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Old School Icons in Hip Hop Slang


Have you ever found yourself questioning where phrases such as “fo shizzle” came from?

Slang can be found all around us, and some of it dates back centuries. Hip-hop artists popularized certain slang words not found in any English dictionary – these come from African-American vernacular English that combines regular words with portmanteau phrases and other elements for added complexity.

What is Hip-Hop?

Hip-hop originated in the Bronx in the 70s as an art form fueled by experiences and consciousness of economically disadvantaged urban youth, reflecting and responding to injustices such as America’s prison industrial complex (Michelle Alexander calls this the “New Jim Crow”), police brutality, the gangsta image and Black on black crime.

MCs and rappers created personas of their own that could range from soft to hard, becoming an essential element of this movement. Starting in the Bronx, hip-hop culture spread worldwide. Today, DJs in Sao Paulo spin turntables while b-boys bust moves on streets in Finland, and graffiti artists invent unique signature styles, reflecting longstanding racial inequality within America while giving an illusion of post-racial society.

The Origins of Hip-Hop Slang

Hip-hop culture has had a significant influence not only on music and dance but also on fashion, hairstyles, graffiti art, vocabulary, and persona creation. Rappers and MCs typically create characters with fantastical traits ranging from super-smooth to tough personas while boasting their skills – the mic drops are their signature gesture at the end of performances to show their admiration of them and demonstrate this influence.

Harlem rapper Lamont Coleman, better known by his nickname Big L, was an expert at decoding and explaining street slang in his song, Ebonics. Another wordsmith known for creating phrases is E-40, who invented terms like fo’ shizzle (foolish) and hood rat (an individual who acts unrulily or dishonestly), while others have created whole words like trill (meaning genuine or authentic) from old-school hip-hop culture; other famous examples are jukebox and gangster anthem.

The Early ’00s

The early 2000s were defined by terms like chillax (chill+relax), fetch (excellent), and buff (attractive, fit, and good-looking guy). Other popular terms of that era include goon (someone who is less intelligent but has intense, yet misplaced, loyalty to a group or gang) and homie (a close personal friend.).

By 2004/2005, however, the late 1990s vibe was beginning to dissipate. Neptune’s rap music had passed its peak; DVD had overtaken VHS, and backlash against the War on Terror, such as Abu Ghraib and WOMD controversies, was starting. Additionally, crunk was becoming popular during this period alongside movies like Mean Girls and Napoleon Dynamite.

The ’90s

The 1990s were an incredible period in American culture: Friends premiered, grunge music made its mark, and Titanic grossed billions at the box office.

Trends also marked the decade and craze that quickly took hold across the nation, such as Beanie Babies and Pogs, providing plenty of reasons to get excited.

But it was the terminology that genuinely defined this period: From “dibs” and “knuckle up” slang terms to popular phrases like “bling” and “fo shizzle,” these 90s words have now made their way back into our vocabulary. Here are some of our favorites from that era:

The ’80s

The 1980s are remembered for many events that continue to impact society today, including the Soviet Union’s collapse, the outbreak of AIDS as a deadly disease, and the premiere of MTV videos. But they’re also remembered for culture and music, such as Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

Young urban professionals, or “yuppies,” embraced materialism to attain wealth and status. To do so, they donned Members Only jackets, acid-washed jeans, Izod Lacoste polo shirts from Izod Lacoste, and large crucifix necklaces and brassieres as fashion. A new trend called the Rubik’s Cube became increasingly popular.

The 1980s was also marked by an explosion of music parodies thanks to Weird Al Yankovic. MLM Tupperware parties increased during this era, as did Care Bears’ return. Furthermore, MTV debuted alongside the surge of heavy metal music.

The ’70s

By the end of this decade, counterculture had started to lose steam. Students for a Democratic Society had dispersed into more radical factions such as Weathermen; the Vietnam War came to an end, and the Watergate scandal caused President Nixon’s resignation; all this took a toll on countercultural.

Still, Americans were seeking meaning during the 1970s. New fads such as pet rocks, temperature-sensitive mood rings, and public streaking allowed them to express themselves in fun ways.

This decade saw the birth of “fo shizzle.” While Snoop Dogg popularized this Southern term in 1976, its usage dates back to 1966 in Houston, Memphis, and Atlanta, where its use is commonplace among carnies – those carnival-goers known for scheming with dental issues for self-promotion purposes. Furthermore, digital music players and new fuel efficiency ratings for vehicles also came about during this decade.

The ’60s

The 1960s were turbulent decades for America both domestically and abroad. Beginning optimistically with John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration and his belief that the government had answers for America’s big problems, things quickly spiraled out of control during that decade.

But that optimism dissipated as the Democratic Party disintegrated and America became further mired in the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, both the Civil Rights Movement and antiwar protests spread like wildfire – culminating in college campus riots.

The 1960s gave us some of the most iconic hip-hop slang words that have become part of everyday speech thanks to MCs who used them on their records. Although you won’t find these terms in an English dictionary, they have since become part of everyday language thanks to them being popularised on records by rappers.

The ’50s

In the 1950s, baby boomers came of age. Along with an increasing sense of security and prosperity came an explosion of consumer goods like TVs, washing machines, and refrigerators. Music changed to become less jazz-influenced, with rock and roll taking over charts from jazz crooners such as Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Frank Sinatra dominating charts instead.

Cold War fears and concerns about communist infiltration led to an explosion of popular culture during this era, including television shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best, which reinforced particular views on family values and individualism.

Subversively, the 1950s witnessed African Americans protesting in Montgomery and other locations – an early step of what would eventually become the Civil Rights Movement – while also seeing Sputnik 1 being launched from Russia, starting off the Space Race.

The ’40s

In the ’40s, various hip-hop slang words emerged. Bling refers to the sound of light reflecting off diamond jewelry; crunk, which means crazy or drunk in Houston and Atlanta dialect, originated there while flossing meant showing off one’s wealth and style.

Many slang terms found in hip-hop music don’t appear in English dictionaries; instead, they’re popular among rappers. In fact, many rappers are credited with inventing new words; whether through accidental creation (French Montana might have accidentally coined flute) or intentional invention by LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, or E-40 themselves is unknown; nonetheless, these terms form an integral part of modern society thanks to hip hop’s impactful lexicon; they’re just as necessary as its music!

The ’30s

The 1930s witnessed the emergence of hip-hop slang, which remains part of popular culture today. Additionally, this decade marks the first blockbuster movie made independently and Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which caused mass panic across America.

Houston, Memphis, and Atlanta, in particular, boast some of the wealthiest rap slang available; here, you’ll find phrases that celebrate individuality and style, such as phat, which means cool; this word stems from fat but has many unsubstantiated theories surrounding its meaning.

The hood is the epicenter of hip-hop culture, symbolizing loyalty and community. Other hip-hop slang terms include “OG,” which stands for original gangster, grind (“to work hard and make money”), and ice, used to show off wealth or success. Though these terms wouldn’t typically appear in a dictionary, their usage has become mainstream through hip-hop artists’ popularity.