Archive for the ‘Hip Hop Genres’ Category

Political RapWhen someone mentions politics, most people normally think of a politician shouting rhetoric from a podium about a divisive topic. People think of democrats and republicans and their different views on issues. However, politics are not something that only politicians can weigh in on. While most mainstream music steers clear of any controversial issues, many artists aren’t afraid to voice their opinion. One such assemblage are rappers that identify with the genre of political hip hop. Below, we’ll explore political rap more in depth by digging into some definitions, examining a bit of the history, and going over some example artists and songs that fit into this genre.


Definition:
Let’s first break down the actual words of this genre. Politics are defined as “activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government.” Based on this definition, political hip hop, or more specifically, political rap, would be defined as rap music which focuses on the actions and policies of the government. Wikia states that political rap “refers to artists who have strong and overt political affiliations and agendas”, and states that several sub-genres would include socialist hip hop, anarchism, conservatism, and marxism, among others.


History:
According to Allmusic.com, political rap formed in the 1980’s when a number of rappers were “looking to move on from the block-party atmosphere of old school rap and eager to vent their frustrations…” Several hip hop groups emerged which fused their talented rhymes with strong political philosophies. Groups such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions produced songs which addressed governmental corruption, the culture of White America, violence, and myriad of other socio-political issues. Interestingly, Allmusic.com points out, the mainstream success of political rap “proved remarkably short-lived” as “the commercial explosion of a new hip-hop sound — gangsta rap or G-funk — made record labels less adventurous about non-establishment messages.”


Example Artists:
Some of the most well known political rappers and rap groups include: Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Poor Righteous Teachers, Immortal Technique, Killer Mike, Mos Def, The Coup, X-Clan, and Dead Prez.


Conscious Hip Hop Playlist:


We hope this gives you a good introduction into political hip hop. To further your understanding, we suggest listening to the songs/artists mentioned in the blog post, reading other articles, and investigating politics for yourself to better understand the issues these rappers are spitting about. Have any thoughts to share? Any songs or artists that you feel we missed? Leave a comment below!

If you are digging the political rap and want to hear some other rap songs that touch on some deep topics check out this playlist of Spiritual Rap: 10 Hip Hop Songs that Explore Religion, God, and Spirituality. CLICK HERE to check it out!

Immortal TechniqueRap music is often stereotyped as being egotistical, sexist, violent, and materialistic. While it’s absolutely true that many popular rap songs do fall within one or more of these categories, there is an abundance of rap songs that break the mold. Many rappers chose to focus their lyrics on a variety of social issues in order to educate and raise the awareness of their listeners. Many fans of Hip Hop often refer to these types of songs as “conscious.” Others think labeling certain rap songs as conscious is problematic. So what exactly is “conscious rap” and what are some examples? Below we look at some definitions, history, and popular “conscious” rappers and songs.


Definition:
Webster’s Dictionary offers a few definitions for the word “conscious“, such as: awake and able to understand what is happening around you; aware of something (such as a fact or feeling); knowing that something exists or is happening. It seems the definitions centers around awareness and understanding. About.com defines “conscious rap” as a “sub-genre of hip-hop that focuses on creating awareness and imparting knowledge”. Wikipedia offers the following definition: “Conscious hip hop or socially conscious hip-hop…challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic consensus.” So it seems that in order for rap to be considered “conscious” it must be intending to educate and raise awareness on important issues, and at the same time often challenges the status quo.


History:
According to Wikipedia, conscious rap emerged in the 1980’s, with the mainstream explosion of Hip Hop in general. The conscious rap movement has had many influences from alternative ideologies such as black nationalism, socialism, anarchism, marxism, libertarianism, and a variety of other ideas and philosophies.


Example Artists:
Some of the most well known conscious rappers include: KRS-One, Common, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Mos Def, Nas, Lauryn Hill, Vinnie Paz, Lupe Fiasco, Dead Prez, Akala, Lowkey, Public Enemy, Immortal Technique, and many more.


Conscious Hip Hop Playlist:


We hope this article helps you understand a bit more clearly what the Hip Hop world defines as “conscious”. To continue your learning, look up these artists, listen to their music and compare it to what you hear on the radio, or from other artists that identify with other subgenres of rap.

Have any thoughts to share? Any songs or artists that you feel we missed? Leave a comment below!

And if you like songs that are conscious and shed light on important social issues, you’ll definitely enjoy listening to this playlist: Songs About Human Rights: 10 Tracks for the Baha’is in Iran. CLICK HERE to check it out!

NWAWhat do you think of when you hear the term “gangsta rap”? Some love it, some hate it, but no matter what side you’re on, you have to admit that gangsta rap has had a great deal of influence on the world of hip-hop. Below we explore the definition and history of gangsta rap, and also take a look at some of the most popular gangsta rappers and songs.

Definition:
First we look at the Dictionary.com definition of the word “gangsta”, which is “an aggressive type of rap music focused on gang culture and violence.”[1]  To further elaborate, the word “gang” has multiple dictionary definitions, including “a group of youngsters or adolescents who associate closely, often exclusively, for social reasons, especially such a group engaging in delinquent behavior.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary of “gangsta rap” is “rap music with lyrics explicitly portraying the violence and drug use of urban gang life and typically expressing hostility toward whites, women, and civil authority.”[2] Based on these definitions, it seems that the main criteria for defining gangsta rap is the lyrical content of the song.


About.com concurs, stating that “gangsta rap revolves around aggressive lyrics” that have come under fire for “misogyny and violent themes,” but also points out that gangsta rap is characterized by “trunk-heavy beats.”[3] Allmusic.com shares that gangsta rap is lyrically “abrasive, as the rappers spun profane, gritty tales about urban crime,” and also highlights the sound of the beats, describing gangsta rap as having “an edgy, noisy sound.”[4] Finally, Last.fm defines gangsta rap as “a sub-genre of hip hop that reflects the violent lifestyles of some inner-city youths.”[5]


History:
According to Wikipedia, gangsta rap emerged in the mid 1980’s, originally with a few specific songs, such as “6 in the Mornin’” by Ice-T, and later as full albums like N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton.” Many associate gangsta rap with West Coast hip-hop, however, many East Coast rappers also contributed to the genre, which is also sometimes referred to as “hardcore rap” by those in the East Coast. Additionally, in the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s popular gangsta rap artists began to emerge in the Midwest and Southern hip-hop scenes. Due to the explicit and often violent lyrics of gangsta rap, it was kept out of the mainstream during it’s early years, however, around the mid 1990’s it began to enter into mainstream radio and media, and has enjoyed much commercial success ever since.

The lyrical content of gangsta rap has been subject to much discussion and debate over the years. In one camp, you have those that are highly critical of gangsta rap, claiming that the genre promotes and glorifies “homophobia, violence, profanity, promiscuity, misogyny, rape, street gangs, drive-by shootings, vandalism, thievery, drug dealing, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and materialism.” [6]  In the other camp, you have those that argue that gangsta rap does not necessarily promote these concepts, but that the artists are simply using rap as a form of expression to describe the reality life for many people growing up in the inner-cities. Either way, gangsta rap has played a key role in shaping hip-hop as a musical genre and culture, and should be analyzed and studied for anyone who seeks to better understand rap and hip-hop.


Example Artists:
Some of the most well known gangsta rappers include: Ice-T, Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, N.W.A., Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G., DMX, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan, Geto Boys, Big L, Scarface, 50 Cent, among many, many more.


10 Example Gangsta Rap Songs:

1) Ice-T – “6 in the Mornin'” (1986)
“Ice-T was one of the creators of gangsta rap, building a hard-edged West Coast sound rooted in his own experiences hustling on the streets of L.A… With his blunt vocal delivery, narrative-style writing, and mesmerizing B-movie images, Ice-T was one of the earliest West Coast rappers to gain respect among the New York hip-hop set. As an artist, he set the stage for N.W.A, Snoop Dogg, and the Notorious B.I.G…”[7]

2) Eazy-E – Boyz in the Hood (1987)
“One of the artists responsible for making [the] era of [gangsta rap] so spectacular is Eazy-E, a gangsta rapper whose claim to fame was not the music, but in the way he presented it. With a career that would span almost a decade, Eazy became the mark of excellence in gangsta rap…”[8]

3) N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
“In 1988, with the double-platinum album Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A brought gangsta rap into the mainstream. The record was among the first to offer an insider’s perspective of the violence and brutality of gang-ridden South Central L.A. With songs like “Fuck tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta” set in a chaotic swirl of siren and gunshot sounds, it also foreshadowed the 1992 L.A. riots.”[9]

4) Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)
“When Ice Cube left the notorious L.A. rap group N.W.A in 1990, he continued writing hard-hitting gangsta rap songs that pushed buttons in the media as well as among parents, politicians, and police…. With his powerful, rhythmic baritone delivery, Ice Cube has maintained a consistently high standing among critics and fans.”[10]

5) Snoop Dogg – What’s My Name? (1993)
“Rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, with his lazy drawl and gangster persona, became one of the most commercially successful artists in all of rap. Alongside artists like N.W.A., Tupac, and Ice-T, Snoop epitomizes West Coast hip-hop.”[11]

6) The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy (1994)
“Mammoth-sized rapper, the Notorious B.I.G…released just one album during his lifetime: 1994’s Ready to Die. Written by Wallace and produced by Sean Combs, it was a remarkable debut, distinguished by Wallace’s thick, commanding baritone and his slow, matter-of-fact rhymes about the hustler’s life he left behind for rap.”[12]

7) Mobb Deep – Shook Ones Pt II (1994)
“As golden age rap suddenly gave way to West Coast gangsta in the early ’90s, an East Coast variety of hardcore rap arose in turn, with Mobb Deep initially standing tall as one of New York’s hardcore figureheads…”[13]

8) Big L – Da Graveyard (1995)
“Big L, was an American rapper who made significant contributions to the New York City music scene in the 1990s as a member of the hip hop collective D.I.T.C. In February 1999, Big L was shot and killed before releasing his second album. Members of the hip hop community consider him to be one of the most skilled MC’s of all-time.”[14]

9) 2Pac – Hit ‘Em Up (1996)
“Tupac Shakur was one of the most dynamic, influential and self-destructive pop stars of the Nineties. The rapper’s husky voice described his stark contradictions, setting misogyny against praise of strong women, hard-won wisdom against the violence of the “thug life” — words he had tattooed across his torso. The critical and commercial successes of his music (as well as his modest achievements as an actor) were continually overshadowed by his legal and personal entanglements. In Tupac’s world, art and reality became tragically blurred, culminating with his 1996 murder in Las Vegas.”[15]

10) 50 Cent – Piggy Bank (2005)
“50 Cent was one of the biggest stars hip-hop produced in the 2000s, a muscled and menacing, yet imperturbably cool presence with a near-mythic backstory. The protégé of Dr. Dre and Eminem, 50 Cent made music that was both gangsta and good fun.”[16]

We hope this post helps you answer the question “What is Gangsta Rap?” Have any thoughts to share? What’s your definition of gangsta rap? Any other artists/songs that you think define the genre of alternative hip hop? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

And if you’re a music fan and want to check out some music on the other side of the hip-hop genre, check out this song list of Hopeful Music: 10 Songs to Cheer You Up. It’ll balance out your musical library!

References:
[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/
[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/
[3] http://rap.about.com/od/genresstyles/tp/HipHopGenreGuide.htm
[4] http://www.allmusic.com/subgenre/gangsta-rap-ma0000002611
[5] http://www.last.fm/tag/gangsta%20rap/wiki
[6] http://www.last.fm/tag/gangsta%20rap/wiki
[7] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/ice-t/biography
[8] http://www.eazy-e.com/eazy_e-biography.php
[9] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/n-w-a/biography
[10] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/ice-cube/biography
[11] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/snoop-dogg/biography
[12] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/notorious-b-i-g/biography
[13] http://www.allmusic.com/artist/mobb-deep-mn0000566430/biography
[14] http://www.last.fm/music/Big+L
[15] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/tupac-shakur/biography
[16] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/50-cent/biography

Queen LatifaWhat exactly is alternative hip hop? There seems to be varying opinions on what defines a hip hop song or artist as “alternative”. Some even argue that hip hop is such a diverse genre itself, that to label any type of hip hop “alternative” is inaccurate. With that said, there seems to be some level of consensus on the definition, history, and top artists in the alternative hip hop genre, which we present below.

Definition:
To help shed some light on the definition of “alternative hip hop”, we can first look at the Dictionary.com definition of the word “alternative’, which is: “employing or following nontraditional or unconventional ideas, methods, etc.; existing outside the establishment.[1] AllMusic.com refers to alternative hip hop as a genre that “refuses to conform to any of the traditional stereotypes of rap, such as gangsta, funk, bass, hardcore, and party rap” and that, instead, it “blurs genres, drawing equally from funk and pop/rock, as well as jazz, soul, reggae, and even folk.”[2] Last.Fm states that that alternative hip hop “refers to all hip-hop groups, past and present, that refused to conform to the demands of the international record companies and consumers of commercial, disposable music in all of its forms.[3] While these definitions seems to help clarify our understanding of alternative hip hop, Pigeons and Planes states that it may not be that simple, elaborating, “alternative sounds in hip-hop are becoming the norm, and outliers in modern rap are branching out further and further from the traditional boom-bap of the ’80s and the gritty styles of the ’90s.[4]


History:
According to Wikipedia, alternative hip hop emerged during the late 1980’s, during the “golden age of hip hop,” with artists from the East Coast, West Coast, and South all contributing to it’s growth and evolution. In the beginning of the 1990s, alternative hip hop began to enter into the mainstream, however, with the emergence of the more popular gangsta rap in the mid 1990’s, alternative hip hop saw a decline back to the underground. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, as the public’s interest in indie music saw a rise, alternative hip hop once again had a revival. Since then, alternative hip hop has spread across the globe, becoming more diverse, reaching larger audiences, and becoming more and more popular.


Example Artists:
Some of the first alternative hip hop artists included: De La Soul, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, Digable Planets, The Pharcyde, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Digital Underground, Freestyle Fellowship, Jurassic 5, Arrested Development, Goodie Mob, and OutKast. Since then, there are many more prominent artists that have emerged that have been described as having an alternative sound, such as Common, Beastie Boys, The Roots, Gnarls Barkley, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, B.o.B, and many, many more.


10 Example Alternative Hip Hop Songs:

1) De La Soul – Me, Myself, and I (1989)
“De La Soul made rap history as one of the first groups to go against the hip-hop grain of macho braggadocio, hectoring social comment and mammoth beats, all while winning respect and acclaim from inside and outside of the hip-hop community. With its middle-class suburban Long Island roots, light rhythms, laid-back raps, thoughtfully irreverent lyrics, esoteric sampling, and quasi-hippie attitude, De La Soul paved the way for a steady stream of adventurous “alternative” rap groups.”[5]

2) A Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It (1991)
“A Tribe Called Quest blazed alternative rap trails with a laid-back, witty, progressive style as well as innovative beats and enlightened lyrics that paved the way for the “jazz rap” of Digable Planets, Jungle Brothers, Us3 and other outside-the-box hip-hop artists.”[6]

3) Arrested Development – Tennessee (1992)
“Arrested Development took the light, funky sound of the Native Tongues school of hip-hop, blended in the folk-blues instrumentation of their native South (harmonica, acoustic guitars), added uplifting, gospel-tinged lyrics, and became one of the most successful crossover acts in rap.”[7]

4) Queen Latifah – U.N.I.T.Y. (1993)
“Her music, according to Interview, borrowed freely “from hip-hop, house, jazz, and reggae,” all saturated by Latifah’s sense of self and a pride seemingly untouched by vanity… Applauded for her social politics as well as her gift for rhyme, Latifah presented a well-rounded image, with social commentary in its place, but entertainment firmly in the foreground.”[8]

5) The Pharcyde – Passin’ Me By (1993)
“In the early 90’s, when gangsta’ rap consumed the airwaves, and the majority of West Coast rappers strapped on their Locs, Chuck Taylor’s & Ben Davis’, The Pharcyde decidedly maintained a willfully weird vision. Opting to stay true to themselves with their left field but still South-Central sensibility, rap had seen few groups so self-deprecating and so smart, four visionary rappers adroitly able to split the difference between helium-voiced and hard-core.”[9]

6) Beastie Boys – Intergalactic (1998)
“Beastie Boys were the first big white rap group, and they have stayed popular — at times hugely popular — for nearly a quarter century. After emerging from New York’s hardcore punk underground in the early Eighties, the trio crossed over into the mainstream in 1986… In the late Eighties, Beastie Boys’ take on hip-hop began maturing, and throughout the Nineties the group ventured into spaced-out funk, psychedelia and lounge music, yet retaining its adolescent charm and hit-making sensibility.”[10]

7) Lauryn Hill – Doo-Wop (That Thing) (1998)
“Initially establishing her reputation as the most visible and vocal member of the Fugees, [Hill] continued on to a solo career releasing The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Hill’s works primarily in the neo-soul and alternative rap styles, among other influences from reggae and folk.”

8) Outkast – B.O.B. (2000)
“Inspired by the Afrocentric psychedelics of George Clinton and Sly Stone, OutKast created an idiosyncratic sound blending funk and Southern bump.”[11] Of Outkast’s B.O.B., Rolling Stones states, “The furious “B.O.B.” is a blast of up-tempo, turn-of-the-century dislocation with electro breaks and a gospel choir. ‘Power music, electric revival,’ chants the choir at the end, sounding like some funkified Southern congregation where Chuck D is the preacher and Afrika Bambaataa is the musical director.”

9) Talib Kweli – Get By (2002)
“The Brooklyn-based rapper earned his stripes as one of the most lyrically-gifted, socially aware and politically insightful rappers to emerge in the last 20 years… Of his music, Kweli states, “My music has been associated with those types of causes, with positivity, spirituality, intelligence and being thought-provoking and such.”[12]

10) Lupe Fiasco – Kick Push (2006)
“Critics hailed the rapper as the savior of the genre on the strength of tracks like the skateboard anthem “Kick, Push.” Lupe Fiasco is known for his “strong storytelling, mature subject matter grounded in his Muslim faith, and inventive mixes…”[13]


We hope this post helps you answer the question “What is Alternative Hip Hop?” Have any thoughts to share? What’s your definition of alternative hip hop? Any other artists/songs that you think define the genre of alternative hip hop? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Also, if you like listening to alternative hip hop, you should enjoy this song list of Hopeful Music: 10 Songs to Cheer You Up in Tough Times. Go check it out!

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/alternative?s=t
[2] http://www.allmusic.com/subgenre/alternative-rap-ma0000012203
[3] http://www.last.fm/tag/alternative%20hip-hop/wiki
[4] http://pigeonsandplanes.com/2014/06/alternative-experimental-hip-hop/
[5] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/de-la-soul/biography
[6] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/a-tribe-called-quest/biography
[7] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/arrested-development/biography
[8] http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Queen_Latifah.aspx
[9] http://thepharcyde.com/bio/
[10] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/beastie-boys/biography
[11] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/outkast/biography
[12] http://www.talibkweli.com/biography/
[13] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/lupe-fiasco/biography