From the time hip-hop was birthed in late 1970’s South Bronx, it took the country
by storm as the combination of these massive boom-bap beats and smooth slick catchy
rhymes spouted by New York MC’s were blasted on radios and stereos. Almost forty
years later, the culture of hip-hop and the state of rap has majorly transformed as we went
from an age of rap groups like Run DMC and NWA who shifted the game of rap to artists
like Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert who introduced a whole new wave to rap and hip hop
and introduced mumble rap, a sub-genre of hip hop that become very popular within the
last few years.
When hip-hop was created, DJ’s like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa
were making beats that had soul, funk, disco, and jazz influences while reconstructing
and combining these influences to make what is known as hip-hop. This new style of
music that was generated by these individuals producing different beats was indicated for
the other members of the Bronx and New York community. However, this soon changed
when “Rappers Delight”, a 4-minute bouncy gem produced by The Sugar Hill Gang that
the infamous first lines begin with “A hip hop, hippie to the hippie” introduced America
to the genre of what is known today as rap.
Amina Norman-Hawkins, a Chicago MC and music educator at Columbia
College, describes the effect that hip-hop hadwhen it first came out. “People who were
creating this music finally felt like they’re voice was getting out there. Meanwhile, the
general public was surprised about this new genre of music that was taking the airwaves
by storm and felt like ‘Whoa, here’s this new thing. I don’t know what it is but it sure is
funky,’” she said.
As the 1980s rolled past and hip-hop became a more prevalent genre, people
became enticed in not only the music but also the entire culture. Hip-hop gave people a
perspective of what the world was outside of theirs. Because of the lack of voice that
minorities had before hip-hop, this created a perspective that the American public was
unfamiliar with. NWA, a rap group based in Compton, California that consisted of the
likes of the brilliant producer-rapper Dr. Dre, the lyrical Ice Cube, and the late poignant
Eazy-E, were responsible for this strong and opinionated voice to be heard. Because of
their reflection of drugs, sex, and violence in their songs, the media scrutinized NWA.
They were not the only rappers subjected to this criticism, however they embraced the
backlash and created songs like “Fuck The Police” that had strong messages that
reflected the situations they have experienced.
Nathan Bakkum, the Coordinator of Musicology at Colombia College, comments
on the affect hip-hop has on the entire American culture. “I think a really important piece
of hip-hop’s power is in its specificity. Hip-hop is really specific and granular in its detail
and description of a particular condition. The amount of visceral specific detail is so
vibrant because it’s so specific that it becomes so real. Growing up as a kid in Wisconsin,
I could find myself in some place I never been because of hip-hop. It gives me these
different emotions. I can empathize, I can get scared, I could feel solidarity, and I could
feel power. I think that moment of discovery is one of the most significant reasons hip-
hop is so popular,” Bakkum says.
Throughout time hip-hop became bigger and bigger in the 90’s with the rise of
legends like Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G, and Snoop Dogg. During this time, the
1990s were a period of racial tensions stemming from the Rodney King riots and the O.J
Simpson case. These unfortunate instances and other social issues gave artists the will to
comment their perspective and viewpoint. This aspect contributed to the in-depth specific
lyrics that like Bakkum said, made listeners transport to another time and experience
what is like in cities like, Los Angeles or New York. This time was known as the golden
age of hip-hop when the lyrics were so vivid and brilliant that it increased the popularity
of the genre. Because of these powerhouse talents, hip-hop was starting to become a
source of mainstream music.
However, when hip-hop became more mainstream audiences commented that the
content of the lyrics were shallow. Many of the rap songs that were released would repeat
the same line over and over again talking about the typical sex, drugs, and violence.
Daniel Makagon, an Associate Professor at DePaul University’s College of
Communications that studies all areas of music, thinks the content of rap now is
uninteresting and frankly dumb. “Rap since the mid 1990s has been a big genre of music.
When alternative rock was fading, rap and country were climbing the charts. Because of
this climb, in order for rap to be exciting for a mainstream audience the lyrics became
watered down,” Makagon says.
In the new age of rap where the Internet became a huge player in the distribution
and access of music especially hip-hop, the music is in a different state it was once in
twenty years ago. The uprise of trap and drill music within hip-hop overrides lyrical rap
with more catchy lines and rhymes. Nevertheless, though the new generation and
millennials enjoy this “new wave” sound, older hip-hop listeners and rappers are not too
fond of mumble rap because of its lack of message and lyrical content.
The hip-hop culture has came a very long way from what it once was as the
different phases of the genre convey and reflect the times it existed in. The music that is
created from these beats to the smooth rhymes has given a lot of people a sense of place.
Hip-hop and rap have been immensely impactful to the past three generations that form
this type of community. Norman-Hawkins is certain of this impact as well. “Hip-hop
speaks to everyone with a condition and it connects to these people with conditions that
didn’t think they can ever connect before,” she says. That is the beauty of hip-hop.