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Who Stole Hip-Hop?

How did the authentic meaning behind hip-hop get stolen? It has become so perverted from its original meaning and intent that just to say the word seems to conjure up gangster and criminal behavior and even an element of fear among elements of the populace who are becoming—for some many reasons—an increasingly apprehensive American community?!

Hip Hop Dancers

What seems to be the common knee-jerk reaction to this genre? That which is different and new is offensive and threatening and must, logically, be labelled with aspersions and condemnation and be rejected out of hand.

Isn’t it time that we look within ourselves and question our perceptions and misconceptions? Isn’t it time that we create a new mantra that demands acceptance, credibility, and worthiness of ideas that not only challenge but also demonstrate imagination, promise, a new creativity, and exciting and innovative visions?!

To do so, let us go back, for a moment, to the roots of this valuable addition to our universal and international culture. Its formative years began in the 1920s with the Charleston (a jazz dance form) and expanded during the 1950s and ‘60s with the inclusion of Jamaican dancehall music during the era of Clive Campbell—better known as DJ Kool Herc (Hercules)--considered “the founding father of hip-hop.”

Hip-Hop can and should be thought of as a type of educational institution, providing a means of expression for those who have too long had their words and feelings repressed.

Most aficionados, however, believe that Hip-Hop got its roots during the early 1970s in the Bronx (thought to be the actual birthplace of Hip-Hop in 1973) and in Brooklyn with music activist Afrika Bambaaataa (responsible for what became the internationally known and admired Mighty Zulu Kings) and B-Boy Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, both of whom took break-dancing and tangential traditions in a new direction. These were DJs who appropriated the beats from their turntables and created the lyrical poetry of this new style.

For those who don’t quite understand what this style is all about, the explanation is fairly simple: Hip-Hop arrangements serve “as a looking glass to the outside world of African-American culture. . . . It is a lifestyle and style of music which [has been paying] homage to its culture throughout” its 20th century history. Its appeal today goes beyond the Black community. It has also become an integral part of the Latino culture. In fact, its appeal, nearly ubiquitous, is found in many places and is thus providing a way for people to share and understand and participate in each other’s cultures.

Hip-Hop can and should be thought of as a type of educational institution, providing a means of expression for those who have too long had their words and feelings repressed. “Hip-Hop music in its infancy has been described as an outlet and a ‘voice’ for the disenfranchised youth of low-economic areas, as the culture reflected the social, economic, and political realities of their lives.”

It is unfortunate that, too often, people (not knowing any better) relate to Hip-Hop in a negative way—due, in part, to the deleterious stereotypes reported in the media which have sullied the image of true Hip-Hop.

For financial and commercial reasons, television and radio (along with their sponsors) have largely been responsible for these views. An unintended consequence of this corporate influence has been, for its own selfish purposes, the appropriation of the purity of Hip-Hop by those who have been convinced that creating a “variation” of this mode of music and dance will bring its own lucrative rewards.

Thus, it is these interests (for their bottom line) that urged the use of foul language, the pursuit of big money, the need for mega-mansions, and the belief that self-actualization can only be obtained through visualizations of a large life-style through coverage (whether good or bad) in newspaper, television, and radio—as though such personal fulfillment can only be obtained in that way. The more controversial the lyrics and lifestyle, the more recognition—positive or negative—would be achieved and, with it, the more money would be made. . . . while the vicious cycle becomes self-perpetuating.

Out of this thinking came Gangsta Rap (and other “alternative” music) whose lyrics are often filled with unrepeatable language and horrific images of misogyny and whose words are frequently used, under the guise of reflecting real-life circumstances, to “inspire” hatred toward many institutions, including and especially the police.

In fact, what this new brand of music and dance has done is to create and perpetuate a perversion of the seminal moment when genuine Hip-Hop was conceived. For many purists, Gangsta and other “post-Hip-Hop” forms are no more what Hip-Hop is all about than soft jazz and jazz rock are to people like Winton Marsalis who wince at the very idea that those new variations are considered a form of jazz at all.

It is in response to these distortions of what Hip-Hop is meant to be that the Zulu Dance Foundation (and other groups) was formed. Its purpose is not only to teach the genuine Hip-Hop style of dance and music but to provide a way to get at-risk youth off the streets while offering, at the same time, a place for these young people to feel safe and be themselves, and perhaps, most importantly, to offer them a different, more productive path to take.

The motto of this five-year old foundation is beautiful as are the people who run the program. The stated and oft-repeated purpose is all about peace, love, unity, and having clean, pure fun. There are many volunteers who help teach the skills and who also participate in the performances.

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This program is the brainchild of Crystal Kaililauokekoa (princess of royal wood) Castillo and her partner Spidey Guster, the founders and creators of the Zulu Dance Foundation whose purpose goes beyond their work with the Zulu Maniacs (its young dancers and performers).

The Foundation offers after-school programs at a number of elementary schools located over a broad range of territory and have even expanded to Hawai’i. There are workshops that are seasonal—fall, winter, spring. The summer is used for camp time where dance is taught and encouraged.

Many of these dancers come from the larger community and are not from difficult situations. They have already fallen in love with Hip-Hop and arrive, eager to expand their understanding of this form of dance, to develop their own talents and originality, and to be an active part of this lyrical family.

The Zulu Maniacs (ages ranging from 4 to 17) are the absolutely awesome representatives of this program. What has been created for them is a platform to exhibit and expand their talents and to provide a true sense of family for all of them—leaders, volunteers, and dancers. These dancers get to demonstrate their skills not only during regular practice sessions but also during well-attended performances which everyone can attend (such as the yearly at the El Portal Theatre to celebrate the birthday of Hip-Hop) and at competitions (such as the one last July in San Diego).

It is programs like these, which selflessly dedicate themselves to the betterment and development of our children and community, that need to be encouraged. Over time, the Zulu Dance Foundation has been able to partner with sponsors which promote and subsidize some of the activities (including some assistance for students from low-income families).

In order to maintain this program (for everyone’s benefit) and to find a permanent home for its work and productions, it needs help from us. We need to open our hearts to support a program that is already creating life-changing reverberations on our young people and will ultimately have a similar impact on the rest of us.

Thus, I not only urge you to think differently about what Hip-Hop really is and what it means to its disciples but to be a part of bringing back (from those who have stolen it) the original message of this dance form.

For more details about this particular program—the
—and to consider donations of your own, please consider looking up the following:

Facebook: zuludanceprograms and/or Zulu Maniacs


phone: 805-748-9435


Day/Date: Sunday, December 13, 2015; Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: 6232 Hazeltine Avenue, Van Nuys 91405

  • Tamales for Sale: Pre-order at
  • Yard Sale (drop off items before 10; buy after 10)
  • Bake Sale: all homemade
  • all proceeds will go directly to building fund

Rosemary Jenkins