“Like bebop before it, hip hop's politics was initially a politics of style that created an aural and stylistic community in response to the erosion of community with the postindustrial city.”
“The word cut makes me think about roads and highways cutting across the landscape. Flying over major urban areas you see the countryside, and then slowly it becomes more geometric, with roads carved into the land. By the time you get to Manhattan or another center, you see all these geometric stratifications, layers of cuts. The urban planner Robert Moses leveled much of the Bronx to build highway systems. He sliced through what was then different layers of class. Ghetto communities were much more affected by this road-building project than others were. That influenced how people viewed community, which affected hip hop music.”
Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky [a]
...job cuts--service cuts--cut heat--cut water...
With little more than a good set of teeth , the beaver can stop a rushing stream, and transform meadow into wetland. But to an outside observer, her constant shuffling of twigs and gnawing of tree trunks, her diving and tail-slapping make for an amusing, though inscrutable performance. The break dancer works the same way on the architectonic body of Moloch, that god who hacked his way through the Bronx with a meat-axe. 
The South Bronx contains “the largest concentration of public housing anywhere in the country.”  Immense, severe, and artless; inimical to street life and devoid of informal public space, project towers worked to destroy the organic social networks that once contributed to the strength of communities. The projects turned inward from the grid like water beading on a glass surface, and whether purposeful or not, this atomization of space and isolation of the people within it worked steadfastly against political organization at the neighborhood level for years to come.
The projects decimated the already unstable communities of the South Bronx by zoning against the life of the street and making strangers of neighbors. With joblessness and disinvestment, they helped to create a culture of despair, a “necropolis” where community had to be re-imagined before it could be re-formed. To imagine something else having known nothing else—this was the defining challenge of the post-assassinations generation. And it could not have happened in church basements, NOI mosques, or Black Panther headquarters as before, because the ground of community on which these institutions once seeded had been eroded. Instead, it was the more informal space of block parties and gymnasiums where young people rehearsed new ways of being, both individually and collectively, through the organic art forms of rapping, DJing, graffiti, and break dancing.
With these emergent arts, young people waged a war of symbolic communication against “the various mythological descriptions, both verbal and visual, laid upon them by those with the public power to describe.”  Absent any ideological program, Bronx kids transmuted this experience of displacement into a set of aesthetic practices that were equal to the challenges of a post-apocalyptic world. “The cut,” “the breaks,” “bombing”—the hip hop lexicon echoed the catastrophe that befell the Bronx even as it proclaimed resilience.
Joel Dinerstein suggests that dancing and building represent opposite “poles of modernist engagement.” One faces the ground, and the other “the heavens.”  If so, then the emergence of break dancing from neighborhoods dominated by Corbusieran towers was more than incidental. In the projects, that landscape of brutal linearity cut from brick and stone, where the recent past was a growing heap of rubble, the ecstatic spins and thrusts of the dance couldn’t but be oppositional. Breaking is a way of getting down to get up. And at the margins of society, where the crosswinds of progress blow minds and bodies forever down, getting up is a marvelous thing.
Break dancing enacts through the body how the mind must move to hold its integrity against a pervasive madness. Here, there, everywhere—break dance is a multiplex war dance against an invisible enemy.
The cultural milieu of New York's postwar ghettoes is described—in the sense of “to trace the form or outline of,” and thus to contain and control—by the dance.
In the late 1980s, as hip hop's communications war broke out of the neighborhoods, emcees enfolded the creative spirit of the dance. Rap began to mentalize the operations of breaking in both style and content, so that the old practice of aligning rhymed words with the fourth beat gave way to the idea of 'flow,' and words came to be valued for their flexibility of meaning. The message was no longer the sum of a verse, but a centerpoint weaving through the lines, and New York’s second wave delighted in multivalence and virtuosic wordplay.
This transmutation of breaking into rap corresponded, for better or worse, with the migration of the latter from street to store. Greg Dimitriadis writes that “The closure of rap's narrative structure has come as a parallell phenomenon to the increasing lack of space for live production and congregation.”  This adaptation to the fact of mechanical reproducibility also encouraged“work which bears and invites rereadings, which motions to future readings, as well as contemporary ones, [implying] a shareable world and an endlessly flexible language.”  The leap from the Furious Five's party raps to Wu-Tang's coded language speaks for itself:
I bomb atomically, Socrates' philosophies
and hypotheses can't define how I be droppin' these
mockeries, lyrically perform armed robbery
Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me
Battle-scarred shogun, explosion when my pen hits
tremendous, ultra-violet shine blinds forensics
I inspect you, through the future see millenium
Killa Bees sold fifty gold sixty platinum
Shacklin' the masses with drastic rap tactics
Graphic displays melt the steel like blacksmiths
Black Wu jackets queen Bees ease the guns in
Rumble with patrolmen, tear gas laced the function
Heads by the score take flight incite a war
Chicks hit the floor, diehard fans demand more
Behold the bold soldier, control the globe slowly
Proceeds to blow swingin' swords like Shinobi
Stomp grounds and pound footprints in solid rock
Wu got it locked, performin' live on your hottest block
- Inspectah Deck on “Triumph,” from Wu Tang Clan's Forever
“Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it 'the way it really was.' It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger...The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes...[and] Only the historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And the enemy has never ceased to be victorious.” 
…breaking time open—breaking laws--breaking the tablets of the law...
Having to work in his old age on a typewriter, Nietzsche switched from essays to aphorisms. Conscious of his technologically occasioned change in style, he declared, “Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts.” Something analogous happened to African-American music with the emergence of hip hop.
With the turntable, and then the sampler, rap realized an oppositional construction of time, and space. It is something closer to the Benjamin’s “messianic time” than the “homogenous, empty time” of modernity. And yet it emerges from modernity and battles dialectically with it, more urgently often than other postmodern arts because rap addresses an endangered 'we.'
Writing about rap usually privileges the lyric, but some of the best verses fall flat on paper. Rap is principally an oral form, and its potential for multivalence requires a specific kind of musical space to be realized, a space defined by participatory consciousness.
Like any ritual music built upon repetition and refrain, the hip hop instrumental tries to effect a receptive state in its listeners by folding space around a cipher. It is something like a magic circle in which the ordinary fabric of space-time is rent, where past moments are available to be mined like jewels from the depths of forgetting and stringed together on a necklace of sound. In this way, the past arises to invigorate, even redeem the present, and vice versa. And when the mix is tight, it seems that the agency lies as much with the raw material as with the artist. As if these “chipped flecks of forgotten soul gold,” no longer bound up within a closed work, begin to seek each other out, and complete each other through the artist's agency.  The DJ stacks transparent maps over each other to reveal correspondences across time.
The funk and soul years supply rap with its fractured spiritual center. Fractured because the sixties and early seventies marked the abrupt end of a certain kind of community, an embattled but strong community bound together by a sense of common purpose.
By salvaging the sonic traces of that time and place, rap engaged in what the Hasidim call tikkun olam, or “repairing the world.” It provided a so-called lost generation with the cultural artillery to reclaim their parents’ losses. It rescued memory from the depths of forgetting, and put history in service of the living.
a. Carol Becker; Romi Crawford, Paul D. Miller. “An Interview with Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky—That Subliminal Kid.” Art Journal, Vol. 61, no. 1. (Spring 2002), p. 85.
1. Robert Moses, NYC's Construction Coordinator in the postwar years, was famously quoted as saying, “ “When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax.” See Robert Caro's The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, (New York: Vintage, 1975).
2. Jonnes, 118.
3. Martha Rosler in Mel Rosenthal's In the South Bronx of America, (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2000), 112.
4. Joel Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African
American Culture between the World Wars (Amherst: Umass, 2003), 17.
5. Greg Dimitriadis, “Hip Hop: From Live Performance to Mediated Narrative,” in Murray Forman and Anthony Neal's That's the Joint!: the Hip-Hop Studies Reader (Routledge, 2004).
6. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1993), xiv.
7. Benjamin, “On...History,” Thesis VI.
8. Sampling as “songcraft from chipped flecks of forgotten soul gold.” See Nelson George, “Sample This,” in Forman and Neal's That's the Joint!, 504-9.