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Rap History

Rap History Rap music as a musical form began among the youth of South Bronx, New York in the mid 1970s. Individuals such Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash were some of the early pioneers of this art form. Through their performances at clubs and promotion of the music, rap consistently gained in popularity throughout the rest of the 1970s. The first commercial success of the rap song “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang in 1979 helped bring rap music into the national spotlight. The 1980s saw the continued success of rap music with many artists such as Run DMC (who had the first rap album to go gold in 1984), L.L. Cool J, Fat Boys, and west coast rappers Ice-T and N.W.A becoming popular.

Today, in the late 1990s rap music continues to be a prominent and important aspect of African- American culture. Rap music was a way for youths in black inner city neighborhoods to express what they were feeling, seeing, and living and it became a form of entertainment. Hanging out with friends and rapping or listening to others rap kept black youths out of trouble in the dangerous neighborhoods in which they lived. The dominant culture did not have a type of music that filled the needs of these youth, so they created their own. So, rap music originally emerged as a way “for [black] inner city youth to express their everyday life and struggles” (Shaomari, 1995, 17). Rap is now seen as a subculture that, includes a large number of middle to upper white class youths, has grown to support and appreciate rap music.

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Many youth in America today are considered part of the rap subculture because they share a common love for a type of music that combines catchy beats with rhythmic music and thoughtful lyrics to create songs with a distinct political stance. Rap lyrics are about the problems rappers have seen, such as poverty, crime, violence, racism, poor living conditions, drugs, alcoholism, corruption, and prostitution. These are serious problems that many within the rap subculture believe are being ignored by mainstream America. Those within the rap subculture recognize and acknowledge that these problems exist. Those within this subculture consider “the other group” to be those people who do not understand rap music and the message rap artists are trying to send. The suppresser, or opposition, is the dominant culture, because it ignores these problems and perhaps even acts as a catalyst for some of them. “The beats of rap music has people bopping and the words have them thinking, from the tenement-lined streets of Harlem, New York, to the mansion parties of Beverly Hills, California” (Shomari, 1995, 45). Rap music, once only popular with blacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, has grown to become America’s freshest form of music, giving off energy found nowhere else.

While the vocalist(s) tell a story, the sic jockey provides the rhythm, operating the drum machine and “scratching”. Scratching is defined as “rapidly moving the record back and forth under the needle to create rap’s famous swishing sound” (Small, 1992, 12). The beat can be traditional funk or heavy metal, anything goes. The most important part of rap is “rapping,” fans want to hear the lyrics. During every generation, some old-fashioned, ill-humored people have become frightened by the sight of kids having a good time and have attacked the source of their pleasure. In the 1950s, the target was rock ‘n’ roll.

Some claimed that the new type of music encouraged wild behavior and evil thoughts. Today, rap faces the same charges. Those who condemn this exciting entertainment have never closely examined it. If they had, they would have discovered that rap permits kids to appreciate the English language by producing comical and meaningful poems set to music. Rappers don’t just walk on stage and talk off the top of their heads.

They write their songs, and they put a lot of though into them. Part of rapping is quick wit. “Rappers like L.L. Cool J grew up rapping in their neighborhood, and they learned to throw down a quick rhyme when they were challenged” (Nelson,Gonzales, 1991, 135). But part of it is thoughtful work over many hours, getting the words to sound just right so that the ideas come across with style. As L.L. Cool J describes it, “I write all my songs down by hand. Each song starts with a word, like any other sentence, and becomes a manuscript.” (Nelson, Gonzales, 1991, 137).

Many performers set a positive example for their followers. Kurtis Blow rapped in a video for the March of Dimes’ fundraising drive to battle birth defects and he has campaigned against teenage drinking as a spokesperson for the National Council on Alcoholism. On the television show “Reading Rainbow,” Run-D.M.C. told viewers how books enabled them to become “kings of rock.” On another occasion, group member Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels said, “Little kids like to follow me around the neighborhood. I tell them to stay in school.

Then I give them money to get something in the deli.” Run-D.M.C. is one of the numerous rap combos advising kids to keep off drugs. Doug E. Fresh and Grandmaster Flash have each made records telling of the horrors of cocaine. On Grandmaster Flash’s hit “White Lines,” he details how the drug can ruin a life, and shouts, “Don’t do it!” From it’s inception, rap indured a lot of hostility from listeners–many, but not all, White–who found the music too harsh, monotonous, and lacking in traditional melodic values.

However, millions of others – often, though not always, young African-Americans from underprivileged inner city backgrounds – found an immediate connection with the style. Here was poetry of the street, directly reflecting and addressing the day to day reality of the ghetto in a confrontational fashion not found in any other music or medium. “You could dance to it, rhyme to it, bring it most anywhere on portable cassette players, and, in the best rock ‘n’ roll tradition, form your own band without much in the way of formal training” (Small, 1992, 177). The basic workouts of early rappers like Kurtis Blow and the Fat Boys can sound a bit tame today. Many were still expecting the music to peter out before Run D.M.C.

came along. Rap was, and to a large degree still is, a singles oriented medium, but these men from Queens proved that rappers could maintain interest and diversity over the course of entire full-length albums. Combining hard beats and innovative production with material that emphasized positive social activism without ignoring the cruel realities of urban life, they found as much favor with the critics as the street. Among the first rap groups to climb the pop charts in a big way, they also were among the first to make big inroads into the White and Middle-American audiences when they teamed up with Aerosmiths’s Stephen Tyler and Joe Perry for the hit single “Walk This Way.” The mid- and late ’80s saw rap continue to explode in popularity, with the”birth” of superstars like LL Cool J and Hammer (the latter is often accused of providing a safe rap- pop alternative). Although most early rap productions originated in New York City and its environs, the music took hold as a national phenomenon, with strong scenes developing in other East Coast cities like Philadelphia, as well as West Coast strongholds in Los Angeles and Oakland.

Production techniques became increasingly sophisticated; electronics, stop-on-a-dime-editing, and sampling from previously recorded sources became prominent. The increased emphasis on electronic beats led to the popularization of the term “hip-hop,” a designation which is by now used more or less interchangeably with rap. The Beastie Boys, obnoxious white ex-punks from New York, brought rap further into the Middle American mainstream with their”vastly popular hybrids of hip-hop, hard rock, and in your face braggadocio” (Nelson, Gonzales, 1991, 12). While rap had always forthrightly dealt with urban struggle, the late ’80s saw the emergence of a more militant strain o …

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