When Did Rap Music Become Popular?

By Jay Goldsworthy ; Updated September 15, 2017

Hip-hop is currently one of the most popular music genres, and its artists have the support of major record labels and tour promoters. In its early days, rap music, the basis of hip-hop, was the art form of deejays in small dance clubs and street performers in urban neighborhoods.

1970s

Club deejays first gained fame in the 1970s by breaking down dance records to their basic beats and remixing the music, according to EZ-Tracks.com's History of Hip Hop Music (Rap Music). A famous deejay was a club's big draw. The job of the master of ceremonies (emcee, or MC) was to introduce the deejay. Emcees became more creative in their efforts, and soon developed into rappers.

1980s

"Rapper's Delight," recorded in 1979 by the Sugarhill Gang, was the first rap record to receive major mainstream radio play. In the 1980s, rappers such as Run-DMC, LL Cool J and Public Enemy received the attention of major record labels and garnered national recognition.

Hip-Hop as a Subculture

In the 1980s, hip hop became more than a music genre. The subculture included acrobatic break dancing, graffiti art and a fashion style that included baggy sweatsuits and flashy jewelry.

1990s

In the 1990s, rap music became more diverse. Will Smith performed pop rap and party music. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube specialized in "gangsta" rap that included violent imagery. Eminem, one of the few successful white rap artists, combined confrontational humor with complicated lyrics and radio-friendly pop beats.

2000s

Rap is now considered a mainstream genre, with current hip-hop artists such as Lil' Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, Common and 50 Cent regularly topping the pop charts.

About the Author

J.L. Goldsworthy has been working in the publishing industry since 1996, serving as a commissioned editor and ghostwriter for various publishing entities and private authors, and holding the position of Managing Editor for Aldine de Gruyter Books.