Hip-Hop from 1990-2010
By Maurice Kvist.
Hip-Hop or rap as it’s commonly called has grown immensely during recent years, from an underground culture to one of, if not the biggest music genre in the modern music industry. I’ve chosen to compare the 1990s with the 2010s because the ’90s were when rap really started to gain popularity and recognition in mainstream media. This mainstream rap is what we call the golden era of hip-hop and it started in the early 80s and ended in the mid-90s. This type of music was developed by artists often originating from New York and was characterized by innovation, development and eventually the mainstream success and influence hip-hop gained. Everything was so new and every new album that came out was groundbreaking and original. Nowadays almost everything has been discovered, but that wasn’t the case during the 90s. The foundational sounds of rap were discovered in that time period and modern rap is more about building on those foundations and building something original out of that. An example of that is the recent trend of mumble rapping, it is still based on traditional rap but just gives it another sound and the beats are often more melodic fitting the sound of the voice. But in contrast to those songs, there are ones like “look at me” by xxxtentacion which has an aggressive beat and xxxtentacion almost screams. This just goes to show how broad the spectrum of rap/hip-hop has become and how it will keep growing.
During the golden era, another type of rap co-existed with the more mainstream rap, the “gangster rap” which also quickly grew in popularity and created some of the greatest names in hip-hop. The era was born when Ice-T dropped his first song “6 in the morning” which is considered as the first “gangster rap” song. The genre was later popularized by rap groups such as N.W.A and when they dropped the album “Straight out of Compton” Los Angeles and the West Coast hip-hop established itself as a legitimate rival to New York which had dominated the rap scene during the golden era. The genre was more honest and portrayed the reality of gang culture and its effect on society. The rappers weren’t scared to boast about their associations with different gangs, crips and bloods being the main ones. The “gangster rap” was controversial and with songs like “Fuck tha Police” (N.W.A), they showed the public that they weren’t scared to express their feelings and thoughts. Later on, Ice Cube would go on to drop a hardcore solo album where he used his rap as a way of expressing political opinions and societal problems. This would inspire other rappers to use their music as a political medium where the youth got a chance to make their voice heard. I believe that this type of music has made rap stand out from other genres and people can relate to the message or story the rapper is telling. N.W.A later split and the members went their separate ways, one of the members, Dr.Dre went on to launch his own record label together with Suge Knight (Deathrow records) and dropped a super successful solo album, The Chronic. This proved “gangster rap” could compete with the mainstream rap scene and other music genres. Deathrow records also started signing new artists like 2pac and became a staple of the hip-hop industry.
At the same time, rappers from New York developed a grittier sound known as “East Coast hardcore hip-hop”. Among those rappers were The Notorious B.I.G (Biggie), Nas and The Wu-Tang Clan. Biggie and Nas dropped their respective albums “Illmatic” (Nas) and “Ready to Die” (Biggie) which led to the East Coast taking back the dominance of the rap scene which had been dominated by the West Coast during recent years with the success of N.W.A, Dr.Dre, and 2pac. This created a rivalry between Biggie’s label “Bad boy records” and 2pacs “Deathrow records” which later led to the huge Westcoast-Eastcoast feud that is believed to be the biggest factor in the killing of both 2pac and Biggie. But with 2pacs and Biggies death the feud died out and in our modern-day rap scene, it isn’t even a subject of discussion. I believe that 2pac and Biggie were the greatest rappers of our time and what they did musically will impact hip-hop for a long time going forward. Sadly Biggie and 2pac aren’t the last rappers to die in shootings, recently successful rapper Pop smoke was killed in a home invasion on February 19, 2020, and before him on June 18, 2018, was xxxtentacion killed in a robbery gone wrong. Mental health and drug problems are also a cause of many deaths in the rap community as well as society in general. Rappers like Lil Peep, Mac Miller, and Juice Wrld have in recent years passed away due to drug overdoses and addiction caused by problems with their mental health. Many rappers come from rough areas where gang violence is present and whether they like it or not they are somehow involved. Rough areas in general also have a high rate of depression and people from those kinds of areas get to see it up close. In their songs, they often write about the struggle living in harsher situations, seeing their friends pass away due to drugs or gang violence and how they themselves might have been or are a part of that culture. This is what makes them successful rappers, they can tell their or someone else’s story through their lyrics and share their traumatic experiences with others. This is both their blessing and their curse and that’s why I believe that violence and other personal problems will always be a part of rap/hip-hop culture. Their past will continue to haunt them but it’s also what gives them their motivation and inspiration. It is hard to compare rappers like 2pac and Biggie to modern rappers such as Blueface and Lil mosey. 2pac and Biggie told stories through their lyrics and had a message to give more like a poet. Whereas Blueface and Lil mosey are less about making a statement or portraying a message and more about spreading a vibe and writing catchy lyrics. Both types of rap are entertaining but they are almost like two different genres and there are a time and place for both. But in my opinion, the rap that made people relate and changed society is what made rap popular and without rappers like 2pac, Biggie, Dr.Dre, N.W.A, The Wu-tang clan, and Nas rap wouldn’t be what it is today.