Word Nerd: 5 English words that owe their cool factor to hip-hop

16 Mar

By Anandamayee Singh

In 2018, rapper Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize for his album DAMN. At 31, Lamar became the first hip-hop artist to win a Pulitzer in a category normally overrun by classical composers. His win came fifty years after the explosion of hip-hop in the streets of Bronx, making it, more than anything, an indication of the dominant space hip-hop has earned in cultural and artistic spaces today.

Contrary to popular belief, hip-hop is not solely a genre of music. Since its inception, it has been a mode of expression that has shaped the fashion, art, dance, language, and music of the streets, steadily seeping into the mainstream. Today, hip-hop largely influences what is and isn’t cool. Whether it is Kanye West’s Yeezy’s, or Drake’s Kiki Challenge, the ‘youth’ as they say, drink all of the Kool-Aid poured by hip-hop artists. Much of the slang used for the past three decades also originates from specific moments in hip-hop. Here are five slang words that hip-hop has given to the world, and are in use today. Because you should know your history kids.



You may assume that extra means adding onto something. But as a slang word extra refers to over-the-top, dramatic behaviour, that is often inappropriate. For example, when your cousin who just got a modelling contract shows up to your birthday party in a bodycon dress, she is being extra, and should be kept in a corner until she leaves the party out of boredom or shame.


The world enjoys a good beef burger or medium rare steak. Except if you live in India, where your meat preferences can get you lynched, which is actually more relevant to the slang. As a slang word, beef refers to a grudge or a conflict between two people, particularly in rap. Beefing rappers write diss tracks singling each other out, but Gangsta rappers of the 90s considered diss tracks a ‘soft’ version of beefing. The Notorious B.I.G. even wrote a rap called What’s the Beef? calling out artists who beef on rap tracks, rather than with sticks and stones.



You may think that wavy refers to slightly curly hair. But as a slang word, wavy refers to something positive, cool, or impressive. The use of this word as slang was popularized by rapper Max B. through songs like Coke Wave and Wave Gods. The ability to do a handstand, or speak several languages is wavy.


A candle you ignited a few hours ago was lit. A hallway that is illuminated by a lightbulb could be considered well-lit. However, in the context of slang, lit takes on a slightly different meaning.  Initially popularized by jazz musicians in the late 50s or 60s, lit used to refer to someone who is buzzed enough to perform in a relaxed way, but not drunk enough to ruin to the performance.

Today, a person or event that is buzzing with activity, excitement, or is fun, is lit. So the next time your old classmate refers to an empty bar as lit in their instagram stories, tell them that it is, in fact, not lit.



Finesse is probably a word you envision in the context of a game of cards, or a diplomatic summit. However, the slang appropriation, popularized by hip-hop artists from Chicago, is used when a person uses great cunning to get something they want from another person. When Bruno Mars says he’s dripping in finesse, he isn’t actually referring to the gold and fancy clothes he’s wearing, but his ability to persuade other people to give him their things. So, the next time somebody slyly grabs a fry off your plate, ask them how they think they can finesse you like that?

If you liked this, check out our other word nerd blogs:

Word Nerd: 10 German loanwords that English is never giving back
Word Nerd: 5 Anlgo-French words that stole the limelight from their Anglo-Saxon counterparts
Word Nerd: 6 magical words from Greco-Roman mythology

No comments yet

Leave a Reply