"I'm fascinated by rap and by hip-hop. I think there's a lot of poetry in it. There's a lot of anger, a lot of social energy in it. And I think you'd better listen to it pretty carefully, 'cause it's important."
- John F. Kerry
- John F. Kerry
Rap music has its roots in Africa. Even before hip-hop or rap originated, the Griots (village story tellers) of West Africa narrated stories in a rhythmic way with drum beats. Rap music is also closely related to the songs that were sung by the African-American slaves, while they worked in the fields and did other manual labor. These songs were about the hardships and suffering that the slaves were forced to endure at the hands of their masters.
The 'call and answer' emceeing technique is believed to have originated from such songs, wherein, one of the slaves would lead the song by calling out a part, while the others answered the call by singing the next few lines of the song. According to Blues guitarist and historian, Elijah Wald, people were rapping blues lyrics in 1920s. The call and answer technique was incorporated in gospel music as well, and sung by the church minister while making sermons.
Apart from rap pioneers such as Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham and Gil" Scott-Heron, a group of African-American poets in 1969, The Last Poets were making rap music about politics, society, race, and discrimination. Their song "Wake Up, Niggers" (1970) and among other songs contained spoken words, poetry, and jazz. The soul album 'Black Moses' by Isaac Hayes, had songs that were titled "Ike's Rap" and "Ike's Rap II".
The first big rap single that took America by storm was "Rapper's Delight", by Sugarhill Gang in 1979. This song revolutionized the genre. The single was a great commercial success and producers were finally ready to produce rap records. Many new rap bands like, Run-DMC and Kool Herc came up and found numerous fans.
During the seventies and eighties, there was a myth among people that, this genre was for the Blacks. Bob Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' (1965) was a try on rap, too. In 1981, a new-wave white band, Blondie, tried it in the song called 'Rapture'. In 1982, Afrika Bambaataa released 'Planet Rock', which was a huge success. He was the first Black Muslim making rap music.
In 1986, this form of music reached the top of the charts with singles like, 'Fight For Your Right' by Beastie Boys and 'Walk This Way' by Run-DMC. Soon, Run-DMC became the first rap band to feature regularly on MTV (Music Television). In the mid 1980s, the first female band, Salt-n-Pepa, released their single, "The Show Stoppa", which was a success, and henceforth, there was no looking back for this band.
Rap through the Years
Rap is "food for the soul" as many describe it. Rap is a lifestyle; it means different things to different people. The beauty of rap is the fact of relating it with oneself. People often wonder as to why rap sounds aggressive and revolves around miserable circumstances. Well, that's because, there were and are troubled times in people's lives. The music is what inspires people through venting and how!
Similarly, rapping about champagne, cars and partying is very much a lifestyle too. It's a feel-good factor in this case. There is no right and wrong when it comes to music. What we need to understand is that music is not esoteric and is there for the taking.
"So, rap has that quality, for youth anyway; it's a kind of blues element. It's physical, almost gymnastic. It speaks to you organically. Rap grows out of what young people really are today, not only black youth, but white - everybody."
- Archie Shepp
- Archie Shepp
Rap initially was the result of all the pain, miseries and frustration suffered by the people. It was a reality. There's no denying that Africans and African-Americans have been wronged through time. Rebel music has been known to have marked its presence during these times.
"Say there's a white kid who lives in a nice home, goes to an all-white school, and is pretty much having everything handed to him on a platter - for him to pick up a rap tape is incredible to me, because what that's saying is that he's living a fantasy life of rebellion."
- Eminem quotes
- Eminem quotes
From 1966-1982, it was a revolutionary stage for the Black Panther Party who held protests for the neglect and wrongdoings against them and they expressed their political and social grievances and their rights. This stage bred poverty, violence, murder and drug use. These were indeed hard times for the African-Americans who were resorting to desperate means for their survival.
Along came the legendary and controversial rapper - Tupac Shakur. Born to a Black Panther family, his rap and philosophy were inspired from the social atrocities faced by the Blacks. He rapped about police brutality, poverty, racism and social abuse. His music was shaped with aggression, slangs and extremity; an object of criticism. His rap depicted the lifestyle of the Blacks "on the street" - raw, bold and uncensored.
"I'm 23 years old. I might just be my mother's child, but in all reality, I'm everybody's child. Nobody raised me; I was raised in this society."
- Tupac Shakur
- Tupac Shakur
Of the many things that he was, Tupac considered himself as a good poet and was voted as the greatest rapper of all time in the 2004 poll of the Vibe magazine. Rolling stone magazine declared Tupac as the 6th immortal artist of all time, amongst a list of 100 other artists including the likes of Elvis Presley and John Lennon. 2pacalypse now, Thug life, greatest Hits and Still I Rise are a few amongst his popular albums. Shakur went on to sell 75 million records worldwide in 2010.
Rap music had arrived. This stage saw some of the greatest rap artists showcasing their talent. A few popular names were Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie smalls), Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, P. Diddy, Wu-tang clan, Nas, Daz Dillinger and Jay-Z.
Soon, during this time followed the East Coast/West Coast feud, which was blown out of proportion arising from differences between Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac, and marked a war amongst record labels (read Deathrow records and Bad Boy Records) and led to the East Coast/West Coast feud, as the rappers spared no chance of taking digs at each other through their songs and the media. Both these rappers were murdered following these events, unfortunately.
"I looked at the rap community like street kids wanting their own brand. But now I look at that period with the rappers in the 90s as a trend of the moment. What it taught me was never to follow a trend, because trends move on."
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Tommy Hilfiger
Shortly after, "Gangsta rap" emerged, and then began a carryover of all the past events and Gangsta rap become a rage. In the late 1980s and early 90s, the music rose to fame commercially. With this, also grew the dominance of record labels. Almost everybody wanted to be a Gangsta rapper. Most of the artists had invested in their own record labels. Some of the early well-associated names with Gangsta rap were Schoolly D, Ice-T and the N.W.A. Gangsta rap was majorly criticized for the references made about vandalism, sex profanity, drug use and social vices.
Much to the contrast, poetry in rap songs gradually started fading and was majorly influenced by materialism and commercialism. Record Labels started growing dominance and the money started pouring in. Lloyd Banks, 50 Cent and Tony Yayo established the G-Unit and swiftly rose to success by forming G-unit records. Controversies and rapper feuds were at the peak. 50 Cent shot to fame with "Candy Shop", "Disco Inferno" and "How We Do".
The rap scene then saw artists bragging about their wealth, the gold and expensive cars and also, occasional references about brands like the "Bentley", "Limousine", "Versace" and other such well-known labels. Materialism in songs turned out to be a prominent feature. However, shades of Christian rap had also made an appearance in the scene which resonated with gospels and a righteous world view. Soon Christian Rap was covered by various artists like Nas, Gospel Gangstaz, Dynamic Twins, Souljahz (now known as the Washington Projects) and many others.
Modern-day rap has seen great artists like Eminem, Ludacris, 50 Cent, Damien Marely, Jay-Z, Nas, L.L. Cool J, Beastie boys and many such others who have gained popularity over the years. Female artists like Missy Elliot and Lil' Kim have entered the scene in a big way and are well-known all over. Today, Eminem is widely recognized with the genre of rap and has been producing tracks consistently. His dedication to rap still remains unwavering.
A couple of movies from the archive that will enlighten you about the background of rap are:
- Tupac Shakur - Resurrection (Documentary about himself)
- Notorious (Movie on Notorious B.I.G.)
- 8 Mile (Movie on the life of Eminem)
- Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Movie on the life of 50 Cent)
- Hustle & Flow (Story of a pimp and his struggle to stardom)
- Biggie and Tupac (Documentary about the deaths of both the rappers and the East Coast/West Coast rivalry)
- Boyz n the Hood (Story of two childhood friends growing up in a Los Angeles ghetto)
- Krush Grove (Story about Def Jam recordings)
- Fade to Black (Filmed during his "Black Album" era, Jay-Z looks back on his career as one of rap music's most successful emcees and entrepreneurs)
- Friday (Has nothing to do with rap but you might as well watch it anyway)
Lately, there has been a massive transition of rap music to hip-hop. However, rap has always portrayed and expressed the conditions of different societies. The music is a great way of speaking up against the wrongdoings prevailing in a society. Today, with rap being recognized globally and international artists collaborating with each other, the possibilities are endless.