A Perspective Overview: Hip-Hop

A look into one perspective of hip-hop and how it has changed over time.

New York City, 1974: debt had increased immensely over just 4 years, drug trafficking was rampant, and gang activity had become common among children. The reported 6,000 abandoned buildings in the Bronx resembled that of a battlefieldone in which the contemporary youth fought in gang wars. However, while this was a city of the damned on its surface, there was more than meets the eye. An underground culture was taking shape, and it would soon change music and culture as we know it. This was what made hip-hop happen. 

The term “hip-hop,” though commonly used to only refer to rap music, encompasses the culture developed by African Americans in New York around the 1970s. Key components did include the music and dancing, however, and over time these are things that have been brought into mainstream culture. 

Post-civil rights movement, the city failed in giving minority youth a place of acceptance. Left with nothing to do, youth turned to gangs–players in the early game of hip-hop. B-boys emerged as "fighters" for these gangs; they would dance competitively against other gangs, often flashing their colors as opposed to violence. Unfortunately, though, it didn't always end this simply. The B in B-boys stood for breaker, referring to the act of "breaking" a party by beating up rival gang members in their territory. The new meaning of the "break" was thanks to the music they danced to– and how it was made.  

People of color were rarely allowed into most disco clubs. Consequently, the rise of independent DJs and shows followed. However, these self-made DJs wanted something more than disco. They wanted music to which they could relate. It all started with the "break.” Grandmaster Flash, one of the biggest entrepreneurs in the development of hip-hop, explained the "break" as the "get down part”– the 5 seconds of every song that stood out the most. Other DJs like Kool Herc already saw the appeal in this part of the song and created their own music based off it, but the way Grandmaster Flash used it helped found hip-hop as we know it. He would take this short part and extend it however long he wanted, creating a new sound which received much acclaim. Later, DJs introduced African-style beats to songs to bring culture to their new genre. 

As time progressed, more and more details were added to the hip-hop formula, such as scratching and rapping, until it finally reached mainstream success. The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was one of the first rap songs to be thrown into the mainstream. After reaching mainstream recognition, hip-hop developed more and more throughout the '80s, changing bit by bit.

Like New York City itself, hip-hop was gentrified for the public by the '90s. Rappers from middle-class backgrounds rose up and made hip-hop an industry: the new rock and roll. Rap had changed vastly since its start, but it would soon revisit its roots–this time on the West Coast. NWA would alter the face of rap furthermore with the release of Straight Outta Compton. The release of this album was seen as a declaration of war against the corrupt and discriminatory justice system in America, and it began making rap a platform for the voices of the oppressed once again.

In recent years, hip-hop music has become increasingly popular, slowly taking over mainstream radio stations. Big names such as Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Logic have taken over, ultimately helping hip-hop usurp pop as the most-listened-to genre of music. Though rap remains bright in the spotlight, many artists still effectively use it as a platform to fight for social justice. 

There has been debate over whether the hip=hop music that has made it to the mainstream is “authentic” or not; some argue that good lyrical work has been shunted for catchy beats, but others defend big-name artists and argue that the thoughtfulness and passion remain while only the delivery is different.

Many rising artists maintain the underlying philosophy of raw honesty and thoughtful production in their work but deliver their content in new ways. Chicago rapper Noname drops matter-of-fact verses over delicate piano and xylophones; St. Louis musician Smino combines fearless production and piercing vocals in both mellow and hyped up tracks; self-proclaimed boyband BROCKHAMPTON is rising to greatness through confidence and their dismissal of lyrical molds.

Hip-hop artists today are definitely different than those that laid down the foundation for the genre. People are straying from tradition and experimenting with combining aspects of different styles. However, in the grand scheme, the quality of the music has not suffered; rather, it has flourished and expanded to become more accessible, ultimately bringing people together.

Favorite Artists
Classics & those soon to be, in no particular order.

Smino, a rapper and singer from St. Louis, Missouri, released his stunning debut album blkswn in March of 2017. He holds a unique command over rhythm and melody with a style he describes asdirty disco… futuristic funk… revolutionary R&B, feel-me passionate pop, whatever you want to call it” (Complex).

Kendrick Lamar, the growing legend hailing from Compton, California, has made a name for himself across the world. His most recent album, DAMN, combines elements of old-school hip-hop and new styles that are more in line with modern mainstream rap music.

Noname, a rapper from Chicago, Illinois, started off performing spoken word and quickly expanded to making music. She embraces lighter sound profiles and cuts through them with no-nonsense, thought-provoking lyrics.

MF DOOM, an artist raised mostly in Long Island, New York, is well-known for his “supervillain” persona. He has gone by many other aliases, such as King Geedorah when he produced his iconic album Take Me To Your Leader, and he has made his mark through unique lyrics and concept-heavy albums.

Saba, a musician from Chicago, Illinois, is known for his powerful lyrics and endless charisma. His recent full-length album, Bucket List Project, is insightful and features his own production. He has released hard-hitting singles since and continues to produce for other artists.

Vince Staples, a rapper from Long Beach, California, recently released his critically-acclaimed album Big Fish Theory, which combines a variety of musical styles such as electronic and dance into its production. His clever and honest lyrics tell a compelling story and make for easy connection.

Kanye West, the rapper and producer from Chicago, Illinois, is extremely well-known in the world of music and even beyond. His production sets the bar for many others, and his sampling style as well as his use of the human voice as a primary instrument sets his work apart.


"Love$ick (feat. A$AP Rocky)" – Mura Masa
"DEVASTATED" – Joey Bada$$
"There You Go" – Saba
"Alright" – Kendrick Lamar
"Good Morning" – Kanye West
"Missed Calls" – EARTHGANG
"745" – Vince Staples
"Caroline" – Amine
"Forever (feat. Joseph Chilliams & Ravyn Lenae)" – Noname
"Fazers" – King Geedorah
"Zipporah" – GoldLink
"Anita" – Smino
"Angels (feat. Saba)" – Chance The Rapper
"Dapper (feat. Anderson .Paak)" – Domo Genesis

"Glitter" – Tyler, The Creator

By Arya Natarajan and James Straub

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