It’s “hip-hop.” Lowercase h, use the hyphen. Feel good about it.
This is controversial, as are so many aspects of hip-hop. But I’m happy to lean on the big guns for this preference. It’s how The Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal write “hip-hop.” Also Keyboard Magazine. BET doesn’t seem to care much, using both “hip-hop” and “hip hop.” The American Heritage Dictionary, WordNet (Princeton University), The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and every other dictionary I consulted all render it “hip-hop.”
Lowercase is similarly accepted in other musical style names, such as jazz, blues, rock, classical, bossa nova, and so on. Motown, Latin jazz, and Delta blues get the capital only because the names come from place names, which get capitals, e.g., Roman numerals and French kiss (though these are also frequently set lowercase). “Bebop” is a minor monkey wrench; it lost its hyphen in most contemporary usage, but the b is decidedly lowercase.
All in all, I’m confident that “hip-hop” is a sound house style choice for Berklee Press.
One group that disagrees is Harvard University’s “Hiphop Archive”. This think tank is a treasure trove of rumination about “Hiphop.” Their argument for how they render the term (uppercase, no hyphen) is that it’s the name of a culture, not just a “cool dance,” (the likely etymological derivation of the term). Hiphop style includes language, visual arts, dance, and social practices, as well as musical genre(s).
Eh, maybe, they have a point. If one of our authors truly wishes to focus on these aspects, and feels strongly about the word choice, we might permit the anomalous rendering, though violating house style complicates the publishing process and I’d really prefer not to and would try to guilt the author into reconsidering. And the “Hiphop” preference just doesn’t seem to have much traction in the world outside Harvard University. For example, Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a provocative film by Byron Hurt, similarly discusses the social issues of hip-hop, but he renders the term as “hip-hop.” And not to pick on what is likely a sore point for the Hiphop Archive, even elsewhere on the Harvard University Web site, the term is rendered as “hip-hop.” Harvard, that’s just not good team spirit.
Anyhow, there is good reason to separate the culture from the musical aspects of the term, particularly at Berklee. Contemporary hip-hop culture is often problematic and even despised by its fans, with so much promulgation of aggression, the objectification of women, the romanticization of materialism, and so forth. This hasn’t always been the case; there are deep roots in hip-hop as an activity of peacemaking and a tool of raising social conscience. But that’s not what’s selling the most records, today, and there are good reasons to separate the medium from the current message.
Berklee hip-hop guru Prince Charles Alexander, one of my current guiding lights, suggests looking at hip-hop as essentially a production style, with emblematic sounds and groove characteristics. The music serves as a bed for the rap, the content of which can be anything. This, to me, is a healthy way to see it. You can love the sound of hip-hop, but despise many of its artists’ messages. For the record, PC was initially leaning towards the capital H, but I’m trying to talk him out of it.
I see his technocratic approach as a good teaching strategy, and the lowercase h helps us to divorce the evolving social elements of hip-hop culture from its essential musical/production elements in the classroom, as well as the printed page.
The homoerotic imagery, the desensitization regarding violence, the role of women—for now, I’m happy to let Harvard University sort these out. In a sense, it is more revolutionary to think about hip-hop in terms of shout choruses, Roland TR-808 drum sounds, and beat subdivisions. By presenting it in these terms, the tools of creating hip-hop become within reach of a great diversity of potential artists, who will hopefully rescue this vibrant, creative form from some of its current doldrums of content.