ATGV: "Hip Hop" or "Hip-Hop"?

I received the following question from a beloved reader:

Hi, Grammar Vandal,

First, let me say that I’m delighted to share the same city with you. Of any city in the US, Boston should be putting its best linguistic foot forward. And when it doesn’t, it deserves a little corrective vandalism.

So, here’s my question: “Hip Hop” – I know that it is currently correct to use it both withand without a hyphen, but what about when it’s a modifier? Does it behave like any other compound? E.g., he was well known vs. he was a well-known person. So, “I’ve been doing hip hop for a decade now…”vs “The hip-hop scene has changed a lot since Tupac was shot.”

Actually, I guess we could pose the question of capitalization aswell, although since rock, disco and reggae don’t get special capitalization status as a music genre, I don’t think hip hop should either.

Any thoughts or suggested web references? I have the Chicago Manual of Style, AP Style Guide and US Govt Manual of Style on hand here as physical resources but none of them seem to care much about hip hop.

Many thanks for your advice!

MollyMac in Brookline

You know, I thought that this would be so easy. I thought that all it would take would be a few quick searches to find an answer. Not so much.

Like MollyMac said, neither hip hop nor hip-hop are listed in any of the aformentioned guides. Because of this, I’m going to do a survey of modern music information sources and tally what they use.

Here we go:

Hip Hop: NONE!

Rolling Stone


To add in a few literary sources, I checked out the American Heritage Dictionary and Random House Unabridged Dictionary. Both use hip-hop.

MollyMac, I think you have your answer! This is pretty interesting. I always preferred to use hip-hop, and I’m glad that it’s the default of so many major music sources.

Thanks, MollyMac. I particularly love the comma you used after “Hi.”


5 responses to “ATGV: "Hip Hop" or "Hip-Hop"?

  1. The iTunes change must be somewhat recent, since my iTunes will default rap albums to “Hip Hop/Rap” when including the genre.

    But, as a Hip Hop scholar, I must say, I believe “Hip Hop” to be correct over any other permutation. Capitalization and all.

    As everyone should know, Hip Hop is a culture, not a genre. It is much more than music. So I see it as I do words like “American” or “Spanish.” Those are always capitalized, no matter what, and Hip Hop should be treated just the same.

    The most compromise I would make is adding the hyphen, but as reclassifying my thousands of rap tracks would take forever, I think I’ll still with “Hip Hop.”

    And you don’t stop.

  2. I’ve always liked “hippity hop”. (Though I’ve never liked the USian interior punctuation for quotes.)


  3. Me neither, Len… And I was raised here!

    Quotes are a whole other subject that could be handled on this blog. Single or double? Comma inside or out? I edit a British publication on occasion and find it refreshing and liberating to move the punctuation outside in many cases.

    dlipkin, thank you for your input about Hip(-)Hop being a culture rather than a genre. Fair enough! You’re completely right! Maybe it should be uncapitalized when specifically referring to the music genre and capitalized when indicating the broader culture. But while it is indeed a movement that far exceeds music, it is not a nationality, so perhaps it should be treated more like words such as hippie (not to associate hip(-)hop with hippies, but to draw a parallel between them). It is interesting food for thought, at least!

  4. mollymac – as was I!


  5. Webster’s has it as hip-hop. I always look up something contentious in the dictionary first, and Webster’s is what we use at our publishing house. We use Words into Type for our grammar issues (we do children’s books).

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