Originally Posted by hookers with machineguns
The Rap Education Thread
Written by Hookers with machineguns (Leroy Lee)
The prototype to rapping was something called a poetic “spiel” presented by African American civil rights activists, like The Last Poets and the Harlem writers’ workshop. Rapping or “hip-hop” (used synonymously in this context) essentially began in New York City block parties during the 1970s. Early DJs would isolate danceable and energetic percussion breaks to reggae, jazz, soul, disco or funk songs. Because these breaks were typically short, the technique evolved to extend, mix, and scratch samples. This technique then incorporated performers that spoke while the music played. The emcee (MC) kept the crowd entertained in between songs with comical anecdotes. The MC’s role evolved with time, with more MCs trying to differentiate themselves from the rest by incorporating brief rhymes based on suggestive themes. One of the first and notorious MCs was DJ Kool Herc, who progressed from using reggae samples to funk samples. Kool Herc paved the way for producer/block party champion Afrika Bambaata and the Zulu Nation, a political and social powerhouse in the late 1970s.
Rap slowly became more complex in lyrical and rhythmic delivery, beginning with the successful singles from The Sugarhill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”) and Kurtis Blow (“Christmas Rappin”) in 1979. Meanwhile, DJ Grandmaster Flash, pioneer of mixing and cutting, put together The Furious Five and released “The Message” in 1982, perhaps the first socially conscious rap record of its time. By the mid-1980s, Run-D.M.C took over the rap scene. With their baggy black clothes, gold chains, and signature Adidas gear, Run-D.M.C. were the earliest trend setters of hip-hop. Their debut album Raising Hell, which included the song “Walk This Way” featuring Aerosmith, the first rap-rock collaboration, was released in 1986 and went on to sell over 3 million records. Another rap-rock phenomenon was The Beastie Boys, the hardcore punk-turned- first successful white male hip hop trio. The 1986 release Licensed to Ill was the best selling rap album of the 1980s.
It wasn’t long before rap started drawing negative attention from mainstream media. During the mid to late-1980s, Miami-based 2 Live Crew were scrutinized for their profane and sexually graphic lyrics. As Nasty as They Wanna Be was initially ruled illegal to sell but was overturned a few years later.
The ultimate sociopolitical rap outfit was Public Enemy, who’s revolutionary and controversial politically-charged rap has yet to be matched by any of today’s rappers. Their notorious alignment to the S1W, a militant black power group, brought forth much scrutiny from the media, including false accusations of being anti-Semitic and sexist. Despite that, both 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush the Stage and 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were critically acclaimed albums.
“Gangsta rap” became prevalent by the late 1980s, sparked by KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock’s Criminal Minded released in 1987. The album featured many of what would become trademarks of gangster rap, including “diss” tracks that called out other MCs and gun glorification. Following the death of Scott La Rock, KRS-One’s lyrics became more socially and politically conscious and less violence-oriented. Other gangsta rap standouts include Ice-T’s 6’n da Mornin and Too $hort’s Born to Mack
The gangsta rap era never looked back until after the release of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. Members Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, and MC Ren based much of their lyrics on drugs, violence, sex, and guns. Their approach to countering African-American social disenfranchisement was not taken lightly by most, as they were generally (perhaps mistakenly) considered exploiters of violence rather than voices of black rage and social change. However, N.W.A. and its most prominent members (Ice Cube and Dr. Dre) successfully put West Coast hip hop on centerstage. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, released in 1992, is generally considered the authentic precursor to the West Coast hip hop sound of today.
Examples of West Coast Hip-Hop: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Too $hort, Xzibit, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Kurupt, Mack 10, Ras Kass, Brotha Lynch Hung, Daz Dillinger, Warren G
Examples of East Coast Hip-Hop: Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, KRS-One, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, Mos Def, 50 Cent, Talib Kweli, Capone-N-Noreaga, The Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang Clan, Run DMC
By the 1990s, gangsta rap was a mainstream sensation, and the hip-hop culture (including clothing, breakdancing, and beatboxing) was a worldwide phenomena. In the U.S., a division between East Coast and West Coast rappers engulfed the hip hop community. Most of the rivalries can be traced back to the N.W.A. days, but it wasn’t quite on the international stage until the well documented rivalry between Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records (owned by Suge Knight) versus Notorious B.I.G. and Bad Boy Records (co-owned by Puffy Combs). After a series of back-and-forth “diss” tracks and threats, the feud ultimately ended with the still-unsolved murder of Tupac Shakur in 1996, followed by the unsolved murder of Notorious B.I.G. just six months later. The coastal rivalries subdued, and the gangsta rap dominance began to fade. Some have casually compared the rivalry to modern feuds, such as the 50 Cent and ex G-Unit member The Game rivalry, as well as the Nas and Jay-Z feud, which ended peacefully this past year.
Distancing themselves from the message and image of gangsta rap and pop rap (such as the early success of humorous and radio-friendly Will Smith. DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince's "He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper" won the first ever Grammy in the rap category.), many alternative hip hop groups (or underground rappers) started to receive attention with more positive and sociopolitical lyrics. Many give credit to the legendary "godfather of rap" Gil Scott Heron for his track "Message to the Messangers" off the 1993 release Spirits, which called out rappers to be more articulate and artistic. Fusion between jazz and rap (later called jazz rap) was instigated by rappers A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B. & Rakim, Gang Starr, and the pioneers De La Soul. The next wave of alternative hip hop included modern standouts The Roots, Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, Dead Prez, and Black Star (featuring now recognized solo artists Mos Def and Talib Kweli).Most of these new wave of alternative rappers have more focused political lyrics. A modern sensation has been termed conscious rap, which facilitate storytelling as well as political lyrics. Examples include Atmosphere, Eyedea, Aesop Rock, Sage Francis, and Brother Ali.
The New York-based Wu-Tang Clan and its nine members gained a strong underground following with Protect Ya Neck and the critically acclaimed Enter the 36 Chambers in 1993. Solo albums, particularly from Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Ole' Dirty Bastard, Gza, and Method Man have gained considerable commercial and editorial success over the course of the 90s.
Yet most commercial rap of the late 1990s and present day have focused on gloating wealth through materialism such as jewelry and cars, in what has been overly termed the “bling bling” lifestyle. The bling bling lifestyle has coincided with most of the Derty South rap scene, which include The Cash Money Millionaires, Master P and No Limit Records, Ludacris, The Ying Yang Twins, Three Six Mafia, Mike Jones, and the reappearance of the crunk subgenre instigated by Lil Jon and The Eastside Boys. Many of these artists have been under scrutiny in the recent past for their depiction of women in their songs and music videos.
By the late 1990s, elements of hip-hop were evident in nearly all forms of mainstream pop music. Nu-metal, inspired by the original rap-rock collaborations of the 1980s, fused hip hop with alternative rock, evidenced by bands like Rage Against The Machine, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park. Soul music also fused with rap (in what has been known as Nu-soul), since both are historically closely related. Prominent artists of this type include Mary J. Blidge, Alicia Keys, D’Angelo, and Lauryn Hill. The worldwide success of Midwest and Central rappers like Nelly and Eminem in the late 1990s and early 2000s encouraged the music industry to embrace hip hop beats and rhymes into mainstream pop songs, evidenced by pop acts Britney Spears, N’Sync, and Christina Aguilera.
The current state of hip-hop is based on the old saying: history repeats itself. We’ll continue to see rivalries, inspired by competition, attention, and album sales. And, we’ll also continue to see those who wish to distance themselves from this mainstream, by being socially and politically conscious through creative storytelling. It is unfair to characterize hip-hop by the exploits of a few mainstream artists. After all, hip-hop was inspired by the civil rights movement and is rooted in rebellion and the sense of social/political disenfranchisement, similar to the emerging punk movement from around the same era. Like all other genres of music, there are those in hip hop that are fundamentalist to the origins and roots, and there are those who merely seek commercial success by perpetuating tired stereotypes directed from the same critics.