Evolution of Rap Music

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How it has got to where it is now.

The Beginning

Rapping is a genre of music which involves a musician speaking or singing in a monotone a story, rhythmically. Almost a century before rapping came around, West African musicians would tell stories rhythmically over a drum beat on its own. Meanwhile, folk artists from the Caribbeans would also tell stories in rhyme. These musicians would lay down the foundations to modern day American rap music.Share

Rapping essentially involves the speaking or chanting of rhyming lyrics, often set to a beat. The rhyming created by rappers is considered by many to be o­ne of the most sophisticated styles of poetry. What’s more, these rhymes often address provocative subjects such as sex, violence and socio-political issues.Share

The Sugarhill Gang – One of the first rap groupsShare


Rapping first started gaining popularity during the 1970’s in America as a street art, mainly by African-American teens. During 1973 The Sugarhill Gang released their song – Rappers delight. The song alerted music labels of the music genre. Once rap music was noticed, numerous Rap acts such as Run-DMC and N. W. A. surfaced and the genres audience began to swell. It wasn’t just African-American males who were successful either. White rap group The Beastie Boys and Female Rap group Salt’n’Pepa began to hit top of the charts. The instrumentation of most rap music during this time included 2 turntables and a mixer desk. The music was often quite slow at this time with simple beats. The music was more about the lyrics.  Share




It wasn’t just African-American males who were successful either. By the 1980’s, white rap group – The Beastie Boys and Female Rap group – Salt’n’Pepa began to hit top of the charts.  

On the African-American side of Rap music, ‘Gangsta Rap’ began to take the Rap scene by storm. Rap artists such as Ice-T and Schoolly D started the war between East Coast and West Coast Gangsta Rap.

The difference between normal rap and Gangsta Rap is that the lyrics of Gangsta Rap emphasised the gangsta lifestyle.Share

The Beastie BoysShare


Ice TShare

Schooly DShare

Late 1980’s – 1990’s

The 1990’s was when the East Coast – West Coast battle really began to get serious. with artists like Tupac Shakur (A.K.A 2-Pac) and Biggie Smallz, Both of which were East Coast Rappers. Ice-T released 6 in the mornin which is considered by critics as the first gangsta rap song.Share

Rap music started to move away from the story based lyrics about social/economic problems and began to focus more on lyrics based around being ‘Gangsta’ and shooting people. Violence was also a major theme for the lyrics of gangsta rap.Share

MC RenShare

During the early 1990’s West Coast Gangsta Rap had developed a sub genre – G-Funk.

G-Funk has a distinctive sound which involves melodic synthesizers, slow hypnotic grooves, deep bass and a high pitch synthesizer lead. Snoop Dogg had one of the largest influences on G-Funk with songs like “Nuthin but a G Thang” and “Tha Shiznit” as well as a song called “G-Funk”.Share

West Coast

In 1986 Jerry Feller and Eazy-E founded Ruthless Records. Shortly afterwards the group N. W. A. released their EP – Panic Zone. The EP included songs such as 8 Ball by Eazy-E, and the well-known Dope Man by Ice Cube Despite its popularity, “Dope Man” was never released as a proper single. In a way, the song set the bar for later hits with its profanity-driven lyrics.Share

A financial disagreement saw Arabian Prince leave The N. W. A. His position was filled by MC Ren just before the release of the ground breaking Straight Outta Compton.

The group later broke up because of financial issues.

Eazy-E still owned Ruthless Records.Share

Eazy EShare

Dr Dre released one of the most influential Hip-Hop albums of all time – The Chronic. By the 1990’s The west coast had separated itself as the dominant side of Hip-Hop music.Share

Dr DreShare

East Coast

During 1993, Wu-Tang Clan, a New York based rap group released their debut album – Enter the Wu-Tang. The album was revolutionary. It was dark, rugged and featured technical lyricism. The album put the east coast back on the radar. Nas, a Queens based rapper released his album Illmatic. The album received a 5 mic rating by The Source magazine. The album also produced 5 single status songs. The album featured menacing beats and dark narratives which created a new sound for east coast Hip-Hop. This was the start of the so-called ‘East Coast Renaissance’.Share


Through out the whole of the East Coast – West Coast rivalry there were many rivalries amongst individual artists from each side.

Tim Dog was a rap artist from the East Coast. He was angry because of the rejection of East Coast rap artists by record labels so decided to drop a track making angry statements to many of the West Coast artists, mainly the LA Hip-Hop scene. The track got several responses from many of the West Coast artists, even those who weren’t targeted by the original track by Tim Dog.

Bad Boy and Death Row were both music labels based in the East Coast. Notorious BIG was a rapper signed to Bad Boy records. Tupac Shakur, a rapper signed to Death Row publicly accused BIG of being apart of the shooting and robbery attack on Tupac on November 30th 1994. BIG responded with a song titled “Who Shot Ya” but claimed that it was not a dig at Tupac and he titled the song before Tupac was attacked. Suge Knight continued the rivalry when he attended a party for Jermaine Dupri. During the bash one of Knights close friends – Jake Robles was fatally shot. Knight accused Combs –  a featured artist in BIGs song ‘Who Shot Ya?’.

Later that year, Knight posted the 1.4 million dollar bail of Tupac Shakur who had 5 counts of sex abuse. In exchange of posting Tupac’s bail, Tupac joined Knights label Death Row to continue the feud with Bad Boys.Share

The most infamous rivalry of the time was Tupac’s and BIGs. After BIG fired shots at Tupac in one of his songs about Tupac getting shot, Tupac made many tracks where he threw shade at BIG. BIG responded by dropping digs in some tracks not aimed at Tupac but often denied the digs being aimed towards Tupac. On 7th of September 1996, Tupac was fatally shot in a drive by shooting. He died in hospital 6 days later. It is believed that a member of the Crips gang shot Tupac after he assaulted one of their members. BIG was linked with the attack and was believed to have purchased the weapons for the Crips gang. 6 months after Tupac was killed, BIG was also fatally shot. The shooter of BIG is still unknown to this day.Share

Suge KnightShare

Tim DogShare

Biggie Smalls (BIG)Share

After the deaths of Tupac and BIG, it made other artists of the genre rethink the nature of violence in the music. Until they both died, rappers would carelessly talk about their gangster lifestyles and their gang affiliations. No matter how respectable the artists were, most of them toned down their image and lyrics.

Before the artists were killed, Hip-Hop was very much around rivalries and battle rapping. Who ever was smartest with their words was declared the winner. It is believed that rivalries is what caused the deaths of the 2 greats. It made artists think about how far rivalries should actually go. Since then, when ever a rivalry has reached boiling point, someone would step in and try to create a peaceful solution to prevent the deaths of even more greats.Share

Tupac With Biggie Smalls (BIG)Share

West Coast Hip-Hop took a turn for the worst after the deaths of the 2 greats. Tupac was the heart and soul of Death Row records. Once he died he took that with him. Soon after, Knight was sent to jail for parole violation. Dr Dre, the brains of Death Row and when Tupac died, Dre left. Death Row came to an end which caused the decline in West Coast Hip-Hop.Share

Death Row Records LogoShare


During the wave of rivalry amongst East and West coast Hip-Hop artists there was also different things going on in the Hip-Hop scene. The genre was dominated by Jazz Rap and Alternative Hip-Hop. Towards the late 1990’s, Hip-Hop began to diversify with regional styles. New styles of Hip-Hop like Southern Rap and Atlanta Hip-Hop became a thing. As well as regional forms of the genre, it was also being implemented into other popular genres of music. Nu Metal and Neo Soul were hybrid genres of music that included rapping. Nu Metal is a form of alternative rock that includes different conventions of other genres such as rapping lyrics and grunge. Neo Soul is a genre of music that originated from Soul music and contemporary RNB. The genre consists of musical conventions from the 2 genres aswell as conventions from Hip-Hop and Jazz music.

Because of the growth in different sub genres and hybrid genres of Hip-Hop the genre as a whole began to quickly grow in popularity and was the most popular genre of music at the time.Share

Jazz Rap was different to Rap music at the time because of the lyrical content of the music. Jazz Rap was more focused less on shooting people and being ‘Gangsta’ and was more focused on girls.

The rhythm of Jazz Rap is the same as Rap music however the instrumentation is take from Jazz. The music consists of repetitive Jazz phrases played by trumpet and double bass.

Some of the most popular Rap artists at the time produced Jazz Rap music such as ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ and ‘De La Soul’Share

A Tribe Called QuestShare

Jay ZShare

Korn – Nu Metal bandShare

The Roots – Neo Soul bandShare

Snoop DoggShare


Going into the 2000’s Hip-Hop was the most dominant music genre at the time. Hip-Hop influences continued to find their way into pop music which allowed the genre to continue growing at a rapid rate. The regional success of Hip-Hop music allowed even more regional based sub genres to grow. Southern Hip-Hop had formed a new sub genre. Crunk music was a form of Southern Hip-Hop, however, a lot more club and dance oriented. In 2005, sales of Hip-Hop music in the US began to decrease. Shortly after the sales began to decrease, Alternative Hip-Hop found its way into the mainstream. This was down to the success of The Outkast and Kanye West.Share


Kanye WestShare

2010 – Contemporary Hip-Hop

After Kanye West and The Outkast recovered Hip-Hop, the genre began to rise again. Hip-Hop in general began to pick up sub genres such as trap. The growth of popularity in Hip-Hop has continued to increase over the past few years. A new age of artists known as ‘Sound Cloud’ artists have started to dominate the Hip-Hop scene. Sound Cloud artists generally stick to the Mumble Rap sub genre of Hip-Hop which consists of a basic melody accompanied by an extremely heavy bass line. The vocalist will slur his words or not actually say words but instead murmur over the backing track. Artists of this style include Fetty Wap, Future, XXXTentacion and Lil Uzi Vert. A large majority of the Hip-Hop fan base are highly critical of the mumble rap sub genre because of the lack of lyricism and the incomprehensibility of the vocalist.

There are other artists of the Hip-Hop genre that are still hugely successful such as – Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and J.Cole.Share

Lil Uzi VertShare

Kendrick LamarShare

Drake – Nothing was the Same album coverShare

Musical Elements

After evolving from the basic ideas of the African poets who would tell stories over from beats, Rap music hadn’t changed too much. The backing track is usually an instrumental that is generated electronically, with a basic drum beat to keep the rhythm.

Dr Dre had the largest impact on the way Rap music was produced when he introduced a synthesizer into his music. This paved the way for artists in the late 1990’s and is still used in Rap music today.

Rap lyrics have changed drastically since the days of African American Rap. Now Rap artists tend to Rap about girls, drugs and money.Share

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