Hip-hop and rap has sustained its place in music culture, but relative to other genres, it is still an infant. Hip-hop began in the South Bronx in New York City in the 1970s. Creation of the term hip hop is often credited to Keith Cowboy, rapper with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
The roots of hip hop are found in African-American music and ultimately African music. The griots of West Africa are a group of traveling singers and poets who are part of an oral tradition dating back hundreds of years. Their vocal style is similar to that of rappers.
Within New York City, griot-like performances of spoken-word poetry and music by artists such as The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron and Jalal Mansur Nuriddin had a significant impact on the post-civil rights era culture of the 1960s and 1970s.
Hip hop arose during the 1970s when block parties became increasingly popular in New York City, particularly in the Bronx, where African-American and Puerto Rican influences combined. Block parties incorporated DJs who played popular genres of music, especially funk and soul music.
Hip hop music was an outlet and a “voice” for the disenfranchised youth of low-economic areas as the culture reflected the social, economic and political realities of their lives.
Hip hop music was both influenced by disco and a backlash against it. Hip hop had largely emerged as “a direct response to the watered down, Europeanised, disco music that permeated the airwaves”, and the earliest hip hop was mainly based on hard funk loops. However, by 1979, disco instrumental loops/tracks had become the basis of much hip hop music. This genre got the name of “disco rap”. Ironically, hip hop music was also a proponent in the eventual decline in disco popularity.
The 1980s marked the diversification of hip hop as the genre developed more complex styles. Early on, sampled tracks and the fusion of hip hop music with electro emerged. The mid 1980s marked the influence of rock music. The 1980s also marked the period of heavy uses of drum machines that characterized many of the 1980 songs. Even to this day, the 808 kickdrum is traditionally used by hip hop producers.
The lyrical content of hip hop evolved as well. The early styles presented in the 1970s soon were replaced with metaphorical lyrics over more complex, multi-layered instrumentals. Artists such as Melle Mel, Rakim, Chuck D, and KRS-One revolutionized hip hop by transforming it into a more mature art form. The influential single “The Message” (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is widely considered to be the pioneering force for conscious rap.
With the infusion of sampling, drum machines, new musical influences, and the evolution of lyrics, many rappers were able to become mainstream pop performers.
Prior to the 1980s, hip hop music was largely confined within the context of the United States. However, during the 1980s, it began to spread in dozens of countries. B-boying became the first aspect of hip hop culture to reach Germany, Japan, Australia and South Africa.
The new school of hip hop was the second wave of hip hop music, beginning in 1983-84 with the early records of Run-DMC and LL Cool J. This too, predominately came from New York City. This new era was initially characterized by drum machine-led minimalism, with influences from rock music. The lyrical content was notable for bravado, taunts, and boasts about rapping and socio-political commentary, with it being delivered in an aggressive, self-assertive ways. This projected a tough, cool, street b-boy attitude. These elements contrasted sharply with the funk and disco era prior to 1984, thus rendering them as old-school. The new school artists made shorter songs so that they could gain more radio play, and more cohesive LPs, thus leading the hip hop music becoming more commercially successful.
The “Golden Age” occurred between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s – and is said to be characterized by its diversity, quality, innovation, and influence. There were strong themes of Afrocentricity and political militancy, while the music was experimental and the sampling eclectic. There was often a strong jazz influence. The golden age is noted for its innovation – a time “when it seemed that every new single reinvented the genre,” according to Rolling Stone magazine. Referring to “hip-hop in its golden age,” Spin’s editor-in-chief Sia Michel says, “there were so many important, groundbreaking albums coming out right about that time.”
Adding to the genre in this same time period was the emergence of gangsta rap. Gangsta rap is a subgenre that reflects the violent lifestyles of inner-city American black youths. N.W.A. is the group most frequently associated with pioneering gangsta rap. Their lyrics were more violent, openly confrontational, and shocking those of established rap acts. This was the most controversial rap genre.
In 1990, MC Hammer hit mainstream success with “Can’t Touch This”. He became one of the most successful rappers of the early 90s and one of the first household names in the genre. His success raised rap music to a new level of popularity. Following that, in 1992 Dr. Dre released The Chronic. Dre helped establish West Coast gangsta rap as more commercially viable than East Coast hip hop. Then Wu-Tang Clan flipped the script and brought East Coast back into the mainstream at a time when the West Coast mainly dominated rap. Thus beginning a long history of feuds between East Coast and West Coast hip hop. Notable artists of this period include: The Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z, Tupac, Snoop Dogg,and Nas. The Beastie Boys were able to maintain their success from the 1980s and throughout the 90s by transitioning with the changing genre.
By the 2000’s, the popularity of hip hop was influencing main stream pop. Artists such as Eminem, Nelly, and 50 Cent dominated the charts. In addition to the mainstream success, the United States also saw the success of alternative hip hop in the form of performers such as The Roots, Dilated Peoples, Gnarls Barkley and Mos Def, who achieved significant recognition. Gnarls Barkley’s album St. Elsewhere, which contained a fusion of funk, neo soul and hip hop, debuted at number 20 on the Billboard 200 charts.
Today, hip hop continues to influence music all over the world and is no longer confined to just the United States. It is used in different contexts all over the globe. Tanzania, Germany, and France all have adapted gangsta rap because of the youths who like the violent and aggressive lyrics. The United Kingdom is where hip-hop is most popular, yet many British politicians still criticize the music for what they see as promoting theft and murder.
Hip hop has globalized into many cultures worldwide, as evident through the emergence of numerous regional scenes. It has emerged globally as a movement based upon the main tenets of hip hop culture. The music and the art continue to embrace, even celebrate, its transnational dimensions while staying true to the local cultures to which it is rooted. Hip-hop’s inspiration differs depending on each culture.
I feel that we are on the verge of a new era of hip hop again. Transitioning from bravado rappers such as 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne, to more complex lyrics with up-and-coming rappers like Wale, B.o.B, Kid Cudi, and J. Cole.
What do you guys think of hip hop today and where it is headed?