Hip hop is intrinsically connected to place.
From Wu-Tang Clan’s Staten Island to Mos Def’s Brooklyn, or The Roots talking about Philadelphia, context is as closely woven to hip hop as turntables are to a microphone. Its movement is encapsulated in lyrics like Poor Righteous Teachers’ New Jersey with Culture Freedom rapping, “no matter how much loot I get, I’m staying in the projects.”
Is this any different to the sentiment that architecture should manifest as a site-specific response? Born of its immediate context, design is an anthropomorphic idea, one that we as designers at Rothelowman have dedicated ourselves to unpacking to create more liveable spaces.
Despite your position, is Kayne West starting an architecture firm that far a stretch, or do the connections between design and hip hop run deeper than we realise? A close examination of hip hop’s five elements, as researched by Sekou Cooke and Michael Ford has us looking at things differently in an Australian context.
DJ’ing was how young, African Americans from the projects expressed themselves musically. Without ready access to expensive instruments, DJ’s would take the framework of records and break them down, retaining the strongest elements to remix into a fresh beat or song.
As designers when we start work on a project, we re-interpret the strongest elements of the site, context or type into new and better forms. Take the re-design of a heritage space; instead of just restoring a building, we unpack the design in its entirety. Once we’ve broken it down, we can remix elements of its design, amplifying and replicating its themes into the skeletal framework of the project.
Break dancing is the style of dance developed as a direct response to the syncopated rhythm of a break beat and is the most overt physical element of Hip Hop. A well-disciplined Dancer understands the rhythmic and mathematical structure of a piece of music to artfully curate their dance routine around it. The multitude of sonic nuances available for interpretation provides endless stimuli, enabling the dancer to respond to the elements they chose and culminating in a totally original, physical response to the music. It’s this creativity and ability to respond to the musical complexity that the dancer is judged upon. It’s an attempt to use physical expression as a means of creating a narrative in response to the sonic and spatial environment.
From master-planning through to architecture and interiors, our work as designers makes spatial sense of the wider terrain. At its best, our work results in spaces that have been deliberately curated, born out of the specific qualities of the site to encourage movement, interaction, and greater social cohesion. It is human-centric and anthropomorphic in nature, responding to the broader elements of the existing natural and built environment using architecture as the expression.
Signposting, placemaking, and wayfinding in its most elemental form, graffiti is an inherently political act about making your mark. It’s self-identification and the humanising of space. It’s an art form that exists, often to the dismay of homeowners and councils, in a symbiotic relationship with architecture. After all, aren’t prized spots to tag or throw up on typically the most challenging spots in a façade? Thereby garnering greater respect from one’s peers and adversaries.
In just a few short decades, what started on the streets as vandalism has now ascended through the hierarchy of visual art forms to become prized modern expressionism. Architecture itself has followed a similar, albeit lengthier, trajectory.
Much like fashion, the design of the places we live, work and play are reflections of ourselves. Architecture opens us up to questions of identity and of belonging in the same vein that any art form has the power to move you to reflection and introspection.
This has enabled architecture to progress from being the humble creation of shelter to a practical artform which begs the questions – what does the place I dwell in say about who I am? How do I want to live? And, who do I want to live in proximity to?
Rhyme is a form of communication, one that flows lyrically with the punctuation of corresponding words. The artful orator is not only capable of articulating a sentence but does so in such a way that every syllable is calculated. This makes the entire aural composition of a rhyme perfectly calibrated to the beat – a space where even the discord is in harmony. A well-penned rhyme creates a sense of cohesion for intangible thought, and similarly an intelligently planned city offers a sense of cohesion within a given landscape. It makes a discerning proposition about how individually designed buildings contribute to a greater whole. Both rhyme and design can act as gateways – bridges to new ways of engaging with space through their framework.
The sense of cohesion and togetherness created by intelligent design is needed more than ever in times of dissonance, and to play a role in this is an honour we value at Rothelowman. We know the feeling of walking through a well-planned city or the sense of togetherness inspired by returning to home – it is one of belonging, arguably the greatest sense of harmony that one can attain.
The sum of human experience, knowledge is the final of the five elements of hip hop and arguably the one which enables all others to be executed with excellence. Knowledge allows DJs to understand what sample or break is worth retaining and remixing. It empowers graffiti artists and emcees to highlight what messages need to be spread, when and to whom. Understanding the history and philosophy of one’s chosen art allows one to better define their stance and solidify their position within the broader discussion.
At Rothelowman it’s our diverse lived experience in the field across multiple types, sectors and states that counts. The wealth of knowledge across our studios in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne enables us to draw this all together, channeling it into each new project we design to create projects with an intelligence of their own, existing as a greater sum than their parts.
That’s what makes a truly great artist – be they a rapper or an architect – art and spaces that are relatable, where our human experience is understood and where we find a sense of connectedness with others and the world around us.