Rap is a form of urban music, which emerged from the hip-hop movement of the South Bronx, New York, in the early 1970s. The hip-hop culture was comprised of the popular street activities of African-American youth during the 1970s such as: styles of language, street-slang colloquialisms, graffiti, break dancing, music and their colourful attitude and fashion. Rap music is therefor a subculture to the hip-hop movement, or what many describe as the soundtrack to accompany the other facets of the hip-hop culture .
This means that any changes that take place within the hip-hop culture itself will be reflected in the subculture of rap music. Since the 1970s styles of dancing, talking and graffiting have changed, not to mention the dramatically noticeable change in urban fashion. So subsequent to all aspects of the hip-hop culture having changed since its advent in the 1970s, it seems only logical that rap music to change also, and evolve alongside the hip-hop culture. In fact, almost every aspect of popular rap music has undergone a huge transformation.
From the style of music and the intent of the lyrics, to the culture, gender and race associated with rap artists and their listeners, rap has evolved quite dramatically. The origins of rap music may be traced as far back as some African tribes, in which members used a style of trading tall tales, handing out verbal abuse in rhymes, providing [their] own rhythmical, chest-whacking, thigh slapping accompaniment. This was known as toasting and signifying. Where tribe members would display their power and dominance. More immediately however, modern rap was a bi-product of the another activity; disk jockeying.
In the early 1970s disc jockeys or DJs were a common appearance at backyard parties and social events. They played music on two vinyl record players, mixing songs together and combining old songs into new, danceable collages. Using different techniques such as quickly changing play speeds and equaliser settings, scratching records back and forth, and mixing in different types of music, made the art of disk jockeying extremely popular. So popular in fact that by the late 1970s artful mixing had become such a spectacle that crowds would cease dancing in order to watch DJs perform.
To keep people moving a DJ would recruite either one or a few people to act as a master of ceremonies or MC. An MC would speak into a microphone, over the music and fire up the crowd, with shouts such as get up and jam to the beat in a similar fashion to that used by James Brown. As MCs popularity grew, so too did their task. To stay popular with the public and attractive to their recruiting DJs, MCs were continually forced to come up with new techniques of encouraging their crowds to dance.
Many MCs followed the examples given to them by radio DJs by devising simple rhymes comprised of only two or four short lines. Most of these rhymes were very basic, short verses related to the crowd, which were thought up by the MC on the spot. It was not until a DJ named Grandmaster Flash and his group of MCs The Furious Five that the rap genesis was completed. They began speaking longer, pre-rehearsed rhymes to the beat of the music, trading rhymes in sync with each other and the DJ. Slowly but surely other MCs began to follow suit, reciting their own rehearsed lyrics in time with the beat.
And so became the popular style of music known as rap. It is thought that rap lyrics descended directly from a few specific African-American cultural figures. Radio DJs such as Holmes Daddy-O Daylie, Al Benson and DJ Hollywood, spoke witty, jive-based talk between playing songs, and heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali was renowned for his clever rhymes and cocky toasts, but one of the greatest influences on the style rap lyrics was the urban street jive, a form of coded speech that developed in the black community back in the 1920s.
Jive speakers disregarded standard usage of the English language and replaced common words with their own substitutions. Popular Jive alternatives include cat for man, crib for home, axe for instrument, scrub for loser and player for successor. David Toop suggests that such substitutions have enabled many blacks to share messages that only the initiated can understand. This form of linguistic encoding was a universal survival tool for African Americans during times of slavery, and many traces of these techniques of communication can be seen in the language used by African Americans today.
Evidence of this is made obvious through popular American talk shows such as Jerry Springer and Ricky Lake, which regularly have guests of lower social stature. It is common place for these talk show guests speech to contain a high amount of urban street slang colloquialisms, which make some viewers, (especially international viewers who may be perfectly fluent with the English language, but unfamiliar with jive) unable to understand the language being used. This dilemma can also be witnessed when people unfamiliar with these street slang colloquialisms listen to rap music.
Rap lyrics have always contained a high amount of street slang. In fact the majority of the modern jive alternatives used in this urban language where invented by rappers. Rappers would be writing their songs, trying to put their message across and at the same time make their lyrics rhyme. Instead of spending hours trying to think of rhyming lyrics, rappers would simply make up a word, or substitute an already existing word and change its meaning. This technique has been used since the very early days of rap music, and has been the main contributor the modern street slang.
The only subtle problem with this was that there is no official jive dictionary. So one persons interpretation of someones lyrics may be different to anothers, depending on what they believed the slang words meant. For example, many rap song lyrics would contradict other rap lyrics when two different rappers would use the same common word to replace different words. For example, early in the 1980s the word cat was used as a replacement for the word female. Nowadays, more popular rappers refer to a male as a cat. Another example is the jive word shorty.
When some rappers use the word shorty they are referring to a female, while other rappers consider a shorty to be a young child. There are countless other examples illustrating the complexity of urban street slang and expertise required to completely understand all rap lyrics. This is one of the important reasons for the success of rap music, especially through lower class youth. They are able to understand the lyrics and feel a connection to the language as it relates to them and their lifestyle, unlike that of higher-class citizens. The majority of whom find it difficult to understand the language used in rap lyrics.
Another connection between rap music and youth is the content of the lyrics. The topics that an artist raps about is one of the highest contributing factors to that particular artists popularity. In the late 1970s rap music was mainly, only played at parties and public gatherings. Despite the depressed economic conditions all of the early rappers and their audiences were forced to live in, most rap songs contained light-hearted, cheerful lyrics addressing people with a jubilant, festive attitude. They were songs about having a good time and enjoying yourself.
It was not until the early 1980s, when rap began to attract larger audiences, that rappers began writing socially conscious lyrics, addressing ghetto conditions and economic inequalities. The Message (1981) by rap group Public Enemy marked the advent of political rap, which grew into a very popular way in which African Americans could express themselves, and their political voice. In a talk-show discussion, rap activist Harry Allen argued that [b]lack people are attempting to compensate for their lack of power under white supremacy, and it comes out in our art, it comes out in our music.
Theyre trying to make up for whats missing. Whats missing is order. Whats missing is power. Rap music seemed to be a form of entertainment only performed by African Americans and strictly only for African Americans. However all that began to change when black owned record company Def Jam signed a major distribution agreement with the white owned label Columbia Records. Slowly Run-DMC (a rap group who belonged to the Def Jam record label) began to be successful towards white audiences. This prompted many people to speculate about the underlying issues of race, with regard to both the rap music audience and rappers themselves.
Writer David Samuels suggests that the ways in which rap music has been consumed and popularised speak not of cross-cultural understanding, musical or otherwise, but of a voyeurism and tolerance of racism in which blacks and whites are both complicit. However, throughout the 1990s many white rappers like; Vinilla Ice, the Beastie Boys, Third Bass, and House of Pain demonstrated by their huge popularity that more than race was at play. Raps popularity had grown to encapsulate a hugely diverse range of cultures.
Rap had always been reserved for predominantly male performers until a few female artists attempted to pioneer a new direction for the music. Throughout the 1990s women rapping became more and more popular. Female rappers such as Queen Latifah and Salt-n-Pepper began addressing issues such as drug abuse, black-on-black violence and national politics, while other female artists such as Missy Misdemeanour Elliott and Foxy Brown rapped about female self-empowerment. Meanwhile another style of rap was emerging out of New York and Los Angeles. A more brutal brand of music which described drugs, sex and violence in detail.
It is known as Gangsta rap and its tremendous appeal to lower class people, both black and white, made the grim, lurid and angry lyrics profitable. In 1990 a Florida district court declared the gangsta rap album Nasty as They Wanna Be recorded by rap group 2 Live Crew, to be legally obscene, and outlawed the sale of the record. When Los Angeles rapper Ice-T released the song Cop Killer (1991), the LAPD organised a boycott against Time Warner (the company that distributed the record). In addition, police started blaming crimes on rap songs, as criminals cited the influence of gangsta rap as part of their defence.
Many rap critics such as Rev. Calvin O. Butts III and Rev. Jessie Jackson strongly protested against gangsta rap, stating that the anger and violence it depicts only hurt African Americans in their stuggle against racism. Despite their best efforts gangsta raps popularity flourished, as rappers belonging to rival street gangs began rapping deadly threats towards each other and started bragging about their own strength and the death of rival gang members in their songs. Many gangsta rap songs did in fact provoke violent attacks on gangs in which certain rappers belonged to, and many deaths were blamed on these songs.
The violence peaked at the murders of two of the most famous and most popular rappers of all time. East Coast West Coast rivals Chris Wallace a. k. a The Notorious B. I. G and Tupac Shakur a. k. a 2Pac. In the late 1990s many gangsta rap artists and rap groups began to realise that enough was enough as they initiated the Stop The Violence movement and the Human Education Against Lies (H. E. A. L) program, both of which pitted raps influence against social ills. Rappers began to concentrate on musical innovations, developing the art, rather than the politics of rap.
Rap music, which began as a simple, homemade form of entertainment, from the streets of New York, has now become the most popular style of music in the world (highest selling genre). Rap has always managed to appeal to youth throughout its history, and adapt to the current social and cultural situations of the time. Whether it be back in the late 1970s when rap music was in its early amateurish stages, where MCs would make up lyrics, on the spot, as the song progressed, or today where millions of dollars and months of planning are spent creating a single song suitable for the huge mainstream industry.
Rap music has truly demonstrated that it is capable of withstanding the forever-changing cultural situation of popularity. Every aspect of rap music has undergone a huge transformation since its advent in the early 1970s. The style of music has changed from only being a bright, clean, light-hearted music suitable for playing at dances, street parties and public occasions, to being a more serious, thoughtful source of political voice, to a dark and grim excuse for violence and anger. Nowadays rap music enraptures all of the styles.
Many rappers are returning to the old ideals of a party atmosphere, while some are continuing to voice their opinions on political issues and a minority are still pursuing the violent path of gangsta rap. Whichever path taken, the styles of todays rap music and the intent of the lyrics have been completely moulded through the changes rap culture has undergone in its past, and will undoubtably undergo more changes in the future. The gender, race and social status of rappers and rap music audiences has undoubtably been influenced by cultural change also.
In its early beginning rap music was performed by black males, for black males and females. Growing in popularity, both black and white males began performing and then finally females began rapping. Audiences changed also, from both male and females, to chiefly males, who listened to gangsta rap. Nowadays the female audience of rap music is become larger and larger, however the majority of rappers today are still black African Americans and the majority of listeners are male.
In the early days of rap music, rappers would perform for free, out of enjoyment and a love of the art. Today, rap is a multi-million dollar industry. The highest grossing genre of music, with rap artist getting paid ridiculous amounts just to appear in public. Rap music has gone from being a sub-culture of the minority hip-hop culture, to being a major playing factor in huge pop culture of today. It has evolved into a huge industry that has demonstrated its ability to withstand the cultural changes of the last 30 years.