Hip hop music, also known as rap music or hip-hop, refers to a music genre established in the United States during the 1970s by inner-city African Americans. Hip-hop is characterized by stylized rhythmic music that accompanies a chanted rhythmic speech or rapping. Hip-hop music developed as a component of hip-hop culture, which is defined by four primary stylistic elements, including breakdancing, rapping, scratching (Deejaying), and graffiti writing. The “hip-hop music” terminology is sometimes used interchangeably with the “rap music” term. Most people did not know about hip hop music when it first developed during the late 1970s. The music was created by Latino teenagers and African Americans from New York City’s poorest districts. Most of the developers of hip-hop music were unemployed young people, who worked as DJs in discos, from where they learned various deejaying techniques, such as the use of DJ mixer and turntables in playing non-stop records. In some cases, the DJs would work at free block parties within their neighborhoods, where they would play disco and funk tracks non-stop, with some of them acting as MCs. Some of the MCs tried to make the music more entertaining by accompanying the music with talks and rhymes, a practice which led to the emergence or invention of rapping. This paper explores the history of hip-hop music in the United States, with the focus on old school hip hop, hip-hop’s golden age, the emergence of the Hardcore, Gangsta, and G-Funk in the 1990s, as well as the Twenty-First-century hip-hop.
As the practice of rapping gained popularity, most MCs and DJs began to work in duos, and as the competition increased, deejays started improving their music beats through the use of various techniques, such as scratching and sampling of short drum-breaks. Similarly, MCs started improving their rapping styles through the use of more complex rhymes, as well as the development of flow (rapping with a good rhythm sense and a natural flowing style). At first, hip hop music was only performed live. However, in 1979, the Sugarhill Gang released a hip-hop single known as “Rapper’s Delight,” which surprised everyone by featuring among the top-ten hits globally.
Following the Rapper’s Delight’s success, several other hip-hop records got released in the subsequent years, including “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow and the “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa. Most of the early hip-hop records were about having fun until the year 1982 when the Furious Five and Grandmaster Flash released the “The Message,” which was a socially-conscious hip-hop record. “The Message” had melodic synthesizer riffs with a slow funk groove, and the raps that accompanied the music were about major social issues, such as crime, poverty, and the challenges of living in a dangerous city.
During the Mid-1980s, several rappers started recording hip-hop singles with catchy or attractive melodic hooks. The Run DMC, New York duo, also used hooks in their records but included hard-rock guitar to develop or create a popular hip-hop style known as rap-rock. The Run DMC’s “Raising Hell” album, which was produced in 1986 became hip-hop music’s first top-ten album. After the Beastie Boys, punk rock group, started substituting singing with shouting raps, their style also gained popularity, with their debut album “Licensed to Ill” becoming hip-hop music’s first number-one album.
Towards the end of the 1980s, several hip-hop beats had combinations of synthesizers, drum machines, and samples of disco and funk records. In 1987, Eric B. and Rakim from New York City released one of Hip-hop music’s finest albums known as “Paid in Full,” in which Rakim’s raps accompany Eric’s sample-heavy beats. A new form of political hip-hop also developed in the 1980s when various groups, such as Public Enemy, started demanding political transformation and an end to racism and injustice.
By the early 1990s, producers of hip-hop music had embraced the use of digital effects and audio editing software to create new forms or styles of alternative hip-hop, including jazz rap, which got characterized by the inclusion of R&B and jazz samples in the hip-hop beats. Other forms of hip-hop music involved the use of reggae and soul elements, such as the records produced by the Fugees. Other hip-hop artists, such as the all-girl group Salt-N-Pepa also came up with a new hip-hop style known as hip-hop pop. Also, later in the 1990s, various rappers, such as Talib Kweli and Mos Def developed a new type of socially-conscious hip-hop music after they started rapping about social and political issues over the jazz and funk musicians’ breakbeat grooves. Some of the albums of the socially-conscious style include the “Like Water for Chocolate” by Common and “Black Star” by Mos and Talib.
The most successful hip-hop music styles of the 1990s were the New York’s hardcore rap and the Los Angeles gangsta rap and G-Funk. One of the first hardcore styles got created by New York’s Wu-Tang Clan when they accompanied swinging hip-hop beats with raps about gangster life. In 1994, a new album known as “Illmatic” got released by a young rapper called Nas. The poetic rapping, jazz samples, and loose mid-tempo beats that characterized Nas’ “Illmatic” album made it one of the hip-hop music’s most celebrated albums. Apart from Nas, other famous hardcore rappers included The Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z.
The Los Angeles’ gangsta hip-hop developed or evolved from the rap music of different artists, such as NWA and Ice-T. Ice-T started by sampling the rhythms of funk music and rapping about the risks of crime, drugs, and school dropouts in various tracks, such as “You Played Yourself” of the 1990s. On the other hand, NWA members were from one of Los Angeles’ most violent and poorest districts, known as Compton, and they rapped about police violence and injustice in their neighborhood. The NWA’s angry raps consisted of explicit language, which attracted the attention of the media and made their albums to appear at the top of the charts. Some of the NWA members included Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur.
G-Funk was first introduced or heard for the first time when Dr. Dre, a former NWA member, produced his first album known as “The Chronic” in 1991. The producers of G-Funk sampled different funk grooves and slowed them down to develop relaxed beats with electronic effects, funky bass lines, and female backing vocals. The G-Funk artists also rapped about different gangsta-rap topics, though they appeared to concentrate more on drugs, partying, and sex than guns, crime, and violence. Some of the classical G-Funk albums include “Quik Is the Name” by DJ Quik and “Doggystyle” by Snoop Dog. The hardcore, G-Funk, and gangsta rappers adopted or embraced gangster images, and most people got upset by their negative portrayal of women and the explicit language. However, other people, especially teenagers, loved such music styles and contributed to making them the sounds of mainstream hip-hop.
Hip-hop became a primary popular music genre in the Twenty-First century, with hip-hop albums and singles topping the charts globally. Besides, hip-hop has greatly influenced Twenty-First-century pop music, with several pop songs embracing the use of various hip-hop elements. During the 1990s, most popular hip-hop artists were from Los Angeles and New York, and the popularity of rappers from the South began after 2000, including the Outkast. Other popular hip-hop artists from the South include Atlanta’s Ludacris and B.o.B., Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia, Texas’ Bun B, New Orleans’ Lil Wayne among others. More recently, other Southern hip-hop artists, such as Future and Young Thug, have come up with new exciting forms of alternative hip-hop music.
Midwestern hip-hop artists also rose to fame during the Twenty-First century. One of the famous Midwestern hip-hop artists is Eminem, who grew up in hip-hop culture. Eminem became one of the first white rappers to win local rapping competitions. The crowds liked Eminem’s natural rapping flow, as well as the humor and honesty of his raps. However, since he was not a gangsta rapper, Eminem could not secure a record contract, though he eventually got a record deal after struggling for several years. Almost all Eminem’s albums have topped the charts globally, and he is currently ranked as one of the best-selling hip-hop artists of all-time.
Chicago’s Kanye West is another major Midwestern hip-hop artist. In 2004, Kanye West released “The College Dropout” album, which contributed significantly to changing the direction of hip-hop music. Eminem and Kanye proved that hip-hop artists did not have to produce gangsta rap records to be successful. While a majority of hip-hop artists are either rappers or producers, Kanye West is both a rapper and a producer. Kanye’s sample-heavy tracks include elements of gospel, classical music, soul and jazz, as well as R&B and rock. Besides, Kanye uses several rapping styles from fast and aggressive to slow and relaxed beats. Kanye West is often regarded as the 21st century’s most influential hip-hop artist due to the role he played in changing the direction of hip-hop music, as well as the numbers of rapping styles he has created, such as “Black Skinhead’s” electronic rap and the “Jesus Walks'” gospel-influenced hip-hop.
From the year 2010, new exciting styles of underground rap and alternative hip-hop have been created or developed by young hip-hop artists, who have started their music careers by producing free mixtapes and making use of social media to attract music industry offers and build a following. Some of the notable productions from such new artists include Kendrick Lamar’s mixtapes and albums, “Acid Rap” by Chance the Rapper, “Still Brazy” by YG, Danny Brown’s “Old,” Schoolboy Q’s “Blank Face,” Kevin Gates’ “Islah,” and “A Good Night in the Ghetto” by Kamaiyah among others.
Hip hop as a music genre and culture emerged during the 1970s when block parties increasingly became popular in New York City, especially among the African-America youth living in the Bronx. The deejays at the block parties played percussive beats of popular songs through the use of turntables, which extended the breaks. The early evolution of hip-hop music occurred during the emergence of drum-machines and sampling technology. The development of turntablist techniques got accompanied by the use of breaks, as well as the Jamaican toasting vocal style. Rapping was created as a vocal style, in which the singer talks or speaks along with a synthesized or an instrumental beat. The “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang was the first hip-hop record, produced in 1979, and the diversification of hip hop music began in the 1980s, characterized by more complex hip-hop styles. Hip-hop music was majorly confined within the United States before the 1980s. However, from the early 1980s, it started spreading to other parts of the world, attracting international recognition.