Hip hop or rap music, which started in home gatherings and street parties, has grown to become the major music and cultural ambassador of the United States. Major artists of the Hip hop genre have gone on to have long and successful careers not only in music but also in film and business. Combining the sounds and melodies of a various genres, Hip hop has redefined how we listen to music.
Here are some facts about hip hop and the artists who have endowed this genre with such power and swag:
Hip Hop is born in 1973 at a birthday party in the Bronx. With a small step, a major change began for music. DJ Kool Herc started spinning records for parties in the early 1970s. His major innovation was born out of his observation of how crowds reacted to different parts of the record he happened to be playing. Kool used two turntables in a DJ setup to smooth transitions between records, with a way to switch back and forth repeatedly between two copies of the same record, extending the short drum break that the crowd most wanted to hear. He called his trick the Merry Go-Round. Today, it is known as the “break beat.”
Hip hop would have its first hit by 1979. With “Rapper’s Delight,” the Sugar Hill Gang was able to Sample “Good Times” by Chic and bringing rap rhymes and beats to the fore front of popular music. Nile Rodgers of Chic heard the Gang’s version at a party and threatened to sue. Eventually, he settled out of court and allowed 15 minutes of Chic’s song to be used. Sampling is nowadays more carefully used with clearance from the originals’ writers. Regardless, “Rapper’s Delight’s” light tone and bouncy rhythm helped introduce Hip-hop to American Pop culture.
Run D.M.C. was the face of rap in the eighties. They laid down their vision of life in New York City and layered their music with wit and honesty. The urban hard look that became the standard in gangster rap was first perfect by the trio. This paid off and helped them build a reputation as leaders among equals. Run D.M.C. was the first rap group to be featured on Rolling Stone Magazine and the first to receive gold, platinum, and multiplatinum albums. They were also the first rap group to appear on MTV, and sign a major endorsement deal; namely with Adidas, which is featured on one their more popular songs.
Beastie Boys came straight out of the New York scene in the mid-Eighties, performer their hyper raps with wit and wizardry. License to Ill, their first album, was an instant classic and quickly turned them into major stars with their rowdy rhymes, thick beats, and catchy samples. Later, they would embrace direct instrumentation and new layers to their sound. What many aren’t aware of is that the group began in a very different genre. Originally, the group started out as a punk band, embracing their anti-authoritarian stance with guitar riffs and punk aggression.
N.W.A. is by their name alone, Niggas With Attitude, one of the most anti-establishment rap groups to take the mic. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy-E, Arabian Prince, and DJ Yella emerged from Southern California to step all over pubic conformity and indifference. They helped define gangster rap and the attitude that invigorated its rhymes. During the group’s success, N.W.A received a letter from the F.B.I asking them to reconsider their image and topics of rhymes as the director of the agency felt the group was promoting violence and contempt of law enforcement. The group instead considered the letter a great opportunity to promote the group:” Upon receipt, the folks over at Priority Records came up with the brilliant idea of sending the letter to the press, which caused a wave of free publicity that inherently sparked a widespread interest in the album.”
Additionally, in 1991 N.W.A. would attain a new Hip-hop milestone when their record Niggaz4life debuted on Billboard’s Top 200 at number 2 and sold nearly a million copies in its first seven days. It was the first time any rap group would attain that kind of success on Billboards charts and would acted as a major victory for a genre music that started in house parties in the early 1970s. It is especially telling that a hardcore group would attain this milestone first verses more popular Hip-hop act like MC Hammer.
2Pac was a prolific rapper whose work has inspired generations of fans and other rappers. His tragic death has left a legion of fans mourning as his legend grew. What many people may not know is that he maintained an incredible work ethic and wrote a huge amount of rhymes in a short period of time. From 1995 to 1996, 2Pac was constant generating new pieces, completing two albums—one of which was a double disc with 27 songs. Meanwhile, a myriad of other tracks was left behind, some of which wasn’t released until 20 years later.
Dr. Dre has built a reputation has a leader in Hip-Hop, both as an artist, a producer, and a mentor. He was a key member of N.W.A. before recording as an individual artist. He founded Aftermath Entertainment, and helped start the careers of artists like Snoop Dog and 50 Cent. In the 2000, he started his own brand of headphones called Beats, which quickly became a major success. The popularity of this brand led to a $3 billion purchase of the brand from Apple. Dr. Dre didn’t stop there. As part of Apple’s acquisition, which was biggest in Apple’s history, Dr. Dre joined Apple in an executive role.
Jay-Z is another artist who made the crossover from rapper to producer to entrepreneur. According to Forbes, he is worth $500 million. His rhymes have both showcased his wit and his depth expression; however, many people may not know that he doesn’t write down most of his material. According to Jay: “In my mind, I said, ‘OK, I’m gonna sit down and I’mma just write it and really do this thing a certain way.’ But your natural process is your process. It’s difficult to go back to what you was doing when you was 15, 16 years old. My process is different now. It sounds great on paper, like ‘I’mma sit down, I’m going to write the entire album like I did before.’ But once you get back in the studio and you’ve been doing this process for years and years now, so it just felt natural to do it the way I’ve been doing it: no paper, no pen, just listen to the music.”
Biggie Smalls, AKA Notorious B.I.G. and AKA Christopher Wallace, has been said to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, a legendary rival of 2Pac who died tragically over 19 years ago. Ready to Die, his first album was a huge success and help establish him as a top artist. He ventured into music as a teenager while befriending Sean “Puffy” combs and attending the same high school as Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes. But, according to his mother, Smalls had other ambitious as a youngster. Aspiring to be either a graphic designer or dentist, Smalls made sure to get top grades in school and maintain straight “A”s until his true love with rhymes came into his life.
This article is part of GROM’s 2017 music genre series. For more facts on other music genres including Jazz, Alternative, Rock, click here