From streets to world stages, hip hop has grown into one of the world’s prominent musical genres and cultural influences. One of hip hop’s greatest creations is rap music.

Rap is a genre of music that has an interesting and complex history. Specific artists have pioneered the musical era of their time and have created important distinctions with their unique artwork. Rap is undeniably tied to Black culture, and the history of rap music is in part, the history of Black people.

What is Rap Music?.

Rapping involves the speaking or chanting of rhyming lyrics, often set to a beat. The rhythmic cadences created by artists is considered to be one of the most immersive styles of poetry. These rhymes address provoking subjects such sex, violence, and socio-political issues.

1970’s: The Beginning

Rapping started gaining popularity in America during the 1970’s in America as a street art, mainly by African-American teens. During 1973, The Sugarhill Gang released their song, ‘Rappers Delight,’ alerting music labels of the genre. The exposure of the style created numerous acts Run-DMC and N.W.A. The audience began to swell, expanding the horizon to White rap group The Beastie Boys, and female rap group Salt’n’Pepa. The instrumentation of this era included 2 turntables and a mixer desk with slow and simple beats. The focus was more on lyrics.

Biggie and Tupac representing the East and West Coast.

Image Credit:

1980’s: East Coast vs West Coast

Rap artists such as Ice-T and Schoolly D started the war between East Coast and West Coast “Gangsta Rap.” This type of rap focused extensively on violence that shaped the lifestyle and environment these rappers grew up in.  Ice-T released ‘6 in The Mornin,’ considered by critics as the first gangsta rap song.

The rise of the East Coast/West Coast hip hop beef continued with Biggie and Tupac representing their coasts and cultures. Both Biggie and Tupac elevated the concept of gangsta rap to mainstream American audiences.

Late 1980’s and 1990’s: Gangsta Rap

Rap music started to move away from the story based lyrics about social/economic problems and began to focus more on lyrics based around being gangster and shooting people. Violence was also a major theme for the lyrics of this type of rap.

During the early 1990’s West Coast Gangsta Rap had developed a sub genre – G-Funk. G-Funk has a distinctive sound which involves melodic synthesizers, slow hypnotic grooves, deep bass and a high pitch synthesizer lead. Snoop Dogg had one of the largest influences on G-Funk with his infamous song called “Nuthin but a G Thang.”

Controversy and censorship from radio stations was common, and biggest example of this was rap group N.W.A, a rap group from Compton California. Their explicit lyrics, no-nonsense attitude and magnification of crime represented everything gangsta rap stood for.

Dr. Dre released one of the most influential Hip-Hop albums of all time – The Chronic. This album popularized G-funk to a mainstream audience and solidified Dr. Dre as one of the most innovative artists of his time.

Example: Dr. Dre – Let Me Ride

During 1993, a New York based rap group ‘Wu Tang Clan’ released their debut album – ‘Enter The Wu-Tang.’ The album became revolutionary because of its dark, and rugged vibe, as well as its technical lyricism.

Example: Wu Tang Clan – Protect Ya Neck

A Queens based rapper from New York City released his album called Illmatic. The album received a five star rating by The Source magazine. The album featured menacing beats and dark narratives, which was something fresh for hip hop.

Example: Nas – N.Y. State Of Mind

Eminem and Jay-Z performing on stage.

Image Credit:

2000’s : Sheer Dominance

Jay-Z and Eminem were two rappers that held rap music together, along with 50 Cent and his domination during the mid 2000’s. Jay-Z released his hit single “Hard Knock Life,” which spawned the biggest hit of his career at the time. He relied more on flow and wordplay, and continued with his penchant for mining beats from the popular producers such as Swizz Beatz, and Timbaland.

Eminem on the other hand, decided to create his treacherous alter-ego “Slim Shady.” The sadistic and violent character allowed him to express his anger with lyrics about drugs, rape, and murder. He had the world on his fingers with the release of his album “The Slim Shady LP.” This opened a whole different avenue of rap for artists.

50 Cent released his debut album “Get Rich or Die Tryin,” described as the most hyped debut album by a rap artist in a decade. Rolling Stone noted its dark synth grooves, buzzy keyboards, and a funky bounce, complimented by 50 and his laid-back flow.

2010’s: Contemporary Hip-Hop

The genre continues to evolve (for better or for worse) with a new generation of artists such as Fetty Wap, Future, XXXTentacion and Lil Uzi Vert. Hip Hop continues to pick up new sub genres such as trap, and mumble rap. The latter consists of a basic melody accompanied by an extremely heavy bass line. The vocalist will slur words or not actually say words, but instead murmur over the track.

There are other artists of the hip-hop genre that are still hugely successful such as – Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and J.Cole. These artists focus more on the lyricism and beats, something the history of hip hop is known. The artists listed succeed in this by adding their own flavour into their music, progressing hip hop further and still keeping fragments of the rich past of the genre alive.

Which era is your favourite?

Published by: HOLR Magazine.