Hip Hop originated from its humble beginnings on the street corner, and ended up becoming one of the biggest genres in the world in a span of only 45 years. So how did the music focusing on “black struggle” transition into the mainstream genre millions of people listen to today? The 4 elements of Hip Hop – the history, status quo, culture, and significance – all play a major part in understanding how and why the music keeps on changing.
For many listeners, the history of Hip Hop has been overlooked and deemed unessential, but it very important in understanding the subtle and crucial changes made over the years. The culture started in the 1970s in the South Bronx area of New York by Kool Herc, an 18 year-old at the time. Herc was a Jamaican immigrant who introduced Jamaican beats into parties and combined fragments from old songs to new, popular dance songs, creating a new form of music that came to be known as Hip Hop. Many other DJ’s, including Grand Wizard Theodore, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash quickly became interested in this new music and continued to make changes. They started to have contests for the best break dancers, while Grandmaster Flash created new techniques, such as needle dropping and scratching. August 11, 1973 marked the most important date in Hip Hop history.
On this day, DJ Kool threw a party on 1520 Sedgwick, Bronx, New York, introducing the new music and talents to the massive Bronx community. The time and place of this event was considered the birthplace of Hip Hop. Although DJ Kool is regarded as the father of modern rapping, the genre would not have been executed to the fullest without the numerous influential DJs from different areas of expertise who helped improve and transform the music. Hip Hop came to national importance with the release of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 on an African American label. This song reached the Billboard Top 40 within weeks of release and was given its name into a new genre of pop music. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, and the Cold Crush Brothers were the earliest MC’s and DJs who are now known as the pioneers of old-school Hip Hop. From the streets of New York, Hip Hop was soon brought to the national stage with the emergence of Run-D.
M.C., a black trio who combined hard metal with Hip Hop beats, bringing a new style of music to the audience. From 1970-1993, many new artists and DJs were introduced into the scene in New York and created new forms of Hip Hop.
De La Soul demonstrated a new playful tone towards the genre while many female artists offered a woman’s thoughts to Hip Hop’s infamous misogynistic male-powered viewpoint. This period of time was marked as rap’s classical period of development and innovation.Apart from New York, Hip Hop was gaining major popularity in California. N.W.A, a major rap group originating in Los Angeles, California gained popularity during the late 1980s after the release of “Straight Outta Compton”, one of the first albums to feature a Parental Advisory sticker.
The group included rappers Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Yella, Dr. Dre, and the Arabian Prince. Focusing on police brutality and inner-city strife, N.W.A became one of the most controversial and eye-opening groups in U.S.
history. Their grittiness and anger put them on the FBI’s list. After a feud a few years later, the group split. Everyone in NWA except for Dr. Dre lost their fame. Dr. Dre came to be the single most influential producer in the history of Hip Hop and helped talented artists reach their full potential later in the 21st century.By the 1990s, there were many west coast rappers that made a mark in history.
Too Short, Ice T, and Snoop Dawg are other rappers from Compton, the “Gang Capital” of the world, who helped illustrate the difficulties of their lives in the hood. With the rise of New York rappers like Nas, 2pac, Notorious B.I.
G., Jay-Z, Mobb Deep, Scarface, etc, Hip Hop transitioned into a form of personal expression where individuals could voice their desires and how they truly felt about societal issues without fear. The murder rate, gun violence, and police brutality were only a few of the topics that have never reached the media before this time period. The 90s became widely regarded as the golden age of Hip Hop.The Hip Hop renaissance ended as tensions started forming amongst the top rappers in the game due to the formation of Death Row Records in the West Coast by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and 2pac (NY rapper). This group created a rivalry among New York City’s Bad Records, and resulted in the mysterious deaths of 2pac and Notorious B.I.
G. The deaths led to the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan; the group’s combination of street knowledge with Neo-islamic mysticism made them one of the most complex rap groups in history. During the same period of time, Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill started their solo careers mixing pop music hooks with politics. During the late 1990s, Hip Hop became the best-selling genre in the United States. The once inner-city struggle music expanded globally to large cities like Tokyo, Cape Town, Paris, London, and Sydney. This was also the time when the culture influenced the listener’s decisions on apparel, alcoholic beverages, cars, and essentially, how to lead their lifestyle. Statistically speaking, the products advertised by Hip Hop artists exponentially increased when introduced into their music, magazines, TV, and other forms of media. Taken to the next millennium, sales started to drop with digital downloading, but the culture still remained popular and influential among the youth.
Popular rock and pop bands implemented styles and beats originated in Hip Hop; the music industry started to integrate genres for better rhythm, leading to more popularity among the audience. This change raised questions among critics who believed the genre was starting to turn into pop. The emergence of No Limit Records and Cash Money at the beginning of the 21st century brought many rappers including 8Ball & MJG, Juvenile, Three 6 Mafia into the spotlight, shifting Hip Hop’s movement from the east and west coasts towards the American South. Dr.
Dre’s protégé’s Eminem and 50 Cent both achieved world-renowned success during the early 00s. Eminem became the world’s biggest Hip Hop/Pop star with the release of 8 mile, an autobiographical film that accounted for his struggles and rise as a star from meager accommodations. Approaching the 2010’s, Eminem released a number of hits and landed 8 songs/albums that peaked at #1 on the billboard.
Influenced by Mc’s such as Rakim, Esham, Ice-T, Boogie Down Productions, critics believe that he was bringing back the old style of Hip Hop from the 90’s as most of his music would be regarding the struggle he faced growing up in rough neighborhoods and how it has affected him and his loved ones throughout the years. 50 Cent on the other hand attained multi platinum status with the album, “Get Rich or Die Tryin” in 2003. Although Dr. Dre helped bring the then top rappers in the game, he himself stayed away from producing, focusing more on developing technology for a new set of headphones. Influenced by Dr. Dre, many producers like Timbaland and the Neptunes, created creative and commercial beats that undermined Hip Hop’s original purpose of artistry and meaning through words and rhymes. The 21st century was the era of the massive transformation when mainstream Hip Hop turned into pop music.
The use of clever lyrics to provide a deeper meaning of life started to fade away as artists’ objectives converted into who could make the catchiest song. This drastic change came with major criticism. Nas, an early MC, even released a song in 2006 called, “Hip Hop is Dead”, where he didn’t target a specific region, but claimed, overall, that Hip Hop has changed for the worse.Even with the copious amounts of criticism Hip Hop has faced in the 21st century, producers and rappers continued to evolve the music as the general public enjoyed the new, catchy music.By the 2010s, mainstream Hip Hop had completely changed. Popular mainstream artists Future, Travis Scott, Young Thug, Chief Keef, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert, etc mainly rap about women, money, power, and drugs.
Their music derives heavily off of production (beats, ad libs, autotune), with little to no depth. The incorporation of drugs such as marijuana, prescription pills, codeine, etc in their songs and music videos has created an increase in the already existing problem of the opioid crisis in the United States. While Hip Hop may have taken a dark turn as rappers discussing issues and making changes went underground and the catchy ones ended up going platinum, there exists a few popular rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and J.
Cole who made it to mainstream after the release of a few shallow songs, but kept out of the expanding decadent movement; Using the verbal dexterity similar to the MC’s from back in 1990, they talk about their lives in a non-materialistic viewpoint, and teach life lessons in their songs.Overall, there are two extremities regarding the transformation of hip hop. One side believes that Hip Hop originated off as a means for street artists to express black struggle with no desire for money or fame, but it ended up turning into party music for shallow listeners.
The other side argues that the improvement in production helps the audience feel the music better and that Hip Hop has improved through the years.