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Hip Hop Cultures Have Been Influenced by the Chinese Kung Fu

hip hop break dancing

From rap to break dancing to the street art of graffiti all aspects of the hip hop culture have been influenced by the Chinese arts of kung fu. In the late seventies and early eighties the kung fu movies of Shaw Brothers where only played in select theaters throughout the United States.

In New York the birth place of hip hop the main two areas that showed such films where 42nd street and Canal street in China Town. The majority of the viewers for such films during this era were the founders of the art known as hip hop. Which was made up of mostly inner city kids with a lot of free time on their hands.

During the seventies in places like the Bronx and Brooklyn New York, inner cities were plagued with gangs and gang violence. It is around this time that Bruce Lee made his American debut and started a surge of popular kung fu movie trends. With the gangs in the Bronx and other surround Boroughs already having a kind of pre rumble dance that accompanied the fight over territory against rival gangs.

The kung fu movies of Hong Kong helped influence the B boy dance movies and create the new art form. This would eventually shift from gang fights to break dance battles.

Break Dancing

hip hop break dancing

From the early days of B Boying {aka break dancing} the movements of the dance were influenced by kung fu movies states the pioneers of the dance. The crouching low leg sweeps often seen in the old Shaw Brother films are evident in the floor work of the break dancer as well as the many acrobatics of the kung fu systems portrayed in these films. The part of the break dancers up rocking,{standing dance that mimics combat moves, before going to the floor} are also influenced by the movements of kung fu choreographed fight scenes from the movies.

The battle is the term used for a break dancer’s competition. In one documentary a famous hip hop icon named Crazy Legs compared the break dancer battle to an old school kung fu movie, where the one kung fu master says something along the lines of {hun your kung fu is good, but mine is better}, then a fight erupts.

The athleticism it takes for both arts are quite similar, requiring speed, strength, as well as a fair amount of flexibility. Though completive break dancers are usually young, under thirty and kung fu can be practiced till the end of one’s life if practiced sincerely. There are many of the early break dance pioneers still dancing till this day, some now in the early 50s.

hip hop break dancing

Break dancing is not the only category of hip hop influenced by kung fu. Rap music is heavily inspired by the kung fu culture. Many inner city kids of the early hip hop days grew up watching old school kung fu movies. This can be seen in the lyrical content of many famous hip hop groups throughout the eighties, nineties and beyond. Let’s examine a few lyrics from the eighties genre to illustrate this point.

A famous rap legend of the eighties named Big Daddy Kane can be quoted saying “spectating like a tourist but you never saw this style of rap kicking like Chuck Norris, but this aint kung fu what I just brung you”. And the list goes on.

In the nineties one of the biggest hip hop acts were The Wu Tang Clan, with many references to The Shaolin Temple as well as the old school kung fu movies of the seventies and eighties. One of their first records mentioned the Shaolin Temple in the lyrics, “so then we moved to Shaolin land”.  Not only did the Wu Tang Clan use the kung fu in their lyrics but for songs and album titles as well. With such song titles such as 7th Chamber, Da Mystery Of Chestboxing, Shaolin Worldwide, Liquid Swords, just to mention a few.

DJ in Hip Hop Culture

hip hop break dancing

The DJ culture is an important aspect of the hip hop culture not to be overlooked. The Dj’s job is to mix music and scratch records on beat along with the music. The Dj can use a wide range of sources for the records or cds he/she cuts. Another aspect of the Dj is to add samples of different shows and movies into the music of the song. Many classic kung fu movies of the seventies are sampled by various hip hop artist since the creation of the music. Two memorable samples come from such famous classics as The Five Deadly Venoms, and Master Killer.

Graffiti in Hip Hop Culture

hip hop break dancing

Graffiti is one of the four components of hip hop. Many pieces can be seen with characters depicting Buddhist monks, or other popular kung fu characters such as Bruce Lee and other kung fu legends.

Video References

dj hip hop music chinese kung fu

The are many artist that have used images of the old school kung fu flicks of the seventies and eighties in the music videos. On youtube a common way to watch videos for free these days there are numerous rap song played of kung fu movies. The blend of hip hop music along with the visuals of kung fu fight scenes are evident by the sheer number of rap songs presented along with the kung fu movie blend.

B Boy Attire and Break Dancing

The early break dancers often wore slick outfits that mimicked to some extent what the b boys saw in the early martial art films. Anyone familiar with the old school era of hip hop knows about the shoelaces around the shins. B boys would tie shoelaces starting from the ankles and ending below the knee in a crisscross pattern. This look dates back to the Shaolin Temple monks who wear a similar fashion to this day.

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