By DR. SELENA SEABROOKS, ROBYN H. JIMENEZ and CHARITY CHUKWU
The Dallas Examiner
One of the most popular genres of music has been rap – known for its rhyming and/or rhythmic lyrics that were originally rapped to an up-tempo beat.
Rap started in 1971 when Clive Campbell, known as DJ Kool Herc, began performing at block parties. Known as the founder and “Father of Hip-Hop,” he was born in Jamaica and later moved to New York city in the Bronx. He would perform with two turntables that he would manipulate as he rapped, ushering the never been heard before “underground” sound.
He began to isolate portions of the music into “breaks.” He called the dancers who move to the beat of rap music, break-boys and break-girls, and later as b-boys and b-girls. Their style of dance was called breakdancing.
He didn’t record an album until 2019 – his only album, Last of the Classic Beats – but he still gained nationwide notoriety and is considered a legend in the hip-hop community.
Joseph Saddler, known by his stage name Grandmaster Flash, transformed the DJ turntables into instruments when he “scratched” them to the beat at block parties. Be performed with artists such as Kurtis Blow and Lovebug Starski.
As the sound of rap began to spread across the East Coast, Music producers began to take a notice of a young rapper named Kurtis Walker – more famously known as Kurtis Blow. In 1979, signed with Mercury records, and became the first rapper signed to a major record label. His first single was the first rap song that was ever recorded commercially. However, he is best known for his second single, The Breaks, which sold over 500,000 copies.
Having topped the charts with songs like, If I Ruled the World, he moved on to producing. He is help produce the music and or collaborated with artist such as The Fat Boys, Run-DMC, Russell Simmons and Wyclef Jean.
Those still not widely accepted, the Sugarhill Gang, help to spread the popularity of rap music. The trio of artists from New Jersey have been credited as the first rap group. The group’s 1979 album, Rapper’s Delight, made the Top 40 music chart in the United States, hit the No. 3 spot in the United Kingdom and the No. 1 spot in Canada.
But no genre has been complete without its female artists.
Sharon Green, known as MC Sha-Rock and the “Mother of the Mic,” was the known as the first female rapper. She was born in North Carolina but grew up in New York City’s south Bronx. She was also part of a rap group known as Funky 4 + 1. They were the first rappers to appear on a national stage.
It wasn’t long before other females began rapping, including the Mercedes Ladies, the first prominent all-female rap group. The teenage girl group formed in the summer of 1979. The group performed with well-known rap artists; however, they never made an album or obtained a record deal.
Another notable female rapper was Lana Michele Moorer, known as MC Lyte, who recorded the first female solo rapper to record a full album, Lyte as a Rock. She started her career in 1985 but did not record and release the album until 1988.
Rap of the 1980s
By the mid-1980s, rap took on a more serious tone, reflecting the life and images of ghettos and impoverished neighborhoods, known as “the streets.”
These images were first reflected in the rap music of Jesse Bonds Weaver Jr., known as Schoolly D the first or one of the first “gangsta rappers.” His music talked about urban life filled with sex and violence. He signed with Jive Records and released his first album, titled Schoolly D, was released in 1985.
His success was shadowed by Tracy Lauren Marrow, known famously as Ice-T. he performed underground through most of the 1980s, until 1987 when he was signed to Sire Records and released his first album, Rhyme Pays.
However, he also became an actor, with roles in films such as Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, Rappin’ and New Jack City.
By 1987, NWA, N—-z Wit Attitudes, brought in a more controversial spin with explicit and disrespectful lyrics. The group was one of the most influential in the rap industry. It is best known for its 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton. Original members included Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Arabian Prince – all of them we came highly successful solo artists. Eazy-E died in 1995 due to complication of AIDS.
Dana Elaine Owens, known as Queen Latifah, would soon let groups like NWA know that the disrespect toward women was unacceptable. She started her career in 1989 as a beat boxer. That same year, she signed to a major record label and released her first album, All Hail the Queen. Her third album, Black Reign, In 1993, she became the first by a female solo rapper to have an album certified by the Recording Industry Association of America. Her 1993 album, U.N.I.T.Y., stood up to the disrespect and violence towards Black women, as well as the sexualization of Black women.
Rap of the 1990s
The 1990s was also considered the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. The decade saw massive diversification of the genre and an increase in mainstream recognition. Distinctive styles emerged from various regions of the U.S. Artists like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Salt-N-Pepa, Snoop Dogg, and Missy Elliott saw massive success. They helped transform hip-hop from a fledgling genre into one of pop culture’s most influential musical movements. The 1990s also gave rise to the infamous east coast versus west coast disputes and showed how much hip-hop could influence American culture.
In 1995, Mariah Carey, the most popular mainstream signer at the time, decided to experiment with more R&B-orientated music. At the time, Carey decided to include rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard on her single, Fantasy. Although her the executives of her record label doubted people would enjoy an R&B/hip-hop hybrid song, the song went on to top the charts, making Carey the first woman to debut at the top of the charts. This success ushered in a new era for R&B and hip-hop, influencing other famous songs that featured both R&B and hip-hop artists, such as The Notorious B.I.G.’s Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems, I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By, by Method Man and Mary J. Blige, and Crazy in Love by Beyonce and Jay-Z.
Another sub-genre that became popular at this time was Neo-Soul. Like the New Jack Swing sub-genre, Neo-Soul is a fused genre. It began gaining popularity in the 1980s with artists like Prince and Sade. However, it had a much stronger mainstream breakthrough in the mid-1990s with artists like Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Aaliyah. This genre attracted more singer-songwriters and focused more on the musicianship of the artists.
In addition to the music charts, hip-hop and R&B found its way into the realm of television and film. Television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Moesha, Martin and Kenan and Kel were shaped by the beats and rhymes of hip-hop and R&B and often featured guest appearances from hip-hop and R&B artists. This created another stage for these artists to showcase their talents and influence on American culture. This influence spilled over into fashion with rap artists like Kris Kross, the youngest duo to become successful as hip-hop artists. The two influenced the world to wear their clothes backward and made them want to “jump, jump.”
The 90s revolutionized music. The marriage between hip-hop and R&B brought sounds and talent that have stood the test of time.
Rap of the 2000s
During the early 2000s, hip-hop and rap music evolved increasing the use of digital drumming and autotuning to create a futuristic sound. Artists also heavily sampled songs and beats for past performers introducing younger listeners to previous generations of the genre.
The movement reached a catalyst in the South as major stars gained success with lyrics and vocals specific to the region. In Atlanta, OutKast hit the charts with their critically acclaimed album Stankonia. While in New Orleans, Cash Money records produced the party anthems of southern rappers such as Juvenile, Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh.
A skilled lyricist and freestyler, Lil Wayne branched off to create Young Money Records, a label that produced future superstars Drake and Nicki Minaj. Other highly influential rappers to come from the south at that time include Rick Ross, Ludacris, 2 Chainz and T.I.
By this time hip-hop culture was further embraced into popular culture with some of the genre’s earlier stars becoming familiar faces in television and film. Artists like Ice Cube, Queen Latifah and LL Cool J were well established actors, while Snoop Dogg headlined rock festivals and became a worldwide television personality.
Rapper Jay-Z represented a cultural phenomenon as his career progressed from performer to label president. He proved that marketing music could lead to other venues including a hit clothing line, club ownership, music streaming and more.
This was also a time when hip-hop gained influence with mainstream audiences as it incorporated styles like punk, jazz, indie rock and electronic into its composition. The creation of alternative hip-hop produced artists who were unafraid to experiment with these elements and could effortlessly adjust their sound as new trends emerged.
One of Jay-Z top producers, Kanye West, became hugely influential with the new brand of hip-hop following the success of his debut album The College Dropout. The unique composer and eclectic sounds of his following albums made for surefire hits as the songs proved memorable and catchy. Like Jay-Z, West extended his reach beyond music by building a fashion empire which coalesced with both industries.
Prominent musicians in the West Coast in recent years include YG, Tyler, the Creator and Kendrick Lamar. Lamar was unofficially declared the “new king of the West Coast” by veteran rappers such as Dre. Dre and the Game. His deeply personal and sometimes autobiographical lyrics helped earn him multiple Grammys as well as a Pulitzer Prize for his album DAMN.
In the East Coast artists like 50 Cent, Ja Rule, DMX, Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot dominated the charts with continuous hits and collaborations. The rap movement there focused more heavily on lyrics that drew an introspection between life on the streets and the rise to fame.
J. Cole was especially talented in this respect and created his own path by both rapping and producing records for other renowned artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Janet Jackson. Once signed with Jay Z.’s label, Roc Nation, Cole proved to be a skilled lyricist with his 2011 album Cole World: The Sideline Story, which garnered high praise from critics and eventually reached certified platinum. Cole made his mark as a hip-hop legend when his third and fourth studio albums, 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only, debuted at No.1 on the Billboard charts despite having no advance singles, no guest appearances and no marketing to promote the album.
With the rise of streaming services and internet distribution, contemporary hip-hip and rap has created space for new, underground rappers to show off their skills. Big names in today’s rap and hip-hop era feature the likes of Travis Scott, Migos and Future. Female artists have also erupted to new heights as the industry has given room for breakout stars like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls to name a few. Wherever new trends develop, as rap and hip-hop continues to grow and evolve, there is no doubt that Black culture will remain at its core.
Sources: DJKoolHerc.com, AllMusic.com, MCShaRockOnline.com, BillBoard.com, MCLyteNow.com, Britannica.com, QueenLatifah.com, TheBoar.org, ThePeopleHistory.com, BlackMusicScholar.com, YouTube.com, MasterClass.com, Biography.com and Encyclopedia.com