Hip Hoptionary (TM): The Dictionary of Hip Hop Terminologyby Alonzo Westbrook
The inventive sounds of hip-hop (which became America’s number two music genre in 2001, outselling country) have echoed far from their Bronx beginnings of twenty
The bumpin’ book for hip-hop disciples (a.k.a. fiends), songwriters, all other writers, pop culture fans, linguists, and parents who are just trying to figure out what their kids are saying.
The inventive sounds of hip-hop (which became America’s number two music genre in 2001, outselling country) have echoed far from their Bronx beginnings of twenty years ago. Making its way from Compton sidewalks to suburban malls, garnering commentary from The Wall Street Journal alongside Vibe, hip-hop by definition delivers its messages in the most creative language possible. Celebrating hip-hop’s boon to the realm of self-expression, Hip Hoptionary™ translates dozens of phrases like “marinating in the rizzi with your road dawg” (relaxing in your car with your friend), including:
• Big bodies: SUVs or luxury vehicles
• Government handle: registered birth name
• 411: the latest scoop or information
• Bling-bling: diamonds, big money, flash and cash
• Brick City: Newark, New Jersey
• 1812: war, fight (as in War of 1812)
In addition to the lexicon of idioms and beeper codes, Hip Hoptionary™ also features lists of hip-hop fashion labels, books, mixed drinks, and brief bios of America’s famous rappers, making this the ultimate guide for a Double H (hip-hop) nation.
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Read an Excerpt
Hip-hop is like a slave song that speaks of the conditions and hopes of a people, spinning words and communicating ideas in codes; hiding behind a language only to reveal its absolute strength and metaphorical depths.
The subversion of the language is the art form. But it's nothing new. Consider Muhammad Ali “Floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee” in the 70's, the jive-talk of the 20's or back further when recently transported Africans were forced to code the language as a direct means of survival because by law slaves were not permitted to read or write.
The language of hop-hop, like the “languages” of the past, is the spontaneous expression of words. Artists write what they feel. They speak what they live and know. There is humor, deceit and anguish that exposes and glamorizes urban madness that turns the real and ugly into poetry, while resonating an emotional intensity that is matched only by the best in literary affairs.
With natural storytelling ability, rappers offer challenges, if you will, subtle and overt, and angry and academic, playful and political in an effort it would seem, to get those who can make a difference to understand and to move beyond understanding to evolution.
However, because the art form of hip hop has been betrayed by critics intent on collective judgment and who have overlooked the significance of the movement with it's artistry, lyrics and poetry, many view this art form stereotypically as noise, baggy pants and slang. But it would be a mistake to call this language inferior. These words are deliberate cryptolects--language created by one group of people to exclude outsiders.
In this sense, what these hip-hop artists say and what they have created are words of power.
Part of their power is that they communicate history--they collect it, speak it and keep it alive.
It's true that some may not realize the impact of their contribution or what they have and are contributing. Some may not even know what a metaphor is or perhaps how to apply it. Few rappers have formal training, but in many cases the term genius should apply.
Through catchy-tunes, inventive phrases and expressive voices rappers address the concerns and hopes of America in ways “intellectuals” have not or cannot because they are removed from “this” society. And despite what critics may say, by all indications, this music, these words are doing more good than harm. It allows angst to find venue. The only possible harm is that it exposes sides of conscience, like sex, racism and poverty that mainstream does not want to hear but needs to hear. Perhaps this is why many are intent on debasing hip-hop as an art form. Imagine what dome of these artists would be doing if they didn't rap. Where are how would their frustrations manifest?
Another part of their power is their ability to communicate to millions.
A hip-hop artist's choice of words and word combinations may seem unlikely words of peace, yet through their words, historic barriers between races have fallen, allowing at once, strangers and enemies to vibe in concert, global friendships to be formed, the essence of which, no words can truly define.
The flowering of Negro expression continues…
"It's only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, That the negro has been able to tell his story." --James Baldwin
A Tribe Called Quest: bohemian hip-hop group famous for its funk grooves, jazzy rhythms and intelligent lyrics. Members included Phife (Malik Taylor), Shaheed (Ali Muhammad) and Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed a.k.a. Jonathan Davis). Also known as ATCQ.
a&r: artist and repertoire, a record company term. A music executive who finds new talent for his company and takes care of the talent within the company.
A.U.C.: Atlanta University Center. Group of Black colleges located in Southwest Atlanta, Georgia, which includes Morehouse, Spelman, Clark-Atlanta University, Morris Brown, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Morehouse Theological Seminary.
a: 1.) going to do something. "I'm a get me one of them when I make it big." 2.) ass, as in t&a.
Aaliyah: Aaliyah Haughton, female hip-hop artist (1979-2001). Detroit native. Aaliyah died in a plane crash at age 22 after filming a music video in the Bahamas.
abc-ya: a way of saying good-bye.
Ac': Acura car.
ace-deuce: best friend.
act a donkey: behave wildly.
act like you know: a threat or warning to not challenge the unknown.
aerosol artists: graffiti artists.
Afrika Bambaataa: Lance Aasim, DJ on the forefront of expanding hip-hop by mixing different types of national and international music. Credited with creating the Zulu nation, a peaceful organization of musicians opposed to gang violence.
afro humanistic: 1.) being true to one's African American spirit. 2.) having respect for the African culture and its people.
aiight/ ah-ight: all right, everything is okay.
ain't no shame in my game: statement of confidence while doing what could be perceived as a shameful act, i.e. having sex with a married man.
ain't: is not.
air tracks: a type of break dance.
ajax: clean, derived from the name brand of a cleaning product.
ak's: military assault rifle.
aka: always known as, or also known as.
a-level artist: top-selling artist.
Alize: alcoholic beverage.
all gravy: good.
all hell broke loose: bad things started to happen.
all net: perfect basketball shot.
all over it: in control of a situation.
all that: stellar, as good as it gets.
alla': all of.
Alpine: brand of car speakers.
alterna-rap: movement on the outskirts of rap that attempts to return rap to lyrics of substance.
amped: excited, raised level of activity.
angel dust: PCP.
anomalies: all female anti-misogynist female hip-hop collective.
anyhoo: whatever, anyhow.
ape: to behave animalistically. "He went ape when he found out he didn't get the contract."
architects: the originators of hip-hop or one who develops a new style within the hip-hop culture.
are you ready to throw down?: the first part of a call and response party chant. The response: "Yes we are!" is spoken to the beat of the music.
around the way girl: clean, wholesome, respectable girl/woman.
around the way: from the neighborhood.
around the world: full service sex.
art crime: graffiti.
ASCAP, ESAC, BMI: agents who collect fees to make sure artists get paid for play of their liscensed music.
ass out: 1.) asleep 2.) out of luck/chances
at: to "Let me holla' at you for a second."
ate out: 1.) saggy look in the pants where the butt isn't visible; the pants are usually too big or dirty and worn. "He's looking ate out in those jeans." 2.) oral sex on a female.
A-T-L/A-Town: Atlanta, Georgia.
ATLiens: residents of Atlanta, Georgia.
attitude: disposition, negative or positive, to reflect one's mood. "She thought she was the best dressed at the party and was giving a major attitude."
audi: to leave, be out. "I'm audi."
aural candy: pleasing to the ear.
ayo': a greeting as in "hello you."
azz: ass, as in butt.
B.E.T.: Black Entertainment Television, a channel on the cable network that caters to a black audience and features news and views of black America.
bezzled out: dazzling watch, jewelry; compare bling-bling (Alabama)
bka: better known as.
babe/baby/babies: 1.) term of endearment. 2.) anything desirable. "I'm a get me one of them babies when I get paid Friday."
baby boy: a term of familiar address, usually referring to young males.
baby got back: girl with a big butt.
Baby Phat: clothing label created by DefJam record executive Russell Simmons and his wife Kimora Lee. The line features women's apparel. It's a spin-off of Simmons' phat farm clothing label.
bacdafucup: back the fuck up, meaning stop making a commotion or step back.
back in the day: refers to a time past, a good memory from long ago.
back packer: a style, usually the look of oversized clothing, hoodies, and a backpack.
back spinning: DJ technique using two turntables. DJ plays one record while turning the record on a second turntable backward, repeating phrases and beats in a rhythmic manner (see Grandmaster Flash).
back when: reference to the past.
backslide: a break dance. The dance was mislabeled the moonwalk. Michael Jackson made the "backslide" popular.
backyard boogy: bad (not good) marijuana.
bad: means good. "That dress she's wearing is bad."
bag/bag (ged) up: 1.) jailed. 2.) reference to a dead person. "He got bagged last night in a drive by." 3.) killed 4.) sexed.
bale: really good. The bomb (As used in Cape Verde).
ball out: have a good time.
ball: 1.) to have a good time. "We had a ball." 2.) cry. "She balled all night long over that man." 3.) to sex. "Did you ball her?" 4.) world. 5.) basketball. 6.) universe.
baller blocker: someone who stands in the way of success.
baller: 1.) professional sports player 2.) lavish spender. 3.) drug dealer.
balls: bravado or testicles.
bama: 1.) short for Alabama, the state. 2.) backwards, unsophisticated (in this sense, "bama" can be considered offensive.)
banger: 1.) good song. 2.) fighter (see gang-banger)
bangin' boots/knocking boots: having sex.
bangin': 1.) selling drugs. 2.) having sex 3.) fighting. 4.) anything pleasing.
bank (roll): a bunch of money, usually rolled and in a money clip.
bankhead bounce: a dance best described by jackhammer head movements and jerking shoulder gyrations. The name comes from a highway in Atlanta, Georgia.
bar up: buy a drink at the bar.
bar: musical measurement. One bar equals four counts. It's counted one, two, three, four, repeat to the beat of a song. The bar count is used to measure how long an emcee will rap in an emcee battle. It could be 8, 16, 32 bars or mor.
bashment: a party (from Jamaica).
bass beats: sounds simulated on a drum machine or created by a bass guitar.
battle board: on-line site where emcees stage lyrical battles.
battle/MC battle: war between or among rappers, dancers, DJ's or emcees for prizes or bragging rights and to see who is the best. The crowd picks the winner based on his/her originality and creativity. When lyrics are involved it's what's said and how it is delivered that's important, as well as the cadence and complexity of the lyrics; if just music is used, the originality and quality of production are also judged.
Bay: San Francisco, California
b-boy: break-boy; a break dancer. Originally, one who danced during the break of a song. The break is when the singer stops and the instruments temporarily take over.
BDS: Broadcast Data System--a company that tracks radio play.
be out: leave.
beam me up, Scotty: request for crack cocaine.
beamed: cleaned up.
beans: little money; pocket change. "He is counting beans until payday."
Beantown: Boston, Massachusetts.
beat jackers: music thieves.
beat junkies: lovers of freewheeling hip-hop music.
beat the rap: 1.) to be acquitted, exonerated. 2.) to have charges dropped.
beat: 1.) a well-dressed or well-groomed person. "She was beat in that Versace outfit." 2.) fake.
beat-down: 1.) beat up. 2.) well-dressed or well-groomed.
Beatdown: rap's first newspaper.
beating cakes: having sex.
beat-maker: music producer.
beat-mining: the process of creating new music.
beddies: pretty girls.
Bed-Stuy: Bedford-Stuyvesant; neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.
beef: 1.) to have a problem with. 2.) penis.
Beamer/BM: BMW, European car.
beeper codes: 1-2, as in one-two punch. It means call me. 5-0 police. watch out. 10-4 okay. 50-50 undecided. 86 I'm gone or I'm leaving. 143 I love you (number of letters per word). 711 a winning dice combination. It means, "want to get lucky?" 1040 (IRS form) where is my money? 1812 (War of 1812) fight, beef. 411 the latest scoop or information 7734-02-09 (read upside down) go to hell.
beeswax: 1.) business. "What he do with her is none of your beeswax. 2.) hair solution used on dreadlocks.
bee-yotch: bitch. Said with playful emphasis that turns word into two syllables. (Also, see bitch and bia bia).
b-girl: break-girl; a break dancer. Originally, one who danced during the break of a song. The break is when the singer stops for a break and the instrumental part begins.
b-geesee: be gone/to leave.
behind the wall: in jail.
belly/belly of the beast: jail or difficult situation.
Belvi: Belvidere vodka.
bend: 1.) a term used to describe a female in a sexual sense. 2.) sex act. 3.) prostitute.
Benjamins: hundred-dollar bills. Called "Benjamins" because Benjamin Franklin's face is on the bill."
bentley: handmade car.
berry: police officer.
bet: agree. "That's a bet."
betty: attractive female.
bg: 1.) baby gangster. someone new to crime. 2.) see b-girl.
bia bia: bitch.
big bodies: SUVs (sports utility vehicles) or luxury vehicles.
big daddy: 1.) big spender. 2.) man with power.
big dog/dawg: 1.) the person in charge. 2.) the person who has gained/earned/demanded respect.
Big Easy: New Orleans, Louisiana.
big face money: large bills.
big fatty: cigar dumped of its tobacco and filled with marijuana.
big head: swollen ego.
big macs: big breasts.
big numbers: prison term.
Big Pun/Big Punisher: Christopher Rios. First Latino rapper to sell one million records (platinum). Passed away February 7, 2000 of a heart attack.
big time (r): 1.) one who lives extravagantly. 2.) large amount/capacity. "She ripped him off big time."
Big Willie: 1.) flashy, extravagant male. 2.) a Will Smith moniker.
Big Willona: the female version of Big Willie; a flashy, extravagant female.
Biggie: see Notorious B.I.G.
biggin' up: 1.) boasting 2.) compliment.
big-ups: 1.) boost sound 2.) respect. "I give him big-ups for doing that record so well."
Billboard music: Company that compiles list of record sales in all genres. Number one trade magazine that chronicles popular music.
bird: 1.) cocaine. 2.) female. 3.) person who is in and out of jail; also, jailbird.
biscuit head: ugly girl.
biscuit: pretty girl.
bitch: 1.) strong, confident, secure woman. 2.) person with a nasty, negative disposition. 3.) soft, passive person.
bitch-ass-niggas: passive or fearful person(s)
bitchin': 1.) complaining. 2.) pleasing to the senses.
biz: business. "I'm about the biz, I'm not concerned with anything else."
biz-zank: bank, aka money (see izzo language).
BK: 1.) Brooklyn, New York 2.) Burger King Restaurant
Black Lily: female-centric weekly performance outlet in New York and Philly.
blacktop: city street.
Blak/blacc: 1.) black 2.) mild cigars.
blase'-blah: borderline boring. "The party was blase'-blah."
blast shots: fire a weapon.
Blatino: person of Black and Latino descent.
blaze: 1.) sex. 2.) marijuana. 3.) to wear. 4. defunct hip-hop magazine.
blazin': 1.) smoking weed. 2.) having sex. 3.) anything pleasing to the senses.
blazing the charts: rising in the ranks on the hip-hop music charts.
bless the mic: offer great rap.
blick: bad situation.
blicky: 1.) AIDS. "He has the blickey." 2.) gun.
Bling-bling: jewelry; material show off; the glitter of diamonds.
blinked out: went crazy.
bip music: original game music that compliments a video and its action.
blood: 1.) term of familiar address. 2.) brother.
bloods: Los Angeles street gang.
Meet the Author
Alonzo Westbrook is a writer and former General Assignment Reporter for ABC and CBS affiliates in Charlotte North Carolina, Dayton Ohio, and Macon Georgia. He lives in New York.
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