The Marriage of Steampunk and Hip Hop!


George Clinton…Bootsy Collins…Flavor Flav.

Do these men evoke images of an age of invention, adventure and experimentation for you as they do for me?

These men inspire my Steampunk writings. Their style; their music; their live performances – to me – are the root of Steamfunk, the interpretation of Steampunk by writers and musicians of African descent (i.e. “Black folks”).

Now, before you blow a cog, let me remind you that, as Joshua Pfeiffer, founder of the Steampunk band Vernian Process, and co-founder of the Steampunk-centric record label/collective Gilded Age Records, says – “There is no defining element to Steampunk music. Steampunk music is different to every individual’s interpretation of it.”

Right on, Josh!

Mr. Pfeiffer goes on to say – “The only true definition (of Steampunk) could be – ‘Music created by Steampunk fans, or music that Steampunk fans find invokes the atmosphere they expect from a Steampunk setting or aesthetic’. Steampunk music, as I see it, more often than not consists of a mixture of genres; usually a mixture of genres from various periods in music history; be it Ragtime with Punk Rock, Industrial and Neo-Classical, Chamber music and Electronica, Swing and Hip-Hop, or any other variety of combinations. The only constant element that must be present is some form of vintage – 19th or early 20th Century – musical influence.”

Well said and the very same definition could be used to describe Hip Hop music (other than the constant element of 19th or early 20th Century music, of course). Why? Because Hip Hop and Steampunk are cut from the same cloth.

Don’t believe me? Disagree? Read on.


Hip Hop is an art form that includes deejaying (mixing, cutting and scratching records); emceeing/rapping; breakdancing; and graffiti art. Hip Hop originated in the South Bronx section of New York City around the mid 1970s.

From a sociological perspective, Hip Hop has been one of the main contributing factors to the curtailing of gang violence, as many adults found Hip Hop effective for channeling their anger and aggression.

Hip Hop caught on because it offered young urban youth a chance to freely express themselves. More importantly, it was an art form accessible to anyone. A member of the Hip Hop community did not need a lot of money or expensive resources to express any of the four elements of Hip Hop. A member of the movement did not have to invest in lessons or anything like that.

Hip Hop also became popular because it offered diverse and unlimited challenges. There were no real set rules, except to be original. Anything was possible. The ultimate goal was to be perceived as being “def” (“good”) by one’s peers.

Finally, Hip Hop, because of its inclusive aspects, allowed its members to accurately and efficiently inject their personality.

No two people expressed Hip Hop the same, even when mixing the same record, reciting the same rhyme or dancing to the same beat.

The Hip Hop movement continues to be popular among today’s youth for the same reasons urban youth were drawn to it in the early days – it is an accessible form of self expression capable of eliciting positive affirmation from one’s peers.

Throughout history, music, art, dance and literature originating from America’s Black communities has always had an accompanying subculture reflective of the political, social and economic conditions of the time. Hip Hop is no different.

Hip hop is a lifestyle with its own language, style of dress, music and mindset that is continuously evolving.

Defining Characteristics of Hip Hop

Defining characteristics of Hip Hop include:

  1. Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter-ego.
  2.  Most members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Hip Hop.
  3. Resistance to hierarchical, oppressive society.
  4. Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
  5. A literary (rap; spoken word), visual art (graffiti; fashion), musical (deejaying) and dance (breakdancing; krumping) component.
  6. Blends future and past (cave drawings with drawing on walls and trains; ancient African martial arts with modern dance moves; ancient African rhythms with contemporary music).
  7. Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.

Defining Characteristics of Steampunk

Now, let’s compare the defining characteristics of Hip Hop with those of Steampunk:

  1. Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter ego.
  2. Nearly all members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Steampunk.
  3. Resistance to hierarchical society; often attempts to resist oppressive, imperialistic society by ignoring its existence or by rewriting and redefining history.
  4. Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
  5. A literary, visual art and musical component.
  6. Blends future and past (anachronism; retrofuturism).
  7. Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.

Sound familiar?

Hip Hop and Steampunk bear strong resemblances to one another and both have their origins in resistance to an establishment that begs for escape or rebellion.

For many “Hip Hop Heads” (aka “B-Boys” or “B-Girls”) – what those heavily immersed in the Hip Hop culture are often called – Steampunk provides an attractive aesthetic due to its similarities in attitudes and its differences in style. The gadgets are especially attractive and new to Hip Hop Heads and sightings of Steampunked turntables and headphones are bound to happen soon.

The members of the Hip Hop culture, always seeking to bring something old to the movement and make it new and cutting edge (remember the marriage of Rock and Hip Hop?), are fiercely anachronistic and cannot help but find a kinship with their fellow rebels in Steampunk.

Thus, the rise of Chap Hop in the UK, the emergence of Steampunk MCs (rappers) in the U.S. and mainstream Hip Hop megastars going Steampunk.


In the mainstream, T-Pain has obviously been strongly influenced by Steampunk. And his dress style, in particular is influenced by the band, Ansley Park, as evidenced by his wardrobe (and even his microphone) for his latest album, Revolver, which, without doubt, is a copy of the band’s dress style. The rapper / R&B star has even named his recent concert tour Steampunk.

Nikki Minaj and David Guetta have gone Steampunk in their video for Turn Me On. The director of the video does a good job in capturing a Steampunk feel. Nikki Minaj often dresses Steampunk – she is very fond of corsets, apparently – so her doing a Steampunk-themed video does not come as a big surprise.

In the UK, Chap Hop has become popular. Chap hop was inspired, fittingly, by the English gentleman’s magazine The Chap, which – like the music it inspires – specializes in over-the-top grandiloquence and an idolization of the 19th century gentleman ideal.

Chap Hop imagines rap to be a pastime of the landed gentry and idle aristocracy of a bygone age.

Spearheaded by Professor Elemental and Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer (who currently have “beef” with each other and even engaged in the first Chap Hop “battle”), Chap Hop mixes Hip Hop’s element of rapping with a gentleman’s sensibilities. Like Hip Hop, each performer has his own spin on the genre. Less known than the aforementioned Professor Elemental and Mr. B, but equally talented, is Poplock Holmes.

From the “unofficial capitol” of Steampunk – Seattle, Washington – comes the seven-piece Hip Hop band, Theoretics. This band lights the fuse of alternative Hip Hop and explodes with retrofuturistic appeal.

The song Jekyll and Hyde, off of their self titled debut album, is accompanied by a music video that is very much the blending of Hip Hop and Steampunk.

The Harlem James Gang – opening act for John Legend – combines Hip Hop, Steampunk, Jazz, and magic to create a vaudevillian spectacle that is absolutely amazing.

With the coming Steamfunk anthology – which I am proud to announce I am now Co-Editor of – perhaps you will see more quality work in the twin realms of Hip Hop and Steampunk. I hope so; so come on Hip Hop Heads…we’re looking for that Mothership Connection – Swing down, Sweet Chariot; Stop and let me ride.


Here are the Submission Guidelines for the Steamfunk Anthology:

MVmedia, LLC


Steamfunk! Anthology Writers Submission Guidelines


Story Length:  1,500 to 15,000 words

Deadline:  July 31, 2012

Story Description:  Stories must contain a main characters or characters of African descent and elements of steam technology. The story can take place in the past, present future or alternate reality as long as steam technology dominates the scenario.  The final selection will be based on the quality of the story submitted as deemed by the editors.  Authors will retain all rights to their stories.

Each author will receive a free copy of the anthology with the opportunity to purchase additional copies at distributor’s pricing.

Submissions should be in Word Document 97- 2003 format, rich text or .doc. Documents should be double-spaced. Please include author’s name, story title and page number on each page.

Send all submissions to: mv_media@bellsouth.net.

Go for it, have fun and make it funky!






About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

14 responses »

  1. ch4wordpress says:

    interesting, I don’t have much to say, I have never thought much about steampunk and especially Black Steampunk or Steamfunk, but interesting. Did you write this Moses the chronicles of harriet tubman?

  2. Ronald T. Jones says:

    I’m juggling ideas for my very 1st steampunk story! This will be an enjoyable writing challenge for me!

  3. Your words are too kind. Thank you good sir, take a gander at my latest moving picture – http://youtu.be/Frz25-xOaQU
    – Poplock Holmes

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