Indigenization and Hip Hop

Steve Spence
Updated: 09 April 2020

African American culture and “found objects”

Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in the 1840s. Charlie Parker re-invented it a century later, using the instrument in completely original ways.

Charlie ParkerAdolphe Sav


African American culture and “found objects”

The major things black art has to have are these: it must have the ability to use found objects, the appearance of using found things, and it must look effortless.

Toni Morrison

Hong Kong Cinema, in theaters and on TV

In the 1970s urban audiences flocked to see imported martial arts films. They were probably second in popularity only to Blaxploitation films like Shaft and Superfly.

This was true throughout the country, but probably nowhere more so than in New York City, in the same neighborhoods where the art forms that became known as hip hop were taking shape.

Joseph Schloss on Hip Hop / Kung Fu Indigenization

"...Hong Kong action movies that depicted martial arts training were a mainstay of youth culture in New York in the '70s and '80s. Many theaters in Times Square showed kung fu movies at that time, and one of New York's independent television stations, WNEW (now Fox affiliate WNYW), had a long-standing policy of playing these films as a regular feature on its Saturday afternoon Drive In Movie programming, which ran from 1981 through 1988" (52).

"This television show may well be the single most significant unacknowledged influence on New York hip-hop culture. Films like Five Deadly Venoms (1978) became touchstones for future generations of hip-hop artists, in terms of attitude, physical movement, social organization, and—particularly in the case of Wu-tang Clan—lyrical references."

Joseph G. Schloss, Foundation: B-boys, B-girls, and Hip-hop Culture in New York (141, no. 4).

Wu-Tang Style

Bruce Lee, Hip-Hop Icon

It's not hard today to find images that celebrate the connection of hip hop and kung fu cinema. The painting on the right is by artist Fred Brathwaite, an early graffiti writer from New York who, among other things, produced Wild Style. The image on the left is Gung Fu Scratch, by BNA78.

"Every Ghetto, Every City"

A bag of Bontons, twenty cents and a nickel
Springfield Ave. had the best popsicles
Saturday morning cartoons and kung-fu
Main Street roots tonic with the dreds
A beef patty and some coco bread
Move the patch from my Lees to the tongue of my shoe

Lauryn Hill, 1998

Afeni Shakur

My son Tupac was greatly influenced by the films of the seventies. He actually, by the time he died, had amassed a collection of all those films. He watched them as a kid, and he watched them over and over again. What he watched as a kid was [Blaxploitation] films and Bruce Lee's films and all of the martial arts films, and that was his basic culture [Laughs].

Interview in BaadAsssss Cinema (Isaac Julien 2002)

Kendrick Lamar

I like real karate movies. Not just Bruce Lee. I'm talking about Five Deadly Venoms. Only shit that Wu-tang Clan would know about. I could have full conversations with them. [Laughs]

Ebony magazine, June 2015, page 88

Kendrick Lamar continued

My pops was raised on karate movies, so I grew up looking at them as well as a lot of old flicks like Dolemite and The Mack. I still watch them to this day.

Ebony magazine, June 2015, page 88

Kendrick Lamar concert intro video (NSFW; 2017)- only through 0:00 through 1:17 is assigned