Modern Hip-Hop and West African Percussion

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To many, music is like a constant companion. We listen to it when waking up, while in transit, at work or school, and with our friends. It can bring us joy and motivate us, accompany us through difficult times, and alleviate our worries. Many people make the argument that music existed earlier than language itself. Primitive tribes and religious practices have used music to reach enlightened states for thousands of years ( Music has evolved greatly over the past centuries, but can be traced back to Africa were percussion was prominent in daily life. West African percussion practices and techniques have made a significant contribution to modern day hip hop despite the constant imposition of Western culture.

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Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans in the 1970s which consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping (a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted).

Melodies in modern day hip hop incorporate various techniques and structures from African music. For example, today the huge majority of rap songs utilize a musical form called adlibs. This is when something is stated within the song and is followed up by another lyric that is faint in volume and on the side. This method can be traced back to the African melody technique of call and response. African singing often includes glissandos. These are slurs, whistles, yodels and swoops and types of sound such as a raspy or buzzy quality. We can see this also in many modern day songs.

Percussion in modern day hip hop is highly influenced by African culture. Percussion and hip hop today, is mostly credited toward Black Americans in the media. In many traditional African societies, the drum was a sacred instrument possessing supernatural power that enabled it to summon the gods into ritual communion with the people. In some societies drums were regarded as deities, deities whose voices were the percussive sounds that emanated ( When enslaved Africans were first brought to North America during the 1600s and 1700s, slaves from the west coast of Africa used drums to communicate with each other in much the same way as they did at home, sending coded rhythmic messages Europeans could not understand over long distances. In this way slaves held in different encampments could stay in contact, and rebellions could be planned. But after some time the masters realized that the drums could talk. So in 1740, they passed the Slave Code of South Carolina where it stated that It is absolutely necessary to the safety of this Province, that all due care be taken to restrain Negroes from using or keeping of drums, which may call together or give sign or notice to one another of their wicked designs and purposes. ( This ban started on the plantations of the Carolinas and Georgia, but soon spread across the United States. In the absence of drums, slaves used whatever was in the area to make beats: washboards, spoons, furniture, and their own bodies with hand-clapping, drumming on various surfaces of the body, and foot-stomping / shuffling. Over the multiple years that African music has been in America, it has evolved and branched off to create various other genres. For example, enslaved Africans on southern plantations cultivated their own musical styles, which later evolved into gospel, blues, and what is now known as bluegrass and country music. Slave fiddlers often provided dance music for the southern white aristocracy, and the sound we recognize today as country fiddling is partially the product of the slave fiddler. The rhythm, melodies and percussion of these genres of music then evolved to create more genres such as hip-hop.

The term Western culture is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, and specific artifacts and technologies that have some origin or association with Europe, have both indigenous and foreign origin. The term has come to be applied by people of European Ethnicity to countries whose history is strongly marked by European immigration, colonization and influence, such as the continents of the Americas and Australia, whose current demographic majority is European ethnicity, and is not restricted to the continent of Europe.

African music is part of everyday activities, everyone joins in clapping, singing and dancing to the music. It is part of rites and ceremonies where it is performed by master drummers and court musicians. Lastly, it is not normally written down, rather passed on through oral tradition. The traditional music of Africa is historically ancient, rich and diverse, with different regions and nations of Africa having many dissimilar musical traditions. Music in Africa is very important when it comes to religions. Songs and music are used in religious ceremonies and rituals, to pass down stories from generation to generation, as well as to sing and dance to. African music is made up of complex rhythmic patterns, often involving one rhythm played against another to create a polyrhythm (a rhythm that makes use of two or more different rhythms simultaneously). The most common polyrhythm plays three beats on top of two, like a triplet played against straight notes. The most frequently used form in African musical traditions consists of the use of ostinato (repeated short musical phrases) with the accompaniment of melodic-rhythmic patterns. For example, in the call and response method, a leader usually sings a phrase and a chorus sings back a response.

African musical instruments include a wide range of drums, slit gongs, rattles and double bells, different types of harps, and harp-like instruments such as the Kora and the ngoni, as well as fiddles, many kinds of xylophone and lamellophone such as the mbira, and different types of wind instrument like flutes. Today, instruments like these are typically used in beat production. However we find them to be automated by a machine more than actually played.

In Conclusion, hip hop music is part of and speaks to a long line of black American and African diasporic cultural traditions. Much of what is written about hip hop traces this culture through a series of stages, from a music and dance focused phenomenon created for and by people in low income neighborhoods, to a dominant global youth culture. Many people also make a connection between rap and West African griot tradition, the art of wandering storytellers known for their knowledge of local settings and superior vocal skills. modern day hip hop takes heavy influence from traditional African culture despite the constant imposition of Western culture. Modern Day hip hop uses forms and structures that are influenced by traditional African music. Furthermore, it is evident that some African instruments have influenced the sound aesthetic in hip hop as well. For example, the flute is a common African instrument that is used in hip hop production. There are many music production softwares that have automated traditional African instruments, therefore people alter the sound generated to achieve something new and different. This is how modern music trends or new genres are formed.

Annotated Bibliography

Agrawal, AJ. The Evolution of the Music Industry – Where We Go From Here. The Huffington Post,, 22 July 2017,

African Percussion Instruments – Their Traditional Use And Purpose. African Music Safari,

Codring, Raymond. In the Beginning: Hip Hop’s Early Influences. OUPblog, 21 July 2015,

GCSE Bitesize: African Music. BBC, BBC,

This source explores what African music is and how it is incorporated in everyday activities. This source is fairly limited in its content, but nonetheless it still summarizes African music successfully. The cite states that African music is part of rites and ceremonies, part of everyday activities, and is not normally written down but passed on through oral tradition. Furthermore it hints towards how African music was combined with folk music of the Europeans to create styles of music.

Greenburg, David. What Is Music…Exactly? Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 3 Aug. 2016,

Haus. The Roots of Hip Hop. History of Breakdancing, RM Hip Hop Magazine,

Hip Hop Production. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 June 2018,

Lindh, Nic. Hip-Hop Rooted in African Culture. Cronkite News – Arizona PBS, Cronkite News – Arizona PBS, 25 Feb. 2016,

Lincoln, Mark. The Powerful Influence of African Culture on Modern Music., JamPlay, LLC, 21 Apr. 2018,

“Music of Africa.” New World Encyclopedia, . 10 Nov 2015, 21:07 UTC. 29 May 2018, 15:50

This encyclopedia is very useful in its credibility and information. This source highlights how vast and varied the music of Africa is, due to different alterations of music within various tribes. Furthermore, it talks about the musical components of African traditional music. This includes: repetition, call and response, Hocketing, form, structure, polyphony, lyrics and many more.

This source was very descriptive in pinpointing how the region effects the sound aesthetic, and African music’s relationship to dance.

Music of Africa. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 May 2018,

Newatlantisline. African Music (Full Documentary). YouTube, YouTube, 17 Jan. 2015,

– This source was a documentary on African music and percussion. More specifically, I was the story of a street musician in Bamako names Lagare. His dream is to play in Europe. He now has the opportunity to perform alongside one of the best musicians in the country, Loby Traore, one of the drivers of African blues. Lagare contacts other skillful individuals (the interpreter Kora Touami Diabate, singer Umu Simayogo, pianist Joe Kayat) with which he reflects on the value of music in everyday society. Although this source is somewhat old, it still proves useful when understanding how African music is incorporated into the lives of many. This source is from a professional documentary page on YouTube called New Atlantis Full Documentaries. In terms of credibility, this is a verified source and they have links to various other social media pages.

“The History of African American Music.”. The History of African American Music. African-American Years: Chronologies of American History and Experience,, 2018,

Zhao. No Drums Allowed: Afro Rhythmic Mutations in America – This Is Africa Lifestyle. This Is Africa, 22 Jan. 2018,

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Modern Hip-Hop and West African Percussion. (2019, Jul 29). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from

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