Research Questions

1. What environment was hip hop born in?

2. Why did it exist in the first place?

3. What does that mean for the world today?

4. What could it teach us in today’s culture?


Connie Hwang, SJSU Graphic Design Professor
Primary Advisor

Diane Lee, SJSU Graphic Design Assistant Professor
Secondary Advisor

Bobby Seals (Fela Anikulapo Uhuru), SJSU Anthropology
& African American Studies Professor
Tertiary Advisor


As a globally publicized form of music, hip hop is one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped genres of music there is today. In modern times, hip hop is both loved and hated, remembered and forgotten, accepted and rejected; stolen and given. The truth of hip hop can easily be lost in lyrics about sex, drug abuse, violence, gangs, and profanity, but to understand hip hop as a whole, one must ask these questions: Who was hip hop for? Why did it exist? What did it mean at the time of its birth and what does that mean for the world today?

Something that many often forget is that hip hop is an expression and form of art. There are methods as well skills that are practiced and perfected. Four elements encapsulate hip hop’s essence: deejaying, rapping, break dancing, and graffiti. These four elements are the foundations of the art of Hip Hop.

The truthful fight behind Hip Hop’s revolution is something that America often chooses to ignore and forget: Slavery, racism, racial inequality, white supremacy, police brutality, and more. For those who see hip hop as “unethical” or something that needs to be censored, it is an important step of respect to recall the truth of history and acknowledge the story of African American minorities in the states. Only then, can one begin to understand hip hop as not only a genre, but a culture.

To illustrate the steps towards understanding the humanity in hip hop, this project will emphasize three findings: The birth setting of
Hip Hop, the uprising and revolution of hip hop, and lastly, the anthem of hope that is declare

TRACK app and Installation headphones

Project Goal

Using space, form, visuals, and sound, this installation is meant to emphasize deep history behind how hip hop came to be (dating back to the earliest days of slavery), why hip hop exists, the significance of hip hop and how we (as “outsiders to hip hop”) should respect and learn from it (as a form of human respect and learning history). Hip hop is not just profanity and violence. It holds history, truth, and justice for many.

For hip hop skeptics, this project is meant to be inviting and educational; to extend a different point of view and give an opportunity to reflect. It is an invitation for viewers to see look deeper into their preconceptions and to step forward into peace and unity.

Project Elements

Physical Structure
Being the first element of this project, the installation serves as a physical and visual representation of the three categories that I found in hip hop.
It wasn’t until I myself experienced listening and reading lyrics at the same time that I found this element very powerful.

Augmented Reality
Visitors can listen to music and learn more about the lyrics. This creates more engagement. Visitors can also save music for later.

Track App

The purpose of the app is to provide an extended perspective for visitors to experience. They can both listen and observe. Although the categories for learning are emphasized on the intro panel of the installation, the app gives visitors a better understanding of what the hip hop songs really talk about in their lyrics. By tapping on the different colors and lyrics, users can easily listen to each of the songs on the lyric panel. Listening to and interacting with lyrics is a powerful tool.

For app demo:


Through my research, I found it helpful to divide the types of hip hop songs into categories to begin understanding and unpacking them. With these three categories, visitors can learn and think about the music in a different way. These categories are introduced on the introduction panel and on the app. Each category is color coded.

Origins of Oppression
These hip hop songs illustrate the frustrationwith the cultural and systematic issues at the time. Much of it seems
aggressive and profane, but the lyrics convey the genuine struggle many
African Americans faced every day.

A Brewing Revolution
Since they these people hadbeen silenced for so long, hip hop became a powerful way to finally speak and be heard. Many artists began speaking against inequality, systematic issues, and These hip hop songs illustrate the beginning of an uprising and revolution for peace, equality, change, and freedom.

Proclamations of Hope
In present times, hip hop has become a global phenomenon and it is publicized everywhere. In a sense, it has brought
many hip hop pioneers to fame and fortune, but in another sense, it has brought more respect and human dignity to those who began the revolution.

Lyric Panel

The lyric panel features some key lyrics from a small selection of hip hop songs that fit the 3 categories that were introduced in the intro panel. These songs specifically carry meaning and depth within these categories. Using the TRACK app, visitors can see the lyrics in their categories. By using the app, users can listen to the songs that are displayed on the panel and receive an extended perspective of the installation. If some visitors are unable to use the app, the lyrics are still available to read and engage with.

Thesis Playlist

Although this installation and app are hypothetical, you can still experience the music and lyrics in a real way. Click on any links to the right to open the playlist in your preferred streaming service!


Apple Music


Engaging with the lyrics while listening to the song creates a very powerful experience.

“Keep in mind when brothas start flexing the verbal skillz, it always reflects what’s going on politically, socially, and economically.”           

—Musician Davey D

Research Conclusion

By talking to others, researching, and designing, I feel that I’ve stepped into a whole new understanding and journey of history. As someone who desires to constantly grow, evolve, and become the best version of myself, I hope that this thesis project is just the start of me understanding and learning more about the rich history of hip hop. I also hope this better informs me on how to fight for humanity in the margins of our society.

As for those that experience this project, my only hope is that they will begin to see and understand the depth and meaning of hip hop’s history and culture. This experience is not the end of learning! I hope that through this gateway, they will continue to reflect on their own preconceptions, prejudices, and ignorance, and get to a place where they can fight for justice and peace among the minorities.

  2020 timeiswhatyoumakeofit