Posted by: vincentlopez | July 9, 2008

Who owns hip-hop?

As I sat down to read my son a book before putting him to bed a few days ago, this question lit up in my mind:


Who owns hip-hop (music and culture)?


We know who controls it (business wise) for the most part (Universal, Viacom, etc.) but who owns it (the art)?  Are the fans and consumers just participants in a side show?  Are the creators of the music itself the ‘real’ owners?  And what of the DJ’s, graffiti artists, break-dancers, historians, journalists, etc.?  Who determines their portion of ownership?  Maybe Gangstarr attempted to address this issue on their 2003 album The Ownerz.  And I would agree that, in my eyes, they own a portion of hip-hop as creators who have set the bar high.


Looking at myself, I can only say that I’ve been a participant as far back as ’78.  I’ve tried my hand at just about everything as a pre-teen and teenager. Beat boxer, DJ, break-dancer, wannabe MC and producer, music critic, etc.  Every guy I grew up with was doing one or more of these things.  I still have most of the tapes me and my friends made back in the 80’s using my cheap turntables and boom box.  We were living it to the fullest.  But does that mean we owned hip-hop, had a hand in creating it or just participated?  Does it even really matter in the grand scheme of things?  Probably not but I can’t get it out of my head.  I don’t know why this question is so prevalent in my mind now but I wanted to get outside opinions on this.  Whether you’re a DJ, producer, MC, graf artist, photographer, journalist, or a fan/consumer, do you consider yourself an owner, creator, and/or participant in hip-hop?  If so or if not, why or why not?





  1. me, i am a real fan of hip-hop. and i just consider myself a participant. i am strictly old school though, like mid ’80’s- ’99-’00. there was a time in hip-hop in the mid ’90s when i just along for the ride. so many classic artists was coming out makin good music. from the wu, biggie, jay, nas, black moon, ditc, lord finesse, big l, pun and etc. i always thought this is what hip-hop supposed to be, me growing up to it and living through it during my middle & high school years. i was just along for the ride just being a participant.
    but over the last 5-7 years, that ride was just about over for me. the game changed music changed. and hip-hop as i knew it was non-existent. me and my friends always debate when did hip-hop officially changed and agreed that pretty much after ’99 it just started to decline. and if u just take a look back and see u might agree.
    im just now a fan of old school hip-hop thats it and nothing less. thats why i love this website cause its teaching the youth and reminding us old heads just how dope hip-hip was . we kinda took it for granted thinkin it was always gonna be like that. but as we know we was really mistaken.
    now all i really do is cherish the old school days and what it stood for. and when im old and grey its still gonna be in me, the backpackers, people arguing if they was a real wu-tang fan or not, the anticipation of albums coming out that are now considered classics, just all those memories will be forever embedded in me. me and hip-hop had a great relationship at one point, but now we just grew apart. but i never forget the good times though, never.

  2. I think that everyone who still buys albums and the people who support the real Hip-Hop own Hip-Hop. Your blog is Hip-Hop to the fullest, keep doing your thing.

  3. The truth is that “they” do. We, as people who loved Hip-Hop and lived it used to own it, then(and I know this is gonna be controversial) people like Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, and Snoop Dogg, started selling off our culture, piece by piece, until now, you gotta argue that White(in the burbs) kids own Hip-Hop. We used to be able to tell them what’s hot. Now they tell us what’s hot. It started with the stupid clothing lines and shit like that.

    Look at the whole Souljah Boy phenomenon. Everyday, I see White weathermen/women, Tv hosts, comedians, even the Obama girl and Mike Gravel doing the Souljah Boy dance. It’s more popular with them than it is with us, and because it is, it’s constantly on TV and Souljah Boy is a much bigger star than he would’ve been, if it was solely up to Hip-Hop heads. When Hammer did that, Hip-Hop took his head off, because it wasn’t real.

  4. I think we all start out as fans.

    Then we become participants.

    And then once you contribute to the culture, whether it be a blog or an album or a tour or introducing a new style, and your contribution becomes accepted and adopted over time, you become an owner. As an owner, you might not have as much power as Viacom or Lyor Cohen, but your contribution becomes another bullet in the chamber for people in the craft to use.

    An example would be Nelly saying “Errbody.” Within 2 years, that was acceptable slang for people doing hip hop. Jay-Z rocking throw backs, then rocking button-ups and a Yankee fitted. Primo using cuts exclusively for hooks. Just Blaze adding mega drum fills and cymbal crashes to his beats. Run DMC wearing adidas unlaced. Timbaland mastering double time beats. Biz Mark singing off key on purpose.

    All these things become a part of the hip hop consciousness over time, and contributors who created them become owners of very small pieces that add to the whole. Every new generation of hip hoppers inherit all of these tools, so listeners and participants are now more sophisticated than fans 10 years ago (even though Soulja Boy has a career, but I digress). Put on a Diamd D album for a 17 year old and it’s boring–their hip hop consciousness already includes that style. But Diamond D is the owner of that style, you dig?

  5. Yo Vince I love you, but you need more people.

    Do you mean “own” as in has the right to exploit, which is what property rights are?


    Do you mean “own” has a major interest in culturally, thus has “culturally recognized” voice in the matter.

  6. – Yes, your second definition of ownership is what I mean.

  7. Wow, great question. As a genuine lover of Hip Hop culture as an entity, I refuse to deny myself the opportunity to lay some claim to Hip Hop music – I love it, why wouldn’t I want to be a part of it? I have a sincere interest in Hip Hop music and without me, a consumer, a fan, a lover of Hip Hop music it wouldn’t exist on such a large scale. Everyone has a hand in the existence of Hip Hop music and that is what makes it so great in comparison to other musical genres. I believe I have some “ownership” of Hip Hop since I have a strong hold on Hip Hop music because Hip Hop has a strong hold on me, we’re together in a sense. And I wouldn’t want to give that up, and if I give it up I seemingly give up my rights to it as well.

  8. @zilla rocca

    i appreciate that comment.
    “their hip hop consciousness already includes that style. But Diamond D is the owner of that style, you dig?”

    prior work compounds to inform future work.


    The sidenote question I have is: do you feel you were studying the crafts, or were dabbling in them? If you had studied and believed, and stayed focused, then you would still be in a particular mode, like Wiggles, like Primo, like DozeOne, like Rakim. That you are not, hints that you didn’t find the craft that suited you (though this may be it, as a historian and commentator).

    That however, is not saying you weren’t sincere and genuine when you did play around with whatever at that time. If we really get into it, we get into it. time passes and we move on to other things more pressing.]

    i think that ‘ownership’ is an extension of involvement and personal value, as well as a role given by those who consume it. kind of like the thought that our identities are defined not by ourselves but by those around us.

    So, I think there are two ways to think of cultural involvement leading to ownership:
    1) how much you involve yourself.
    2) how much you involve your fellow man.

    obviously 1) affects 2). But in 1), its like a tree falling in a forest with no one to see it. And in 2) its a balance of quality and quantity, as in, what are you informing these people of, and how many people are actually listening?

    For example: whenever I see Mr. Wiggles (, I believe that I see hip hop incarnate – not only the compound style that it technically is, but also its roots. the man lived it, breathed it, produced it (made his own beats), and by repping streetdance, shaped it. Just like you, he has studied every one of the Elements, and he has spread his word, wisdom, and ideas across the world. Thus, he also shaped people’s idea of what hip hop was.

    Now, is he the owner simply because of his practice and faith of these styles, or is he owner because I believe he’s an owner, based on other people’s beliefs and my own experience of his performing/speaking?

    When people say “so and so IS hip hop” (and you know we can apply this to, let’s say Chuck D: Chuck D is hip hop), suddenly it makes me wonder if hip hop is a thing or not. If someone OWNS hip hop, then it is some material good. But if someone IS hip hop, then it implies it is a spirit and mode of being.

    which leads to the thought that no one owns hip hop; they can only represent it.

    On a superficial response, Chuck D, KRS One, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash feel more like owners than anyone else because in this case, ‘owner’ feels equal to ‘master.’

    And while I am merely a practitioner – a young artist, a commentator, a historian, and my level of contribution does not nearly touch that of those listed above, not even if we took the realm of influence to be relative, I do at times feel like an owner, because I protect it and get defensive about it whenever it becomes defaced and discounted.


  9. add:
    “which leads to the thought that no one owns hip hop; they can only represent it.”

    Wiggles may not really OWN hip hop but he certainly embodies it, because he has shown us where it came from and how it came to be. Gfunk, Swing, Jazzfunk, Electro, the Fillmore, the Bronx, Sactown and Venice.

    If hip hop is a collective entity, that could not exist without the community that defines it, then it cannot be owned by any one person; but together, we are it. so maybe that means we’re all owners (who have to check each other when it comes down to it).

    or.. is that just some crazy talk?


  10. i consider myself a practitioner and creator.

    as a participant, i get down in the cyphers, i contribute to the blog conversations, i distribute the musics, i stay connected with my internet fam. I try to bring it all together, all the elements wherever they are and however they’ve evolved.

    but by doing so, by practicing the elements and communicating them (which leads to journalism, documentary, etc) i’m also being an artist.

    i think it comes down to art and consumption of it. a journalist participates by communicating it to the outside, but a dancer or emcee is the one creates that which is communicated.

  11. […] Who owns hip-hop (music and culture)? […]

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