Welcome to Plug ‘n Play

A tribute to the essential power of hip-hop and its 5 foundational elements

The MC (oral) • The DJ (aural) • The B-Boy (physical) • The Painter (visual) • The Producer/Knowledge (spiritual)

Plug ‘n Play is a countercultural interactive art installation at Burning Man 2016. Within Plug ‘n Play, we represent, teach, and honor our analog past.

Plug ‘n Play comes to life as Plug4, the huge positive end of an extension cord plug, birthed from the playa, pointing to the sky. Passersby can drop in on DJ demonstrations, live MC cyphers, lectures, films, and even ‘twerkshops,’ and other interactive moments.

Surrounding Plug4 are five Quad Boxes – where you can immerse yourself in a gallery; each Quad Box visually represents one of the five elements of hip-hop.

We plug in; we explore & amplify the almighty vinyl record, the mic, and the crowd. Feel what it’s like to drop the needle on the record and physically engage with music and hip-hop culture at Plug ‘n Play.

The elements of Hip Hop

Before the last days of disco, in New York neighborhoods like the South Bronx and Queens, disc jockeys used to throw daytime dance parties in housing-project parks. Eager to emulate the thriving club scene in Manhattan yet economically unable to live the same high life, the DJs sometimes saved money by jerry-rigging electric cables to overhead power lines to fuel their sound systems.

Like the Manhattan jocks, they used two turntables instead of one to seamlessly segue songs together for a continuous funk or reggae beat. Their primary goal was to keep people dancing. Rappers released 12-inch vinyl pressings of their
new singles to be played at clubs. Aspiring hip-hop artists soon crafted their own funk-electro-hybrid breakbeats using samples, drum machines, and home recording devices.

This confluence of elements in African-American, Caribbean, and Latino culture in New York
gave rise to one of the most formidable music genres of the century: hip-hop.



As the DJs spun at these outdoor parties with renegade soundsystems, the emcees pumped the crowd by giving shout-outs on the microphone. Mega-influential DJ Kool Herc was Jamaican-born, and brought “toasting” to those first parties. Other emcees emulated the African-American tradition of “capping”, or the smooth on-air styles of their favorite funk and soul DJs, who “rapped” coolly between songs, themselves emulating their jazz and beatnik forebears. Like the beats and the Last Poets, early MCs brought attention to social issues, letting their voices be heard. Generation X learned the realities of life in American housing projects via listening to the rappers who brought light to the issues and educated those outside their own spheres. Beatboxers represented an evolution in vocal a cappella musical performance -- if you can’t afford a synthesizer, why not make the same noises with your face? Beatboxing became a key component to rapping, then branched off into its own art form.



The term B-Boy actually stands for “Break Boy,” a member of NYC Breakers, the Rock Steady Crew, or any of several dance crews during the rise of hip-hop. Dancers derived moves from existing phenoms like Strutting, Popping, Locking, and of course James Brown. Break-dancing doesn’t refer to extreme athleticism and potential for injury -- originally, it meant dancing to the break, which the DJ created. According to Kool Herc, who also reportedly coined the terms B-Boy and B-Girl, "breaking" was also street slang for "getting excited" and "acting energetically." Wearing athletic tracksuits and blazing fashion trails, these dance teams brought the ancient together with the new, by forging tribal and robotic maneuvers into a groundbreakingly innovative form of dance. Even for hip-hop fans who couldn’t possibly breakdance, this pillar of hip-hop reminds the listener to engage in physicality, to feel the beat and express it within one’s own body. Dance represents the physical manifestation of sound.



Since song “breaks” (minimal drum’n’bass breakdowns in between verses) seemed to get the crowds jumping, DJs adopted the habit of playing the same song on both turntables and alternately re-cueing the instrumental breaks, to craft extended jams for crowds to enjoy and for dance teams to battle to. Kool Herc, a famous New York DJ who originated these parties, coined the term hip-hop. Grand Wizard Theodore is credited with inventing the scratch, and artists like Grandmaster Flash helped make scratching famous. Today, as mainstream hip-hop joins rock and country in becoming bland enough to stand around fanning itself with money, the refreshing and surprisingly complicated art of turntablism, performed on vinyl records, stays true as an art form unto itself.



Knowledge is the element that explains the difference between mainstream society and the hip-hop community. Knowledge, an element made by Afrika Bambaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation, is the glue that holds the artistic elements within the context of hip-hop. Without knowledge, a person who can rap will never be an emcee. Tagging the walls without knowledge is just vandalism. “Well within the Hip Hop generation there is a lot that have to wake up from The Spell of Kingu, The spell of sleep…. We got to get people back to that fifth element of Hip Hop. Get them back to the knowledge. Too many are caught up on the partying…they are not dealing with all the elements of Hip Hop; they’re just dealing with the rap side of Hip Hop. We got to let them know that it’s a culture, and come back to that fifth element, the knowledge, because this is what controls and holds everything together.” (Bambaataa, 2007)



While writing on walls is as old as walls, the student protests and general strike of May 1968 saw Paris bedecked in revolutionary, anarchistic, and situationist slogans expressed in painted graffiti, poster art, and stencil art. Graffiti became the de facto way for youth in urban settings to express themselves visually. Graffiti also became associated with the anti-establishment punk rock movement beginning in the 1970s. Meanwhile, in the South Bronx and other neglected urban neighborhoods, as the genre of hip-hop arose, aerosol artists were battling out turf wars, tagging, and painting murals on the sides of buildings and subway train cars. In 1979, Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were booked in the world’s first graffiti-based art show, in Paris. Fab 5 Freddy and friends influenced the video for Blondie’s “Rapture,” the first-ever top-40 single with rapping in it, as well as art by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Graffiti’s rise to cultural prominence in America is archived in 1983’s PBS documentary Style Wars, and fictionalized in the classic 1983 movie Wild Style.


A much-loved esplanade theme camp dating back to 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2008, Plug4 has always been a shrine to, and the undisputed home of hip-hop on the Playa.

In those early days, Plug4 founders and DJs would rock sets of hip-hop and its feeding musical elements, soul, funk, rock steady and afrobeat. We’d capture it all each night to pass out cassette recordings on the playa the following day. We’d pop a tape into the Giant Ghetto Blaster SOW 4080 at sundown and push and pull it across the playa to drop soul vaccinations on unwitting camps in need. We were one of the first mobile amplified music installations at Burning Man, distributing a funky soul alternative.

In 2016, Plug4 squared, the PlugFounders and posse had the inspiration and gumption to bring the Plug back to the playa. This time as a full-scale, interactive yet analog art piece representing our personal perspective on the 5 elements of hip-hop

Tune in Here

Plug ‘n Play is supported in part by a grant from Burning Man.