Hip Hop Music Facts

By Jennifer Fenn

Hip hop music is a popular genre that combines urban elements of spoken lyrics that rhyme, a back beat and perhaps vocals. Once thought to be a passing fad, hip hop music has grown in popularity since the 1970s and has inspired fashion and lifestyle choices worldwide.

Etymology

Keith Cowboy, a member of rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, is said to have first coined the term hip hop in the late 1970s. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were among the first rap groups. The Sugar Hill Gang, another group of hip hop pioneers, famously used the words to begin "Rapper's Delight," the first hit rap song. Writer Steven Hager first used the term in print in an article for "The Village Voice" in the early 1980s.

Misconceptions

While many use the terms hip hop and rap interchangeably, experts consider the two to be different, though just how they are distinct is debatable. Some feel that rap solely refers to a musical style, while hip hop is more all encompassing, including fashion and break dancing. Famous rapper KRS-One said, "Rap is something you do, but hip-hop is something you live."

Others maintain there is a different in the musical styles of rap and hip hop. While rap songs can feature spoken lyrics over virtually any background music, hip hop songs use distinct music involving turntable scratching and recorded samples of other songs. This would make hip hop a sub-genre of rap.

Another theory is that hip hop contains more of a pop or dance music element. This definition would expand the genre to include, for example, certain songs by singer Mary J. Blige, who, while she does not rap, sometimes sang over a hip hop beat in her early career.

Hip Hop Artists

Among the myriad of artists hip hop music has produced, a few stand out. Female trio TLC propelled their R&B-tinged hip hop albums to multi-platinum status, with 1994's "Crazy Sexy Cool" selling 11 million copies. TLC is one of the best selling girl groups of all-time. To date, the top five best-selling hip hop albums were made by Eminem (who holds both the 5th and 4th spot on the list with "The Eminem Show" and "The Marshall Mathers LP"), MC Hammer, the Notorious B.I.G., and Outkast. Records by 50 Cent, Kanye West, Beastie Boys, Tupac, Will Smith, LL Cool J, Nas, Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, Puff Daddy, DMX, Jay-Z, Salt-n-Pepa and Nelly have also sold exceptionally well.

Controversy

Hip hop music has long been controversial, particularly the sub-genre of gangsta rap. 2 Live Crew was charged with obscenity for the sexual content of their "Nasty as They Wanna Be" album, though the charges were later dropped. Many charged that rap music only became more lewd and violent, as the controversy fueled record sales and garnered copious press. Gangsta rap was derided for its lyrics, which critics claimed were misogynistic and glorified drug use and a violent inner city gun culture. The murders of two of gangsta rap's pioneering stars, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., seemed to prove that the negativity in these lyrics had real-life consequences, though this has not dimmed the popularity of the music. Other notable gangsta rappers include N.W.A., Public Enemy, Ice-T, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, the Wu Tang Clan, DMX, and Ice Cube.

Sub-genres

In addition to gangsta rap, hip hop has splintered into many other sub genres. Crunk is a southern style of hip-hop, with lyrics that are primarily concerned with partying and having a good time. Crunk rappers often shout their lyrics over a somewhat slower beat. There are also Christian hip hop groups, grime groups that primarily can be found in the UK, and rap-rockers like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine.