Sometimes advantaged neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, although performers like Philadelphia’s Schoolly D probed that the genre was not specific to the area. Boogie Down Productions laid down a prototype that was taken to more extreme measures by N.W.A., who reported on the crime, sex and violence of the ghetto with an explicit verve that some viewed as verging on celebration rather than journalism. Enormously controversial, and enormously popular with record buyers, several N.W.A. members went on to stardom as solo acts, including Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre. The most popular and controversial of the militant rappers, the New York based Public Enemy, were perhaps the most political as well. Their brand of activism, like that of Malcolm X’s two decades earlier, made a lot of people, including liberals, pretty uncomfortable, with their emphasis upon Black Nationalism and careless anti-Sematic, homophobic, and sexist references. Groups such as Public Enemy ignited an ongoing debate in the media.
Activist-oriented critics and audiences found a lot to praise in their music. At the same time, they could not let the xenophobic tendencies of these acts pass unnoticed, or ignore the frequent quasi-celebration in much rap music of misogyny, drugs, and violence, and the status to be gained in the urban community by the practice thereof. Passionate advocates of civil liberties and free speech wondered, sometimes aloud, whether rappers were taking those privileges too far. Newly emerging gangsta rappers like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Slick Rick, and 2Pac not only take the violent subject matter of their lyrics to new extremes (and to the top of the charts), but have been accused of enacting their scenarios in real life, landing in jail for manslaughter or fighting similarly grave charges.
These performers often unrepentantly contend they are only reporting things as they happen in the ‘hood, of a culture that not only shoots people, but is being shot at. Many critics find their line between art and reality too thin, and hate to see them spreading their gospel from the top of the charts (2Pac’s 1995 album “Me Against the World” debuted at No. 1 even as he was serving a prison sentence), or serve as role models for international youth. Gangsta rap may have gotten a lot of the headlines in recent years, but the field of rap as a whole remains diverse and not as dominated by the shoot-’em-out minidramas of gangsta rap, as many would have you believe. De La Soul took rap and hip-hop productions to new heights with their 1989 debut Three Feet High & Rising, an almost psychedelic sampling and editing of a wildly eclectic pool of sources that would do Frank Zappa proud.
Their humorous and cheerful vibe inspired a mini-school of “Afrocentric” acts most notably the Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest. Arrested Development, Digable Planets, and Digital Underground also pursued playful, heavily jazz- and funk-oriented paths to immense success and high critical praise. The work of rap is a highly macho (some would say sexist) environment, but some female performers arose to provide a much needed counterpoint from various perspectives: the saucy (the various Roxannes), the pop (Salt-N-Pepa), and the feminist (Queen Latifah). It is a measure of rap’s huge influence that the style has infiltrated mainstream soul and rock as well.
Producer Teddy Riley gave urban-contemporary performers like Bobby Brown a vaguely hip edge with his brand of “New Jack Swing,” White alternative rockers like G. Love and most notably Beck devised a strange hybrid of rap, blues, and rock. Vanilla Ice probed that Whitbread pop-rap could top the charts, though he was unable to sustain his success. More than most genres’ rap/hip-hop has become a culture with its own sub-genres and buzzwords what can seem almost impenetrable to the novice. Despite this proliferation of schools of production and performance, many rap records can appear virtually indistinguishable from each other to a new listener.
And there’s no getting around the fact that a lot of them are. “The market is saturated with repetitive beats and monotonously uncompromising slices of urban street life, to the point that they’ve lost a lot of both their musical novelty and shock value”. Rap music has lost none of its momentum as we head into the last half of the 1990’s. Scenes continue to proliferate, not just on the coasts, but in Atlanta, Houston, and such unlikely locales as Paris. It may appeal more to inner-city adolescents than anyone else may, but gangsta rap may be bigger than anything else in R&B music may commercially, and there are more multiplatinum rap/hip-hip acts than you can count. Shinehead, Shabba Ranks, and less heralded performers like Sister Carol have fused reggae and rap. And the jazz and rap worlds are being brought closer together than ever through the efforts of “Gang Starr and their lead Guru, US3, and the landmark Stolen Moments: Red, Hot + Cool compilation, which united many of the top names of hip-hop and jazz”. Rap is still a new music form. It is expanding every day, and the sound has grown wide enough to include scores of future stars.
Some rap is rock-based, some is funk, and some is very close to the original “street” sound. A few of the present stars will definitely have a noticeable impact on the future of rap. Themes that are found more and more in rap lyrics are: pride in an African heritage and the call for harmony between men and women. Queen Latifah and MC Lyte are working hard to open doors to women in the music business. Rap fans are also starting to accept more white artists. 3rd Bass and Vanilla Ice are new white rap acts with promise. The time is near when all of America will be bopping to rap. Rap has already shown signs of crossing over to a new audience. A Grammy category was added for rap music in 1989.
D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were the first winners for their single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” In 1990 Young MC took home the prize for “Bust a Move.” And with real proof that rap is reaching more people, Tone Loc became the first rapper ever to reach number one on the pop charts. He did it with his hit single “Wild Thing” in 1989. Of course, there are still plenty who are afraid of rap and won’t listen to it’s message. Along with the birth and growth of rap comes censorship. This has become a big issue within the music industry, and rap music is at the center of the controversy. Some people want to put warning labels on certain rappers’ albums and newspapers and magazines have been printing articles about the bad influence that some rappers have on kids. What is it about the music that people find so troubling? Some rappers use strong language.
Others are accused of writing racist lyrics, or lyrics that are insulting to women. As with all kinds of music, the more popular it becomes, the more likely you are to find both good and bad sides. But the positive side of rap greatly outweighs the negative. And its positive messages seem to be spreading. The number of new rappers that grows everyday will bring about new forms of rap and constant changes on the “old school” versions of the music. With these new versions and variations comes new fans and renewed faith from old fans. Regardless of how many rap artists land in jail or end up dead, this music will live on. The fans will make sure of it.