- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Yo hotties and troopers from the 'burbs and Chocolate City: Wanna to get some platinum respect in da 'hood? Den get open to this book of words about boom bap and hip-hopreneurs. Won't cost too many ducats.
Hip-hop, a culture based on rap music and ghettospeak dating back barely 30 years, has become enshrined enough in pop culture to merit its own dictionary.
Alonzo Westbrook, 31, the author of the "Hip Hoptionary," says his book is an effort to chart American black culture of the late 20th century and hip-hop, the culture's "angst venue."
"It's about pouring out. That's what the [hip-hop] culture is all about," he says. "We conceal ourselves and our pain in our art. Hip-hop allows us to release it, to get it off our chests."
He located 3,000 terms: fashion labels, books, mixed drinks, TV shorthand, sex, pop stars, idioms and beeper codes that illustrate a street culture originating in early 1970s Bronx, N.Y.
Mr. Westbrook, who is black, said he didn't know many of the words himself before his research. Hip-hop lingo, he cautions, is not the same as ebonics, the broken language of blacks.
"It's an intellectual practice," he says. "Hip-hop is a deliberate coding of language to mask feelings and to engage in wordplay."
The "father" of hip-hop is Kool DJ Here, aka Clive Campbell, a Bronx disc jockey credited with creating the sound circa 1971, during an era when disc jockeys would bring out cheap portable turntables for warm summer nights of street dancing in the 'hood.
Hip-hop received a boost in the late 1970s with the popularization of disco. During the instrumental breaks, disc jockeys would "rap" their own commentary or social criticism. Some rappers and poets found repetitive synthesizer music, known as German electronica, a better venue.
"Hip-hop is a general term for expressive culture with its origins in the street: clothing, graffiti, break dancing, language and music," says Richard Rischar, a music professor and historian at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. "I think hip-hop is a vehicle for a continuation for a black dialect that lives apart from white mainstream standard English.
"It's all part of what [author] Nelson George calls 'hip-hop America' a whole culture of activity. Rap is the music that is the basis of hip-hop, a linguistic wordplay, a freestyle performing, a talking over music.
"Part of the idea is to evade specific meanings or have the meanings change so that outsiders whites or the black middle class can't steal it," he says. "It's about the chase away from white assimilation, where Pat Boone or Elvis or Eminem can't come and steal their song."
It's also a deliberate attempt to offend mainstream sensitivities, with deliberately misspelled words such as grrrls or boyz. The presence of a dictionary may signify a loss of momentum, Mr. Rischar says, in a movement that thrives on innovation.
"When 'the Benjamins' is used in Fortune magazine, you know it's been appropriated by the white culture because it is hip and cool," Mr. Rischar says.
Much of hip-hop culture still needs interpretation. The word "stankin" means "good," as in "That beat is stankin." The dictionary makes much use of opposite meanings in sentences like: "That dress she's wearing is bad." "Bad" means "good" in hip-hopese.
The language, fraught with allusions to off-color words, sex and body parts, reflects a culture familiar with police, sex and drugs.
Geographical sobriquets also abound. "Bama" is short for Alabama. "Bay" stands for San Francisco. "B-Town" is Berkeley, Calif. "BX" is the Bronx. "Chi/Chi Town" is Chicago. "Chocolate City" is the District.
"Crooklyn" is Brooklyn, "Dusty South" is Oklahoma, Hotlanta is Atlanta, Mecca is New York City, Mia is Miami, "Natty" is Cincinnati and "the Igloo" is Minneapolis.
The "third coast" is the Gulf Coast.
Hip-hop lingo includes beeper codes similar to police radio codes. A "10-4" means "yes" or "OK." A "411" is the latest scoop or information. A fight can be an "1812" (coined after the War of 1812). A murder is called a "187" (the police code for homicide).
Mr. Westbrook viewed movies such as "Beat Street" and "Breakin," both purveyors of hip-hop, paged through rap and hip-hop magazines and conducted interviews in hip-hop-heavy cities New York, Detroit, Atlanta and Oakland, Calif.
While in China, he checked out the hip-hop scene in Hong Kong.
"It was amazing," he says, "to see Asians with Afro haircuts speaking hip-hop and wearing [the late rap star] Tupac Shakur T-shirts."
He also included sayings: "Check yourself before you wreck yourself"; "CPT," meaning Colored Peoples' Time, which is generally late. "JPT," or Japanese People Time, means early.
Hip-hop is on course syllabi at New York University and Harvard University, which lists the genre as important "in forming urban youth identity."
Portia Maultsby, director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture and a professor of folklore at Indiana University, says her class on hip-hop music and culture, first offered in 1990, was the first collegiate offering on the topic. She first learned of hip-hop during a 1975 visit to New York.
"Hip-hop began as an inner-city culture," she says. "Early on, it was strictly within the New York boundaries, particularly the Bronx. Most historians agree it had its origins in street and community parties in the early '70s where deejays were spinning records, encouraging the crowd and making comments. That evolved into a codified expression."
Disc jockeys and outdoor dance parties were a Caribbean tradition, she says, brought to New York by Jamaican immigrants, "where they met American blacks and learned their jive. It was first indigenous black music of the northern black experience; that is, it was not rooted in the blues of the South or other Southern traditions."
Rap is now the nation's second-most popular form of music, surpassing country music in terms of sales, Mr. Rischar said.
"Rap," he says, "is being sold as much to white people as to black people."

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