Rap: From the Beginnings, to Fandom
At the same time that Rod Stewart was asking if we thought he was sexy, the same year we learned about the “Y.M.C.A.” from the Village People and right when we heard Amii Stewart tell us that we better “Knock On Wood”, a whole new sound was about to hit the airwaves. Rap. An entirely new genre of music that would sweep the country in such a surge, we as Americans hardly knew what hit us. The year was 1979, and the band was The Sugarhill Gang. Their now classic hit “Rapper’s Delight” is one that is considered a disco track, but at the time was so new, fresh and funky – so bold and brave no one had ever heard anything like it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcCK99wHrk0
The Sugarhill Gang were not the first hip hop artists to come up with the sound – they were just the first to have a massive hit on the billboard charts. When the late ‘70s hit, the sound started to generate popularity at block parties in NYC, particularly in the Bronx. A style that had originally formed in Jamaica, many people refer to DJ Kool Herc as the “founding father of hip hop” as he is the one who brought it to the States initially. It wasn’t until “Rapper’s Delight” debuted in the winter of disco’s existence that the genre really took off, and gave people from all over the country a taste of the new beat. Or, that is, “boogie the beat”.
It didn’t take long for the new style to attract other aspiring artists and that is when hip hop really came into its own. Not only did it take new form in the United States, but it gradually landed onto a handful of foreign tongues – people in dozens of other countries adopting the new music medium and embracing just as much as us. It was the early years of Hip Hop though which saw groups like Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J, whereas what is known as the “Golden Age of Hip Hop” showcased artists that still hold a sacred name in the industry today. Some of those names include Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, and De La Soul. Run-D.M.C. are noted as being the first hardcore rap group of all time, and because of them others followed suit. The hardcore hip hop scene came to pass in the late 1980s and it is usually synonymous in its style with anger and aggression. This culture of hip hop is where we got artists like Ice T https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scILa5iPBcg, 2Pac https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOGjuQwprPY, and one of the most notable groups of their time, N.W.A.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtO2QY6E4Gs It’s worth mentioning – though most of us don’t need to be reminded – that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube rose to prominence in this area of music during this time. Their contribution to the genre would be inevitably invaluable and it shaped the direction of the culture of sound for all time.
While many would argue that this form of music stems from a rather rough-hewn birthplace and offers no real edification to the masses, others would stipulate that it is not to bring down but rather meant to build up those in more unfortunate upbringings and lifestyles. The gangsta rap subgenre (which emerged shortly after the hardcore hip hop genre had), spawned dozens, if not hundreds of voices in the music industry to vocalize what they had harbored over the years after having seen so many horrors in their youth. From the violent streets of Compton and L.A. to the east coasters’ nightmares of living in their gun-blazing neighborhoods, rap music allowed them to inform the rest of the country – and the world – as to what was going on in their neck of the woods. It was this subgenre which really highlighted and allowed the “thug” lifestyle to be viewed in a public forum. From this, we were able to gather the weaponry, babes and bucks that flowed through the fingers of some of these “gangstas” who either were rappers themselves or, more often than not, were written about by said rappers. Some of the more well-known artists from this subgenre included Schoolly D https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG7XS2G_WN0, Boogie Down Productions, N.W.A. and Ice-T.
The gangsta rap sub-genre touched on sex, law enforcement, racism, bigotry, among many other subjects. What gangsta rap indirectly caused (or perhaps it meant to cause, but we’re just naïve) was a conflict of great magnitude between the parties from either the west or east coast of the U.S. It became a war, and tragically, people died. Blood was spilled and it was all over music. Some of the more notable characters who died in these acts of violence were none other than Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Edgar “Pimp Daddy” Givens, Kid Hood, Soulja Slim, and others. While their lives have been taken in a senseless manner, what their friends and family can take solace in, is knowing that their music lives on. Why? Because it meant something then, and to so many it still does. Some have described their lyrics as powerful, coming from a place of truth and changing the course of music forever.
In 1995, a then unknown rapper by the name of Jay-Z came out with his debut single, In My Lifetime. Because he and his friends had no legitimate record label to produce their records, they sold them out of their car – and soon after came up with their very own record label, entitled, “Rock-A-fella Records”. Sound familiar? In 1998, he released the biggest hit of his career at that time “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”. With time, countless awards, a successful power-couple marriage, and millions of dollars that is unheard of even in the times we’re living in – Jay-Z is one of the most successful and famous rap artists of all time. Not just rap artists, musical artists! And who does he have to thank for his success? Mm, we’re thinking his predecessors – because without them, we wouldn’t know who Jay-Z was. And neither would Beyoncè.
It was in the mid-1990s that hip hop, more well known by this time as “rap”, was really starting to branch out into other sub-genres, and finding itself among other more popular mainstream music. It had not only become one of the best-selling music genres, but it also gravitated its way into small roles of pop music, whereas before it had been solely its own entity. With the evolution of time, rap became more than just hardcore, gangsta or something that held only a serious agenda in back of it. Instead, rap became a part of the conventional music scene. And by 1999 rap had become the top selling music genre! Some of the more recognizable figures of that period were, Eminem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0V6jKCZ370 , Outkast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWgvGjAhvIw , Snoop Dogg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7JPRId0pOE , and of course, Jay-Z. During the early 2000s hip hop had secured a good mark in sales and it seemed solid that the success would continue on.
Throughout the years, Dr. Dre had continued to have massive influence in the rap community and collaborated on and produced many albums that were made popular in the early 2000s, including some of Eminem’s and Mary J. Blige’s works, just to name a couple. In 2000, someone by the name of Cornell Haynes, Jr. – a.k.a. Nelly – was coming into the spotlight with the success of his breakthrough album Country Grammar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkoto8HvPl0 In 2002, because of a chance listening, Eminem was impressed with a song he’d heard of Curtis Jackson’s – whom we know as 50 Cent – and invited him to come to Los Angeles. After meeting with Dr. Dre, he signed him to a $1 million record deal. Nice. Where do I send my tape in? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccpi9rQcRWY
Over the next several years some other subgenres popped up from out of nowhere almost overnight, which included “glitch hop”, “wonky music”, “trip hop”, “dub step” and “IDM”. However, even with the incline of so many subgenres– sales in hip hop were declining by 2005. It wasn’t until 2009-ish that alternative hip hop seemed to secure its place in mainstream music. The thanks for this is due, in large part, to artists who seemed to crossover into that norm almost seamlessly. Some of these artists include Gnarles Barkley, Kanye West and Outkast. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNwEe6hAY6s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd2B6SjMh_w
Now that we’re in the year 2016, where have we come after all this time in terms of hip hop music? Is it better? Worse? The same? Has it evolved or devolved by the standards of some or all? We certainly don’t see as much of the hardcore rap that we did in the early ‘90s, though there’s still mention of gang violence from time to time in the records which are recorded even today. But what has rap given us in terms of quality and importance as a culture and as a society? One could argue that without rap, some of the more important issues of our time would never have been touched upon or discussed. Others might argue that getting down low to the flo in the club is what it’s all about.
But what do modern-day artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pi1YOrxGRs Jay-Z, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kFa1N1iwxANicki Minaj, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7GW8TYCEG4 Lil Wayne, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnP17Wb6Qew and Lupe Fiasco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbwAkrf3VSw offer us that the Notorious B.I.G. or 2Pac couldn’t? Has rap reached new heights that even those from back in the day would be impressed? Or maybe it’s just a matter of Taylor Swift differing in style from John Denver. Both are country – and yet, very different. I suppose it all comes back to the saying “to each his own”. For some, 2Pac, Dr. Dre, and Ice-T will always be the innovators that changed the rap scene. For others, it’s Kanye, Kendrick Big Sean, and of course the biggest name in the industry right now, Jay-Z. Maybe at the end of the day, it’s all about the generation at the moment. What the message is saying to the folks who are listening and how it touches them.
So, who are you a fan of? Don’t tell us, show us! Download the fanpage app on either iTunes or Google Play and create a Fanpage for your favorite rap or hip hop artist or group. Then share it, gain followers and likes, and move up the Fanpage leaderboards to become the biggest fan! You never know, you might just win VIP tickets to see your favorite rapper up close…A Real Rapper’s Delight.