
REAL FRIENDSHIP IN REAL HIP HOP
During this time, I met an unconventional dancer who would introduce me to the fifth element — knowledge. He made me curious to explore the origins and rich history behind the art forms, immersing myself in the culture.
His name is Franke, and the unconditional friendship I now have with him is so special that no words would do it justice.
Fun fact: On the train ride to get there, I wrote a song dedicated to Romanian breaking with the help of the bboys I was traveling with. I performed it at the event, and it remains one of the most beautiful memories this culture has gifted me with.
Both directly and indirectly, the local breaking community resulted in two of the strongest relationships I have ever had and will ever have in my life.
WHY I WILL ALWAYS CHOOSE A BATTLE OVER A CONCERT
As the years passed, I found myself going to fewer rap concerts and more dance events — battles, jams, cyphers, even workshops with OG pioneers.
These events are electric. I’ve never felt such a strong collective energy united by the same passion, and it’s a continuous exchange among everyone present.
The vibes are insane. You can feel them to the core, even if you’re on the outer side of the circle and have never set foot on a battle floor before.
The connection is profound. I’ve made some of my most meaningful friendships within this culture. Sharing respect. Expressing creativity. Embracing differences. Accumulating knowledge. Building community.
The next time you see me or someone else promoting a breaking or street dance event, give it a shot.
If you’ve never been to one, I guarantee you will feel the essence of hip hop culture like never before.
And you just might find the sense of belonging you’ve always been looking for.
Featured image © fotosoto / Catalin Mihociu @ Breakin’ Battle 2020
Hip Hop Elements is a series dedicated to the culture that has shaped my identity and its art forms.