Mic check 1-2, 1-2! What began as a subculture and art movement in The Bronx has transcended into an international phenomenon we call Hip Hop. During the late ’70s, artists known as disc jockeys transformed old school jams into backbeat rhythms of energetic funk featuring local poets referred to as emcees. Mega stars like Run DMC to Diddy to Jay-Z have brands that extend into commercial brands and culture like streaming services and sneaker series.
But, the Hip Hop movement didn’t hit the national stage or airwaves with tremendous fanfare. In the early days, Hip Hop didn’t capture the imaginations of artists, academics or the mainstream minds. The name assigned by Keith Cowboy in the 1970s was considered derogatory and encompassed a sloppy way of dressing and pseudo-artform. But, Hip Hop embraced a street-edge rarely found in other types of music. It’s raw poetry, political incorrectness and gangsta attitude energized inner-city youths en route to Hip Hop rising into an international cultural movement.
By the 1980s, Hip Hop attracted a diverse range of artists that overlaid its spoken word style with alternative and mainstream music. Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Force released a watershed album called “Planet Rock.” Unlike the common 1970s style of rapping to Top 40 beats, Bambaataa forged an ectro-funk Hip Hop sound that utilized instrument technology such as the drum machine. Other pivotal artists, such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five took the vibe to new heights.
In a 10-year span, Hip Hop popularized beatboxing and artists such as Grandmaster Melle Mel began releasing socially conscious lyrics that stirred debate and controversy about whether rappers should embrace thug life in their music or put forth a positive message. The1980s also saw mainstream America embrace Hip Hop culture and Graffiti as a legitimate artform. By the end of the decade, Hip Hop was a force that challenged rock ‘n’ roll as the dominate music of the day.
In many respects, socially conscious Hip Hop artists lost the debate over which direction lyrics should take in the 1990s. Gangsta rap ruled the airwaves. The strong emphasis on violence, murder, misogyny, drugs and crime rose in popularity led by personalities such as Ice-T and N.W.A. Records such as N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” and Ice-Cube’s “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted” vaulted the artform into a global phenomenon that made inner-city ghetto life its cornerstone. Ranked among the most prominent gangsta artists of the decade is Coolio. His “It Takes a Thief” recording in 1994 and landmark “Gangsta’s Paradise” in 1995 blended rare musical talent with imagery about the gangsta life. After icons such as Coolio, to be a legit Hip Hop star in the 1990s meant having “street cred” or else being tagged a “poseur.”
Today’s hip hop has grown into a vast commercial industry that ranges from the intimate storytelling of Eminem to the celebrity status of Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Hip hop artists are now valued by politicians who seek their endorsement and the sub-genres range from Pop to Trip Hop to Freestyle and many others. The experimental voice that began in the Bronx underground has earned a global musical, cultural and social platform.
With this brief history of the Hip Hop movement in mind, just how well do you know Hip Hop and Rap from the ’80s, ’90s, and today? Test out your knowledge of Hip Hop and Rap songs, artists, and fun facts.