Rap genre has evolved, diversified

By Lindsey Reynolds | Reporter

The ever-growing lineage of the hip-hop/rap genre has evolved abundantly since the underground sounds of Coke La Rock circa 1973. These changes can be credited to the passing of time, progression in politics and, among others, advances in technology.

Over a century before the rap genre exploded in America, West African musicians and Caribbean folk artists told rhythmic stories to entertain and to spread messages. These sounds were often chants and rhymes made spontaneously to the beat of a drum.

Fast forward a hundred years: During the late ’70s in the heart of the Bronx, rap was born. The funk, rock and rhythmic blues sounds of block parties around inner-city New York integrated to create the rap sounds heard in the ’80s and early ’90s. But soon following, rap became less about sounds and more about persona.

In the early days of rap, people equated the rap genre with gang activity and drug trafficking. Early ’90s legends, Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. were known drug traffickers out of Brooklyn. Many of the big personalities in hip hop were well-known in their cities before their artistic careers escalated, often relying on music as a way out of their grim circumstances.

Consequently, the genre grew from underground to have its own niche market. No stranger to the industry, sex, drugs and money became major themes of hip hop culture. Many condemned the genre for its misogynistic themes, glamorization of drugs and descriptions of violence particularly in reference to sex.

What many didn’t and still don’t understand is that this very real lifestyle was vastly underrepresented in American culture. The plight of the urban, impoverished community was known only by the people who lived it; but with the emergence of rap, the words of these people finally had a platform. Because of this, I believe music was the engine of the civil rights movement.

Rappers performed with transparency, authoring stories of poverty, social injustice, and struggle, highlighting the repercussions of such a life. Because of this transparency, an awareness of this culture was cultivated and spread across the nation.

Before the generation of Youtube, Spotify, and Soundcloud, the only way for an artist to monetize their art was through the help of a record label. Because of the stigma placed on early rappers, labels only signed artists they felt embodied this explicit style of rap. This stunted the growth of the genre until the wave of Southern rap broke out of Atlanta in the early ’90s.

The reach of hip hop culture spread quickly across the nation. Cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Houston initiated their own rap scenes, creating different sounds, subgenres and new generations of rap lovers.

Even still, nothing has diversified rap more than the creation of technologies like SoundCloud. The creation of music streaming platforms released recording artists from the suffocating grasp of record label giants. Artists could finally remain independent.

This revolution paved the way for artists to tell their stories more straightforwardly than ever before. Hybrids of rap, blues, rock, pop and everything in between blurred the genre-defining lines of the industry. This created niche markets, expanding the entire music industry and aggrandized the influence of rap.

Although the themes of rap’s founding fathers are still prevalent, it seems no topic is off-limits for artists today. Political, socio-economic, religious and personal themes have coalesced within the genre to create a most candid and influential genre.