Gangsta rapGangsta rap
is a genre
of hip hop
, often with lyrical subjects based on the violence
inherent in the gangster lifestyle. This subject matter has caused a great deal of controversy, with many observers criticizing the genre for the perceived messages it espouses, including homophobia
. Gangsta rappers generally defend themselves by pointing out that they are describing the reality of inner-city ghetto
life, with Public Enemy
's Chuck D
even calling it the "CNN
of black America". Given that the audience for gangsta rap has become overwhelmingly white, some commentators have even criticized as analogous to minstrel shows and blackface
performance, in which African-Americans
or whites made to look like a black caricature, acted in a stereotypically uncultured and ignorant manner for the entertainment of white audiences. Some of the most lyrically hardcore performers, such as The Geto Boys
, are accused of being cartoonish.
Hip hop in the 1980s
Los Angeles' Ice T is often credited as the first gangsta rapper due to his influential "Sixn' da Mornin'" and other aggressive, gritty recordings (like Rhyme Pays, 1987), though Philadelphia's Schooly D (The Adventures of Schoolly D, 1987), Kool G Rap ("It's a Demo", "I'm Fly") and New York's Slick Rick (The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, 1989) are both also contenders. The genre is usually credited as being an originally West Coast phenomenon, due to the influence of Ice-T and N.W.A, though Schoolly D and Slick Rick are East Coast rappers. Other major influences include the pioneering hardcore work of politically-aware performers like Public Enemy (It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1988), Ice Cube (AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, 1990) and Boogie Down Productions (Criminal Minded, 1987), and the similarly "poetic gangsta" prose and poetry of Ice-T's namesake, Iceberg Slim, and the proto-gangsta rap of LL Cool J (Mama Said Knock You Out, 1990) and Too $hort (Life Is... Too Short, 1998). Kool G Rap's epic tales helped inspire the related Mafioso rap phenomenon, which later achieved some mainstream success and great critical acclaim in 1995 (see 1995 in music) with albums like Raekwon'sOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx and AZ's Do or Die and Mobb Deep's The Infamous.
Slick Rick's The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
Hip hop moves west and gangsta hip hop appears
Until the very late 1980s, hip hop had been dominated by the East Coast (essentially New York City, though Philadelphia and New Jersey also had vital scenes), with West Coast hip hop a curiosity dominated by dance-heavy and critically reviled electro hop artists like Egyptian Lover and World Class Wreckin' Cru. The latter crew included Dr. Dre before he joined N.W.A.
Aside from electro hop, early pioneer hardcore hip hop artists, including most notably Ice-T, gained underground fame in the Los Angeles area during the early 1980s. Ice-T is often considered the earliest gangsta rapper, though paradoxically, he is not often associated with the modern form of the genre; many listeners associate him primarily with hardcore and rapcore music, especially after the controversy regarding "Cop Killer", a song from his heavy metal-hip hop band Body Count's debut album, ''Body Count. Aside from N.W.A. and Ice-T, early West Coast gangsta rappers include Too $hort (from Oakland, California) and others from Compton and Watts, Los Angeles, as well as Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego.
N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton
By the late 1980s, gangsta rap began to dominate hip hop. The first blockbuster hip hop album was the West Coast gangsta rap album Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. in 1989 (see 1989 in music). Straight Outta Compton also established West Coast hip hop as a vital genre, and a rival of hip hop's long-time capital, New York City. Straight Outta Compton sparked the first major controversy regarding hip hop lyrics when their song "Fuck Tha Police" earned a letter from the FBI strongly expressing law enforcement's resentment of the song.
G funk and Death Row Records
(see 1992 in music
) former N.W.A. member Dr. Dre
released The Chronic
, which further established the dominance of West Coast gangsta rap and Death Row Records
, and is also the beginning of G funk
, a slow, drawled form of hip hop that dominated the charts for some time. Extensively sampling funk
bands, especially Parliament
, G funk was multi-layered, yet simple and easy to dance to, with anti-authoritarian lyrics that helped endear it to young listeners of all races and classes. One of the genre's biggest crossover stars was Snoop Doggy Dogg
), whose party-oriented themes made songs like "Gin and Juice" party anthems and top hits nationwide. Originally East Coast rapper Tupac Shakur
(Me Against the World
) has endured as perhaps the greatest West Coast performer of the time. Death Row Records was led by Suge Knight
, whose manic, violent ways quickly became the constant fodder for industry gossip. He is supposed to have forced business
Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle
rivals to drink their own urine, become obsessed with Mafia movies
, continued previous associations with street gang the Bloods and dangled Vanilla Ice
(To the Extreme
) off a very high hotel balcony, among other acts. Other Ruthless Records affiliates, like Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur, had troubles with the law, with Snoop's eventual acquittal for murder occurring just as his superstardom was peaking. Other artists like Warren G
(Regulate... G Funk Era
) and Lady of Rage
) eventually accused Knight of earning millions while they remained unpaid for songwriting and performing on albums including The Chronic
Bad Boy Records and the East Coast
Meanwhile, East Coast rappers like Busta Rhymes
), The Wu-Tang Clan
(Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
) and the Notorious B.I.G
(Ready to Die
) pioneered a grittier sound in gangsta rap. Led by Puff Daddy
's Bad Boy Records
empire and spokesperson Notorious B.I.G., New York City took back chart dominance from the West Coast as hip hop continued to explode into the mainstream, with the additional dollars intensifying the stakes between the rivals (see rap feuds
). Soon enough, the situation had exploded; Shakur and Biggie were dead, victims of still-unsolved drive-by shootings; Ruthless Records sank quickly as multiple lawsuits, the incarceration of labelhead Suge Knight and the departure of Snoop, Dr. Dre and most of the label's other acts sank the company financially. Dr. Dre, at the MTV Music Video Awards, claimed that "gangsta rap was dead", which proved untrue. Bad Boy Records survived, though not untarnished as Puff Daddy's commercial empire continue to lose critics with a mainstream sound aimed at middle-class America, and challenges from Atlanta
and, especially, Master P
's No Limit stable of popular rappers.
After the deaths of Biggie and Tupac, hip hop remained a major commercial force, though there was no clear victory from either coast. Most of the industry's major labels were in turmoil, or bankrupt, and new locations sprang up.
) and OutKast
) established Atlanta
as a hip hop center early on, drawing on the pioneering Christian hip hop
group Arrested Development
(3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of
), the earliest successful southern group. Later, Ludacris
(Word of Mouf
) would become a huge southern rap star.
Master P's No Limit label, based out of New Orleans, also became quite popular, though critical success was scarce, with the exceptions of some later additions like Mystikal (Let's Get Ready, 2000) and Juvenile (400 Degreez, 1998). No Limit had begun its rise to fame with Master P's The Ghetto Is Trying to Kill Me (1994, 1994 in music), and subsequent hits by Rappin- 4-Tay (Don't Fight the Feeling, 1994), Silkk the Shocker (Charge It 2 Da Game, 1998) and C-Murder (Life or Death, 1998).
After the turn of the millennium, superstar Nelly (Country Grammar, 2000) and the rest of the St. Lunatics ("Gimme What You Got", 1996) put St. Louis on the hip hop map, while Eminem (The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000) arose from Detroit to become the biggest star in the history of hip hop.
Jermaine Dupri, an Atlanta-born record producer and talent scout, had had great but-shortlived success after discovering youthful pop stars Kris Kross (Totally Krossed Out, 1992) performing at a mall, but his formula proved enormously successful in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as pre-teen pop acts like Lil Bow Wow (Beware of Dog, 2000) topped the charts, along with older performers like Da Brat (Funkdafied, 1994), Mariah Carey (Daydream, 1995) and Usher (My Way, 1997).
Baltimore-born DMX is often credited with reviving New York's hip hop scene with It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, his 1997 (see 1997 in music) debut, which entered the charts at #1, though he had drawn upon previous releases from Busta Rhymes (The Coming, 1996) and Nas (Illmatic, 1994); Nas' Illmatic deserves special mention for the copious critical accolades bestowed upon it, with many observers calling him the savior of East Coast hip hop. In contrast to Nas and other critically acclaimed West Coast performers, such as hardcore hip hop group The Wu-Tang Clan (Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), 1993), many of the East Coast chart mainstays at the end of the decade were derided by critics; these included Puff Daddy (No Way Out, 1997) and many of his collaborators, such as Mase (Harlem World, 1997). Nas was unable to maintain his reputation, releasing a series of lackluster, poorly-received albums after Illmatic that earned him derision even harsher than that given to Puff Daddy and other pop-rappers. The wildly popular DMX helped launch a crew called the Ruff Ryders, who would eventually include future thug rap star Ja Rule (Venni Vetti Vecci, 1999), Eve (Scorpion, 2001) and The Lox (We Are the Streets, 2000). In spite of DMX's hype and popularity, Jay-Z (The Dynasty Roc La Familia, 2000) became much more famous and remained one of the biggest hip hop stars as the millennium ended. Within a few years, a new generation of rising stars including 50 Cent (Get Rich Or Die Tryin', 2003) and Cam'ron (Come Home With Me, 2002) helped re-establish East Coast supremacy, though not without significant threats from the west, south and midwest. East Coast hip hop also saw the rise of gangsta rap's two biggest female stars, Eve (from Philadelphia) and New York's Lil' Kim (Hard Core, 1996), whose sexually and violently explicit lyrics (drawn from more militant female West Coast gangsta rappers like Yo-Yo (Black Pearl, 1992)) earned them the ire of some feministss, while others praised them.