Hip Hop and Rap

Hip Hop and Rap

Hip hop is a form of music that originated in African-American and Latino-American communities in New York City in the 1970’s. Hip hop first emerged with Disc Jockey’s (DJ’s) sampling, repeating, and mixing small parts of songs (“breaks” ) on two turntables.  This new form of music was used at parties and gatherings and was often accompanied by a new form of dance called “breaking” or “break dancing.”  Later a rhythmic style of poetry (“rap”) was added to these breaks and often spoke of the daily lives of the rappers and the communities in which they lived.  Early pioneers of Hip hop also developed the techniques of “cutting and scratching” which used sounds generated by the turntable itself by pulling the record against the needle at different speeds along with the break-beats to create a new sound in hip-hop.  This served as a foundation for Hip hop and Rap and is still a part of Hip hop and rap culture to this day.

1970s – Origins of Rap

DJ Kool Herc – Breakbeat Djing

Born Clive Campbell in 1955, DJ Kool Herc was one of a group of DJs who began experimenting with the records they played.  He began to isolate the instrumental portion of the record, which emphasized the drum beat—the “break”—and switch from one break to another.  Using a two turntable set-up and two copies of the same record DJ Kool Herc began to elongate the break. This  became known as “breakbeat” Djing.  DJ Kool Herc’s use of hard funk, rock, and records with Latin percussion, formed the basis of hip hop music. His announcements and exhortations to dancers helped lead to the syncopated, rhymed spoken accompaniment now known as rapping.

DJ Kool Herc talking about Breakbeat DJing:

Grand Master Flash – Cutting and Scratching

As Breakbeat DJing progressed through the 1970s, DJs began to experiment with the various sounds that a record and turtable could make in addition to the music.  DJs like Grand Master Wizzard and Grandmaster Flash experimented with and made popular the techniques of cutting and scratching.  Cutting and scratching is when a DJ uses his/her hand to push and pull the record against the needle to create its own sound apart from the recorded music on the record itself.  This new sound had a major effect on DJing, helped to further solidify the place of the turntable in early hip hop and rap and has become a sound used in popular music throughout the world, including genres other than rap and hip hop, to this day.

Grand Wizzard Theodore on the origins of cutting and scratching:

Grand Master Flash demonstrating early cutting and scratching techniques:

Grandmaster Flash in the famous early hip hop movie “Wild Style:”


 The 1980s – Old School Rap

Most early hip hop was dominated by groups where collaboration was integral amongst the mc’s.  Groups like The Sugar Hill Gang, Funky Four Plus One, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five featured multiple members who took turns rhyming over the music and beats.  In 1979, the first song that put hip-hop on the map to an audience around the United States and the world was “Rappers Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang which featured 3 MC’s: Wonder Mike, Big Bank Hank, and Master Gee.

The Sugarhill Gang – “Rapper’s Delight”

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Funky Four + 1 was the first group to perform on a national television broadcast when they performed on Saturday Night Live in 1981.  Besides releasing one of the classic hip hop tracks of the 1980s, “That’s the Joint,” this group was also notable for featuring a female MC, Sha Rock, along with MCs K.K., Keith Keith, Li’l Rodney C!, and Jazzy Jeff.

Funky Four + 1 – “That’s the Joint”

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In 1982, the group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released a track called “The Message” which is widely considered to be a pioneering force in conscious rap – a sub genre of hip hop that challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic standards of society.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “The Message”

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1980s – New School Rap

Around 1983, Hip Hop and Rap groups began to move away from the party rhymes and disco inspired groups that preceded them (became known as “old school”).  Groups like Run-D.M.C., L.L. Cool J, and The Beastie Boys began creating songs that were delivered in a more aggressive and self-assertive style paired with minimal drum beats (created by drum machines) and influences and samples from Rock music.  The images these artists projected was also more tough and cool than their predecessors taking influence from the street clothes of the day rather than flashy group costumes/uniforms.  These groups also made shorter songs that could more readily gain radio play and albums that were more cohesive in themes and style.

Beastie Boys –  “It’s the New Style” -(instrumental: example of new school stripped down drum beats paired with rock sounds and cutting and scratching)

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Run-D.M.C. was one of the first groups to emerge in New School Hip Hop and were the first to have a record go gold and platinum (music industry rating of large numbers of records sold) and to be nominated for a Grammy award.

Run-D.M.C. – “It’s Like That”

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L.L. Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James) was one of the first solo Hip Hop artists to enjoy mainstream success as a New School Rapper.  His album Radio went to number 6 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts and he was the first Hip Hop act on American Bandstand – an American music-perfomance TV show hosted by Dick Clark.

L.L. Cool J – “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”

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Golden Age of Hip Hop

The mid 1980s to the early 1990s are considered by many to be the “Golden Age” of mainstream Hip Hop and was characterized by the diversity, quality, and innovation of the sounds created by many of the groups of the time.  Rolling Stone Magazine said that this was a time “when every new single reinvented the genre.”

The music was experimental and wide-ranging, often had a strong jazz influence, and had strong themes about the African-American experience in society and the politics of the time.  Some of the innovative artists that released important and ground-breaking records were Public Enemy, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest.

Public Enemy formed in 1982 but didn’t release their first record until 1987.  Members of the group include the now famous MCs Chuck D and Flavor Flave and featured many of the stripped down drum beats and rock sounds of New School Hip Hop and Rap.  The name Public Enemy first came from a recording that Chuck D made for a radio station when he was trying to fend of a local MC who wanted to do battle with him.  Public Enemy is known for their politically charged lyrics and criticism of American media and was one of the first rap groups to do well internationally.

Public Enemy – “Don’t Believe the Hype” 20140421-publicenemy-x306-1398116941

De La Soul formed in 1987 when Kelvin Mercer, David Jude Jolicoeur, and Vincent Mason when they were high school.  They are best known for their contributions to the formation of jazz rap, the eclectic samples they used in their music and their quirky and playful lyrics.  Their first album, 3 Feet High and Rising, is considered by many to be a Hip Hop masterpiece and focused on striving for peace and harmony which was a message that was slowly fading from the rap community of the 1980s.

De La Soul – “Me, Myself, and I” 20121204-delasoul-x306-1354659772

A Tribe Called Quest formed in 1985 and was composed of the MCs Q-Tip, Phife Diggy, and Jarobi White and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad.  Along with De La Soul they were instrumental in the creation of alternative Hip Hop.  They released their first album in 1990 entitled Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths to Rhythm.  The album was highly experimental and though it was met with critical acclaim, it did do as well with the mainstream public.  However, over time many of the songs on this album are now considered classics.

A Tribe Called Quest – “Can I Kick It?”

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The 1990s – Gangsta Rap

The late 1980s saw a new subgenre of rap begin to emerge – Gangsta Rap.  The name “gangsta” is slang for gangster and the rappers who pioneered this style openly rapped about the chaotic and violent lifestyles of inner-city African-American youths.  Often placed over rock guitar-driven beats, Gangsta Rap had a significantly harder edge to its sound and lyrics than the Hip Hop and Rap the preceded it.  The lyrics were more violent, openly confrontational and shocking, often featured  profanity, and open use of the controversial “n-word.”

Since it’s creation, Gangsta Rap has been surrounded in controversy and debated and discussed all the way to the highest levels – including the Congress and Presidents of the United States.  At the heart of the debate is that many of the rappers felt that their music exposed critical issues about the results of years of injustice and poverty amongst inner-city African Americans while many others viewed the lyrics of Gangsta Rap as glorifying crime, drugs, and gangs.

One of the pioneers of Gangsta Rap, Ice-T, who recorded the song “Cop Killer”, said of the controversy: “The Supreme Court says it’s OK for a white man to burn a cross in public.  But nobody want’s a black man to write a record about a cop killer” and “…they’ve done movies about nurse killers and teacher killers and student killers.  Arnold Schwarzenegger blew away dozens of cops as the Terminator.  But I don’t hear anybody complaining about that.”

With the national spotlight that was created by the controversies of the lyrics, Gangsta Rap became the most lucrative subgenre of hip-hop in the early 1990s.  N.W.A, a group made up of Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy E, Yella and Dr. Dre were another group who helped to popularize Gangsta Rap.   The first blockbuster album in this style was N.W.A.’s album “Straight Outta Compton” and established Los Angeles as a legitimate rival to Hip-Hop’s longtime capital, New York City.  This genre continues to inspire debate and controversy.

N.W.A – “Gangsta, Gangsta”

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East vs. West

With the emergence of the West Coast as a major force in the Hip Hop and Rap industry during the 1990s, a feud began between some of the artists in both the East Coast and West Coast rap scene.  The focal point of this feud were the Hip Hop labels Death Row Records (East) and Bad Boy Records (West) and two of their signed artists: The Notorious B.I.G. (East) and 2Pac (West). In 1995, 2Pac publicly accused Biggie Smalls, Sean Combs and others from the East Coast scene as being part of his robbery and shooting in Manhattan.  Though Biggie Smalls and Sean Combs denied any involvement, the release of the song “Who Shot Ya?” soon after was scene by many West Coast rappers and fans as Biggie taunting 2Pac.  Later that year Suge Knight (CEO of Death Row Records in the West) taunted Sean Combs at the Source Music Awards.  A number of shootings and deaths thought to be linked between this rivalry also contributed to the tension between both record labels.

Over the course of 1995-1996 2Pac appeared on a number of tracks insulting Biggie Smalls and others associated with him and a number of Biggie’s lyrics are viewed as insulting 2Pac. During this time, the media got heavily involved and dubbed the rivalry a coastal rap war and reported on it continually.  This led to many fans taking sides and furthering the divide.  In 1996 both 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were shot in a drive-by shootings 6 months apart.  Though both crimes remain officially unsolved, rumours about the involvement of both the artists and record labels still exist to this day.  This was the high point and also the beginning of the end of the rivalry between East and West Coast Hip Hop and Rap scenes.  Though this rivalry is part of the legacies that these artists left behind, their music goes beyond the feud between them and they are considered two of the most influential, yet controversial, rappers in Hip Hop history.

Biggie Small – “Juicy”

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2Pac – “Changes”

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The 2000s – The Resurgence of Alternative Hip Hop

The 2000s saw the decline of popularity in Gangsta Rap and a resurgence of Alternative Hip Hop on mainstream radio.  Freely drawing inspiration from Funk, Rock, Jazz, Soul, Reggae, Country, Electronic and Folk, Alternative Hip Hop doesn’t conform to any of the traditional stereotypes of Rap.  Experimenting with a greater variety of influences and moving away from some of the harder edged themes of the 1990s, successful crossover artists like OutKast and Gnarls Barkley appealed to listeners of all ages and helped to push Alternative Hip Hop to the forefront of popular music during the early-mid 2000s.  Rappers and Hip-Hop musicians continue to experiment with a variety of sounds and tend to continue the move away from one dominant sound that defines the industry.

OutKast – “Hey Ya”

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Gnarls Barkley – “Crazy”

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