Tag Archive | Hip hop music

The Evolution of Rap Part 1.5

If you haven’t read The Evolution of Rap Part I, it basically describes the origins of rap up until the late 1980’s where rap became more politically charged with groups like Public Enemy.  Much of rap from where we left off in the last post is rap going into two directions, one a new subgenere of gangsta rap and two rap begins its journey to making it to the mainstream audiences.  The subject matter of rap also starts to shift over to the struggles of living in the inner city.  I have decided to split up this time period into two separate post due to how I realized just how much this period covers as far as rap.

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The first group that will be discussed that follows under the gangsta rap genre is N.W.A. consisting mainly of Dr. Dre, Eazy E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, MC Ren, and for a while in the beginning Arabian Price.  However, the first five in that list are the most popular and synonymous known for being in N.W.A.  The music of N.W.A. was heavy on verses, as is typical with rap groups, as usually every member contributes to the song.  This group started and was based in the city of Compton, California helping to get the West Coast rap game started and strong.  Their debut album called Straight out of Compton released in 1988 featured some of their most popular songs like Straight out of Compton, **** tha Police, and Express Yourself.  In Straight out of Compton, they not only introduce themselves to their audience in a dynamic, rhyme spitting way but they talk about their own struggles growing up, which will become a popular subject in verses to come.  Their most controversial track, **** tha Police, they discuss police brutality, discrimination of minorities, and racial profiling by authorities.  This was in response to claims of police brutality by LAPD of minorities which would later come to national attention with the beating of Rodney King in 1991.  N.W.A.’s controversial status to mainstream America stemmed from their use of profanity and due to the fact that they talked about violent subjects based on what was going on in the inner city or from what was going on at the time.
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Arguably N.W.A.’s most successful member, Dr. Dre started his solo career in 1991 after leaving N.W.A. and helped to find Death Row Records which would be a major player of rap during the 90’s.  Death Row records was created by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, helping to find talents like Snoop Dogg and 2Pac.  Dr. Dre on his first debut The Chronic featured Snoop Dogg on the track Nothing but a G Thang and Dre later helped to produce his first album.  Death Row records was a major player in gangsta rap and the whole West Coast versus East Coast dispute that will later be discussed.  However, now we will shift over to the birth place of rap, the East Coast.
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One of the most prominent rap groups on the East Coast was the famous Wu-Tang Clan founded in 1992.  It was composed of RZA, GZA, U-God, Method Man, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, and unofficially Cappadonna.  They were from New York and were heavily influenced by martial arts movies on their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), influenced by the movie Return to the 36 Chambers.  Wu-Tang Clan’s first album featured hit songs like C.R.E.A.M., Bring Da Ruckus, and Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin ta **** Wit.  Their masterful blend of instrumentals, martial art sound samples, and thier hard hitting verses captivated the rap scene.  Up until this point, rap was dominated by the West with artists like Ice Cube, N.W.A., and Snoop Dogg.  This landmark album helped to shift the attention from the West to the East for a while as they continued to dominate.  They would later on create Wu-Tang Forever which was their second albm in 1997.

Remixing

Recently I have watched a video series called Everything is a Remix, and it got me thinking about the idea of reframing/remixing ideas.  The video explained how today’s world is greatly built on the ideas and thoughts of our predecessors.  In addition, new ideas and creations are made by the transformation of these ideas.  While watching the video, I immediately thought how hip-hop/rap music perfectly embodies this idea.  Since the earliest days of rap music, the idea of sampling beats or instrumentals was prevalent.  For example, The Sugarhill Gang used a piece of the beat from Chic’s Good Times in order to create the classic Rapper’s Delight.  The Sugarhill Gang didn’t flat out copy Chic’s song, they just used one component from the song, a part of the instrumental, and built their beat around it so they could musically innovate.

Sampling is an essential part of rap music, its not only a way for artists to pay homage to those that came before them but it allows a starting point for creation.   It is very rare that a rapper has never sampled somebody else in the slightest way, whether it be a part of the beat or background vocals.  For example, Drake has always been influenced by the music of Aaliyah and Whitney Houston so he pays homage to them by sampling them.  One critical, often overlooked, aspect of rap music is the beat because in the end of the day it’s not all just about the lyrics.  The beat adds a lot to a song; it adds rhythm, tone, mood, and atmosphere.  Thus, often rappers wish they could use a particular sound to add to what they are trying to convey with their music and if they really want to include it they can sample it.  In rap, there are two types of sampling: authorized and unauthorized.  Authorized sampling comes when the parties directly involved, as in those that own the sound being sampled, are in agreement with the person wanting to sample it.  For example, after the death of Biggie Small’s, P. Diddy (or Puff Daddy at the time) sampled the instrumental from The Police’s song Every Breath you Take to create the tribute song I’ll Be Missing You.  On the other hand, unauthorized sampling is where an artist will try to sneak in a sample and hope they don’t get in legal trouble.  One of the more notable examples is Vanilla Ice’s hit Ice Ice Baby which wrongly used the bass line from Queen’s Under Pressure.

The rap game is very competitive and with modern culture it is much more interconnected with technology and social media.  As mentioned there are different kinds of sampling, but there is a gray area when it comes to the legality of sampling in one scenario, mixtapes.  Mixtapes are a collection of songs established or aspiring artists make and distribute freely, usually by the internet these days.  As long as the artists aren’t making money from this they usual sample freely and it allows these artists to  build off something and create their own songs.  An example of this is Drake’s third mixtape Sooner than Later which sampled some artists and it helped him get the attention of the music industry while also being Grammy nominated for just that mixtape.  In addition, artists often freestyle over the beats of other artists to make their own version or to send a message to that artist.  Now, these freestyles are never released as official songs in order to avoid legal trouble.  An example of this is when various artists covered Drake’s ballad Marvin’s Room.  

-Carlos