Rap and Hip-Hop

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Rap and Hip-Hop

Rap and hip-hop culture emerged out of the street-gang culture of poor black youths in the Bronx, New York, in the 1970s. Hip-hop culture and its signature music, rap, have grown in less than thirty years to be a major part of popular culture around the world. This youth culture has been criticized and condemned by concerned adults from parents to law enforcement officials. Supporters, however, think that hip-hop gives a voice and a sense of power to poor youth around the world who otherwise often feel powerless and unheard.

Hip-hop describes a distinctive style of dress (extremely baggy clothes, backwards baseball caps), a slang that is almost impossible for those outside the culture to understand, and an attitude of cool toughness and rebellion. Hip-hop culture includes a love of break dancing (athletic street dancing), flamboyant—and illegal—graffiti, rap music (fast rhymes spoken to a rhythmic beat, often with political content), and deejaying (using a turntable as an instrument by manipulating songs and creating sounds while spinning vinyl records on the turntable).

From its beginnings in the Bronx, hip-hop spread quickly to Manhattan and Los Angeles, California, and then around the United States and the rest of the world. Underprivileged youth everywhere responded to the tough social criticism contained in the rappers' poetic lyrics, and wealthier white youth imitated the rebellious hip-hop style. While U.S. rap had emerged from African rhythms and oral storytelling traditions, British rappers of East Indian descent drew from the traditional melodies of India. French rappers were often poor immigrants from the Middle East and West Africa. In Japan, women broke traditional gender barriers by becoming rappers.

As rap became the voice of poor youth during the 1980s, it gained in commercial popularity, making some performers rich and famous. Rappers like Will Smith (1968–) and LL Cool J (1968–; see entry under 1980s—Music in volume 5) had a clean-cut image and were acceptable to mainstream audiences, but other rappers began to produce harsh, angry songs, full of the violence that was often part of black urban poverty. In the early 1990s, rappers like Tupac Shakur (1971–1996), Ice T (1959–), and Snoop Dogg (1972–) created a kind of rap music that came to be called "gangsta rap." Even more than early rap, gangsta rap horrified some listeners with the violent and crude language of its lyrics. The violent deaths of several gangsta rappers like Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. (1972–1997) convinced many adults that rap music was dangerous.

Although many crusaders have tried to quiet the loud, insistent voice of rap music, rap has continued to gain fans. In 1987, the music industry gave rap its own category, alongside the rhythm and blues (R&B; see entry under 1940s—Music in volume 3) and jazz (see entry under 1900s—Music in volume 1) that were its ancestors. In 1999, rap became the top selling music genre in the United States. In the summer of 2000, Harlem's Apollo Theater introduced the first hip-hop musical, titled Echo Park.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Ayazi-Hashjin, Sherry. Rap and Hip Hop: The Voice of a Generation. New York: Rosen Publishing, 1999.

George, Nelson, et al. Fresh: Hip-Hop Don't Stop. New York: Random House, 1985.

Greenberg, Keith Elliot. Rap. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1988.

Jones, K. Maurice. Say It Loud!: The Story of Rap Music. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Kinnon, Joy Bennett. "Does Rap Have a Future?" Ebony (June 1997): pp. 76–79.

Rapstation. http://www.rapstation.com (accessed April 1, 2002).

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in ContemporaryAmerica. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1994.