Music Development: The Growth Of Hip Hop

The music development of hip hop is evident as it has been able to become one of the biggest genres today. But where did it start & how did it get this big?

Social and Musical Development: Hip Hop Then and Today

It is without a doubt, that Hip-Hop has shown an immense amount of music development, as it is one of the most influential art forms that exists today. Since the 70’s, Hip-Hop has been significant in giving voices to those who had not before been heard.

As a basic function, hip hop was a rhythm stylized for dancing, as with jazz and folk etc. The South Bronx of New York City were the first to be introduced to Hip Hop, by 18 year old Jamaican immigrant Clive Campbell, known as DJ Cool Herc. Herc was acknowledged for throwing the first hip hop party in 1973, introducing big sound systems to inner city parties, funk samples and heavy beats. Block Parties in local neighborhoods became increasingly popular in African-American communities particularly Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn. The hip hop-hype quickly spread and soon LA had its own system in operation. DJ and MC collaborations saw the birth of rapping, gangsta rap and Gfunk.

Music Development

Despite its reputation, Hip Hop has always been about music. Old School rap, which was suggested by early DJ’s and MC’s, first hit (and topped) US charts in 1979 with the release of Sugahill Gang’s chart topping first hit, “Rapper’s Delight”  (The first hip hop track which reached acclaimed fame).

As people began to experiment with different beats and manipulation of their music, different sounds were being created. The 80’s saw the exploitation of samples from old funk and disco records, along with drum machines and synths. DAW’s, editing software and digital effects came into effect in the 90’s. Early pioneers, Furious Five and Grandmaster Flash, pushed beyond their boundaries. Grandmaster Flash approached record scratching, sampling and turntable manipulation, which would serve as an imperative factor in birthing new hip hop.  Today, hip hop as we know it, is music solely produced in a studio where effects such as scratching and samples are readily available for artists and producers via apps and editing software at the click of a button.

Although independent, over the years, hip hop fused with other genres as a way of music development. Early examples are to be seen in the 1986 work, Licensed To Ill by Beastie Boys.  The group preferred rapping and shouting over singing, which saw the LP soar to the top of the Billboard album chart. Similarly, New York’s Run DMC combined their style with hard-rock guitar and hooks to create what’s known as rap-rock, again, to acclaimed success – Raising Hell  (1986) one of the first top-ten hip hop albums.

These developments were prominent in establishing and developing new sub-genres and styles, and indeed much of what we hear today. Alternative hip hop sounds are now the norm for new age producers and artists. Thanks to artists like Kanye West, who’s latest work The Life of Pablo combines jazz and gospel influences, along with heavily sampled beats. West is highly regarded for changing and influencing the direction hip hop has been allowed steer towards.  Other groups like Death Grips, use intense distortion and glitches, aside shouted lyrics and rapping have focused their energy on experimental hip hop another sub genre.

In the mainstream, the most obvious hip hop collaborations are those combined with pop. Much of what we hear on radio consists of pop vocalists with clever hooks and a typical dance beat, merged with hip hop artists, creating an easily digestible record. In return, more air play, a greater fan base and higher record sales. Back in 2006 Nelly Furtado and Timbaland spent 6 weeks at top of Hot 100 No. 1s with Promiscious. Following them and no strangers to the Top 10,  Rihanna and Eminem spent 7 consecutive weeks with Love The Way You Lie. This crossover has given birth to various new genres, all representing elements of 80’s hip hop with a newer more conventional tweak.

Social Development

In the 80’s, the music industry was rattled when Gangster rap crashed onto the scene. Gangster rap was about ghetto life, and drew a hard line between mainstream rock and pop. This new genre allowed artists to create hard personas – drug dealer, killer, thug – addressing gang life, discrimination and guns. Gangster rap affected society in a negative way and was chastised for its bad nature, trying to ‘humanize’ drug dealers and portraying negative ideal of the US.

Each artist had their own unique flow and style, but delivered similar messages. NWA, never shy of voicing their message, expressed hatred for police and police brutality in their 1988 album Straight Outta Compton.

“Same f***ing thing with the police…’Cause the police just like f***in’ with people, you know. They stop you, throw you on the ground and sh**. Put a gun to your head, and sh**, you know what I’m saying.”

Having gained notoriety stemming from misogyny and violence, hip hop has an exclusive and influential tone among the development within cultural and social change over the years. Lyrics today, undeniably carry a very similar, weighted messages but in different manner.

As a theme, success is less important, more so, the rise and struggle to the top. Today we’re offered more substance and honesty in the lyrics of these records. In a recent interview with Dean Banquet of the New York Times, Jay-Z and reflects on his past work, where his gangster persona was the core of his work, such as his 1996 work Friend or Foe.

“Me, I run the show, oh, and these kids don’t like nobody comin’ around here fuckin’ with they dough for sh**. You enterprisin’ though, and I like it”

Over a decade later, he’s no longer discussing street life as a hustler. He discusses his adultery, his hopes for black America and how he now looks at his past work.

“It wasn’t coming from a place where it was as evolved. And it’s very difficult. It’s hard to hear songs back”

Today, as the conversation pushes forward, music is nuanced by social context. Artists have moved toward the evolution of their music and beyond the scope of a persona. Today’s most significant and successful hip-hop and rap artists are telling stories about OJ Simpson and thrift shopping. Sexuality and strained relationships are brought to the forefront, with artists like Drake, known for his softer side, addressing trust issues and heartbreak while soaring to the top of the charts.

The most arresting development and significant reflection of the societal advancement since the 70’s is without a doubt the existence and dominance of social media in our world. Social platforms like Twitter and Instagram, offer round the clock interaction between artists and their following. As a result, fans crave a more honest and sincere connection. Social media also allows for creativity and individuality. Artists like Chance the Rapper, are using this to their advantage in more ways than imaginable. Chance recently put out the call to his followers for a custom art piece and was met with an outpour of support. This week he gave a little back to his fandom,  by releasing a free downloadable Christmas album.

Streaming sites also allow for much creativity. Artists can release music for free, as Chance did HERE –

This allows artists establish a fan base, with the faith they will be heard and signed by a record label. In the early days of hip hop, argents were employed to get artists heard, today, the click of a button and it’s viral on social media, et voilia – fandom builds, no A&R needed there. Obviously, in a world led by the ‘follower generation’ it’s the palpable option.

What Hasn’t Changed

In spite of all these contrasts, hip hop is still alive and kicking. Hip hop has spread all over the world, where audiences are diverse –  in different political and social situations. Early hip hop artists were based in LA and NYC,  however, in the 21st century we see successful acts from all over the world.  Lil Wayne from New Orleans, and international artists like the UK’s  Dizzee Rascal and Drake from Canada.

Hip hop is now accepted by the masses, its universal themes delivering universal success, and pressing matters like sexuality and politics are the core of the delivery. Ghetto life/gangsta rap are no longer a pre-requisite to sell records.

In recent times we’ve seen the rise of female artists, who have followed the footsteps of Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot, household names Nicki Minaj and Cardi B  prove that the game is open to anyone. Cardi B recently took the #1spot on Billboard Hot 100 being the first female hip hop artist in 20 years since Lauryn Hill to take the spot.

Hip hop artists continue to work hard, establish their own labels and production companies. Eminem and Jay Z who have both been around since the 90’s released well received, chart topping works this year, proving their relevance and value in the industry.

In A Nutshell

As the genre and its message continue to evolve, it’s evident to the naked eye (ear) the music development of hip hop over the years. The recognizable tone of early hip hop is longer characterized in this new age style music, but the ideology is inspired by all the greats.

Approaching the close of 2017, it’s safe to say it has been a year for hip hop and rap. Top album of the year lists like Billboard and Rolling Stone, along with Grammy nomination lists, are a clear reflection of this. Artists are using their status for the greater good and standing up for what is right. Music development and social reform are at the core of this.

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