For the benefit of folks who may be new to hip hop, I am including a brief glossary to help with unfamiliar terminology. My intent is not to dissect the rap lexicon as a “foreign” language for all the academic voyeurs out there, but rather I want to bridge musical gaps between the Old School and the New while celebrating the vibrant and fluid language of hip hop culture in the vein of Alonzo Westerbrook’s Hip Hoptionary and http://www.urbandictionary.com/. Skip it if you don’t need it, and enjoy it if you do, but remember that the hip hop idiom is a creative work in progress, with new words being born every second. As soon as many of these words become published, they are already old.
G-Funk Style: is a type of hip hop music that emerged from West Coast gangsta rap in the early 1990s. “G-Funk” signifies on P-Funk—the 1970s super group Parliament Funkadelic fronted by George Clinton—where many of the bass samples and synthesizer riffs are taken. Producer/Rapper Dr. Dre is usually credited with inventing and naming the sound on his 1992 album The Chronic.
“Gats, Blunts, and Bitches:” Separately, the words mean guns, big marijuana joints rolled with tobacco and/or in cigar paper, and derogatorily-referenced women, but used together as a phrase, they refer to hip hop music that focuses predominantly on, well, guns, weed, and women.
“Keep it Real:” A phrase, now largely used ironically or in jest, that used to mean something close to “being yourself” or, if you had become a rich hip hop star, remembering where you came from and continuing to pay your dues to the metaphoric “streets”—whether in dress, speech, or action—whether you were actually from the ghetto or not.
“The Dozens” or “Playing the Dozens:” The expression "Playing The Dozens" means to taunt another person by kidding, teasing or otherwise insulting them and/or their family. This "gaming" has deep roots in the oral tradition, humor style, and social networks of African Americans. It is also closely connected to hip hop, as “Playing the Dozens” is about verbal talent, competition, peer respect, and emotional strength. The Pharcyde’s “Yo Mama” is a great example.
Backpack and Marker Set: The crews of hip hop fans who are into graffiti—thus the need for the backpack and the marker—or other forms of street art such as breakdancing. Many pride themselves on listening to only the best underground music—nothing mainstream.
“Low lows, gats, and forties:” Okay, you should already know what a gat is by now—if you need a refresher see note #2. A “low-low” is a lowered car with hydraulic suspension, often an early 60s model of Chevy, like an Impala. A forty is a 40 ounce bottle of beer or Malt Liquor such as St. Ides or Eight Ball, often relentlessly over-promoted by alcohol companies in economically depressed areas.
Off the Dome: Extemporaneous, off the top of one’s head. In reference here to freestyling, a form of hip hop in which improvised lyrics— usually partly memorized and partly inspired by the immediate circumstances--are rapped over a beat. Freestyling is often performed in a “battle”—a lyrical throwdown similar to a jazz “cutting contest”—where two or more MCs go head to head in a public showdown of skill. This is often a true test of a rapper’s skill and flow.
Bling Bling: Often shortened to just “bling,” this term refers to expensive, often shiny, items that are shown off to others to promote one’s large supply of disposable income—like a diamond Rolex, designer clothes, or even some nice new chrome rims on your car. This practice has been linked to old blues artists from the early 20th century, who had to keep their valuables close and portable as they traveled from town to town playing gigs. For example, the legendary Ma Rainey had diamond-encrusted teeth.
Playa: Short for “player” and now often used in jest, the term refers to a man who dates a lot of ladies, often for sex or other perks. It can also refer to someone who is powerful, has money, or is otherwise coming up in the game of life; it is not quite as strong a word as “pimp” or “hustler.”
O.G.: Short for “Original Gangster,” referring to someone who is older, who has been around since back in the day and is deserving of respect. It can be taken literally to mean a retired gangster or it can be used to refer to something really old or authentic, like an O.G. pair of Adidas from the 70s.
Turntablism: The active art of the DJ, where two turntables are used simultaneously in the spirit of a musical instrument. A turntabalist is a hip-hop disc jockey who can manipulate or restructure an existing phonograph recording (in combination with an audio mixer and often live in a freestyle competition) to produce or express a new musical composition.
“D.I.Y.”: A music industry acronym short for “Do It Yourself.” It is used in both the punk and the hip hop worlds to refer to bands that make their own records, book their own tours, and otherwise self promote their art.
Chirps, Tears, and Scribbles: Moves performed by turntablists. According to the excellent turntablist glossary at http://www.saucerkommand.com/glossary.htm, a chirp scratch is performed when a DJ fades the sound out with the crossfader as she pushes the record forward and then fades the sound back in with the crossfader as she pulls the record back to achieve a "chirping bird" sound. A tear is a type of “paper tearing” sound made when the DJ pulls the record back and pauses her hand for split second in the middle of the stroke. A scribble is performed by the DJ tensing up her forearm muscles and moving the record back and forth by very small increments, making an extremely fast and continuous "scribbly" sounding effect.
“The Master’s House” A reference to poet Audre Lorde’s famous essay “'The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House,'" in This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (Watertown, Mass., 1981), 98-101.
EPMD: Short for “Erick and Parrish Making Dollars,” this classic hip hop group is known for rarely deviating from their signature hip hop style. If you get one EPMD album, you know what the others will sound like.
Human Beatbox: A person who can vocally replicate the sounds that usually come from a drum set, drum machine or looped percussion sample by making a series of exhalations and popping sounds with the mouth. Rahzel from the Roots is an absolutely amazing beatboxer.