The idea of the public sphere was originally explored in Jurgen Habermas’ book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), where he stated that the public sphere is a place “private people come together as a public” (Smith, 2013). In most traditional societies, public issues were normally discussed and decided on by the elite however in modern societies, communication advancements have played a role in the decrease of censorship and the social inclusiveness of the public sphere. The globalisation and evolution of Hip-Hop and its presence in online culture greatly demonstrates Habermas’ theory of the public sphere.
Hip-Hop derived from the influx of Caribbean migrants in the 1960’s and politically driven gang culture in the Bronx during the 1970’s. Pinpointing the exact origin of rap is dependent on when one acknowledges a particular cultural expression or product as rap but one event that is collectively agreed to be a significant contribution to Hip-Hop’s origins, is DJ Kool Herc’s 1973 back-to-school ‘bloc party’ (Dyson, 2004). Since then, Hip-Hop has become a global phenomenon and a giant influence on youth culture around the world. Echoing the genres beginnings, the online Hip-Hop culture continues the community nature and allows for larger public discourse. The digital age has provided Hip-Hop with the ability to reach a wider audience, inherently allowing issues discussed within Hip-Hop to be discussed on a larger scale through a range of communication platforms.
During the mid 1970s and early 1980s, Hip-Hop represented an alternate form of social recognition and status for African-American and Latino youth and was a vehicle for collective uplift and social critique of policies and politics that disadvantage minority groups (Petchauer, 2011). Now, Hip-Hop as a public sphere not only provides the aforementioned, but arguably allows all individuals to voice their issues and create a social commentary that has the potential to create social change.
The role the media has played in Hip-Hop’s public sphere has changed exponentially within the last decade. Initially, the genre was represented in a negative light within the media but as Hip-Hop has grown to be more dominant within popular youth culture, the media’s representation of Hip-Hop began portraying the genre more positively. While the media have a right to critique certain themes of Hip-Hop, I believe what should be highlighted more often is the power of Hip-Hop’s public sphere in social commentary. The Hip-Hop online community is one of my primary public spheres and one that I am proud to be a part of. As the genre’s popularity grows so does the public discourse of certain issues which leads to the continual growth of social change that Hip-Hop can impose.
Dyson, M. E. (2004). The Michael Eric Dyson Reader. New York, United States of America: Basic Civitas Books.
Petchauer, E. (2011, July). ‘Knowing What’s Up and Learning What You’re Not Supposed to: Hip-Hop Collegians, Higher Education, and the Limits of Critical Consciousness.’ Journal of Black Studies, 5, 768-790.
Peter Smith (2013) Jurgen Habermas and the “Public Sphere”. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEAWc6FuRsI (Accessed 10 April 2019).