Rap is the nihilistic assault of N.W.A.'s "F*ck da Police" and Run DMC covering The Monkees. It is Chuck D's conscience and Snoop Dogg's gin and juice. Rap encompasses a variety of philosophies and styles. Part of the larger hip-hop culture, rap was developed by African-Americans on the streets of New York City in the 1970s. A style of music focusing on beat and rhyme, it quickly spread to other cities, sparked by the popularity of early singles like the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." As rap music evolved, new styles popped up all over the country, and eventually the world. Alternative rap artists have broken new sonic ground, while subgenres like crunk have stripped the music down.
As rap had developed on the poor, crime-ridden streets of the inner city, it only made sense that its creators would reference this reality in their lyrics. Emerging out of hardcore rap in the 1980s, gangsta rap reflected the crime and violence in the inner city. It became the most successful form of hip hop in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Seminal gangsta rap releases include N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" and Ice T's "OG: Original Gangster." An East Coast/West Coast rivalry broke out in the 1990s, leading to the deaths of the influential Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., sparking even further interest in the genre.
The release of the first sociopolitical rap song, "The Message," by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1982 inspired other rap artists to address social issues. Public Enemy, lead by Chuck D and Flava Flav, became the first overtly political rap group, spouting political and strong black nationalist statements in albums like the popular and critically acclaimed "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back." Other political rappers like KRS-One and Arrested Development followed. The non-conformist nature of these artists was eventually eclipsed by the rise of gangsta rap.
The non-constrictive nature of rap has lead some artists to break free of the confines of what has been considered in vogue. Spearheaded by groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Jurassic Five, alternative rap artists introduced innovative wordplay and lyrics, as well unusual samples of other genres like rock, into their music. Artists like Outkast and Kanye West have blurred musical genres and taken the innovation of alternative rap to a mainstream audience.
The earliest rap was party music for people to dance to. After decades of progression in lyrics and beats, crunk stripped rap of pretense and brought the party back. An amalgamation of "crazy" and "drunk," crunk developed in the southern United States in the 1990s under the wider Dirty South umbrella. Crunk is characterized by heavy looped drum machine, shouted call-and-response vocals and simple party lyrics. Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz popularized crunk in the early 2000s with releases like "Put Yo Hood Up."
- "Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation;" Jeff Chang; 2005
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images