African-American music has continued to evolve in the face of diehard musical currents since the 1950s. Floyd (1995) is curious about the effect of political, social and artistic currents on the constant growth and concurrent stagnation of African-American Music (p.11). This paper therefore aims to discuss the continuity and change in African-American music from slavery to hip-hop.


During slavery in the 17th century, the slave owners during that period wanted to exercise their control over the slaves and deprive them of their African culture in the process. However, the isolation and communal marginalization of these slaves led to the facilitation of the retention of important aspects of their traditions.

Slave owners purposely did this in order to inhibit the political organizations that were associated with slave rebellions occurring in the southern part of the United States and also South America. Slavery, slave rebellions and civil rights movements in addition to the African cultures therefore played a vital role in shaping the religious, family, political and economic behaviors in African-Americans. Eventually, the impression of African culture was presented in numerous ways including music (Nigeria Village Square).

The Change and Continuity

Ramsey (2004) explores the hip-hop culture and deduces that it contains three forms of expression which are: rap music, graffiti writing and break dancing. These forms are therefore the ways for the youth to communicate their local identities and relationships.

The art of rapping is characterized by the vocal recital in which the rapper uses spoken or semi-spoken declamation which normally consists of rhyming verses. This art is revolutionary since it is the emotional focus in a performance instead of a singing or instrumental presentation.

Floyd (1995) suggests that the understanding of drum and song is a focal point of the conversion of African music into African-American music due to its own explanations and the social, cultural and artistic foundations. He further explains that the major obstacle to studying African music is like that which prevented the study of African religion in the past.

Dagbovie (2010) describes the hip-hop culture as one that is historically grounded and can be used as a model for teaching and has the foundation for a culturally relevant pedagogy. It is therefore a crucial way of life and this is depicted in the music listened to, the traditions practiced, the language spoken, the clothes worn and the interaction in the streets (p.67).

He discovers that rap, which is a significant element in the hip-hop culture, can be used to teach history and elaborates that an effort should be made to put the stories and facts that make them feel direct and therefore hip-hop music is the more engaging choice.

An explanation is given whereby Flocabulary, a form of hip-hop music, can be academically used to teach students of all backgrounds thus the belief that this type of music can be merged with a positive message and educational content to become an influential learning tool. Several references are made to some of hip-hop lyricists whose songs probe into African-American history. They are: Nas, Dead Prez, Common, Talib Kweli and Mos Def.

Historians of the African-American culture and emcees (as the hip-hop lyricists are popularly known) both tell narratives about the past, present and future and thus described as modern day griots. Molefi Kete Asante is quoted as stressing that visual styling in characteristics and clothing are essential parts of the African American, Afrocentric symbolic custom.

However, numerous African-American historians born before the civil rights period have argued that his approach is pointless and counterproductive to the educational thoroughness of the customary historian’s expertise (p.68).

Floyd (1995) analyzes some aspects of the African culture that have been incorporated into the African-American culture. He refers to the dance whereby the use of bodily polyrhythm is applied in which the trunk and pelvis of the dancer and the hands and sticks of the drummer display two different and contradictory meters.

The twisting of the pelvis imparts the African elements with a balanced supply of erotic stimuli. Therefore, this style is discovered to be used during slavery and now is the basis for the whole African-American tradition (p.27).