Rap music began as an integral part of New York’s burgeoning hip hop culture in the mid-1970s. From the beginning, its sound was quite unique, with the music being created collage-style by DJs combining elements from pre-existing records, rather than live musicians. One of rap’s early innovators, Kool DJ Here, is credited with originating the process of taking the instrumental breaks from songs such as James Brown’s ‘Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose’ and extending them by playing two copies of the record on separate turntables, using a crossfader (a simple mixing device) to ‘cut’ between the two records, manually ‘rewinding’ the record to the start of the break on one turntable while the other plays. To encourage people to dance at parties where they played, DJs began to have live MCs (originally standing for Masters of Ceremonies) on hand, to throw phrases like ‘yes, yes, y’all, and you don’t stop,’ or ‘throw your hands in the air, and wave ‘em like you just don’t care’ into the mix. It was not long, however, before MCs began to expand their repertoire, moving from simple phrases of crowd encouragement to ever longer and more complex spoken rhymes. These rhymes were known as raps, and the music became known as rap music. The idea of spoken vocals on songs was, of course, not new. In the early 1970s, Isaac Hayes had performed a song entitled ‘Ike’s Rap’, and Millie Jackson included a track on her Caught Up album called simply ‘The Rap’. What was innovative about rap music was the combination of the spoken vocal of the MC with the recycled beats of the DJ. By 1979, rap music had become a recorded genre itself, although early records, such as The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ used live musicians to recreate the sound produced by DJs. ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was an international hit, and opened the door for groups such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to produce records with a DJ rather than a live band. By around 1983, the sound of rap music was changing, with the prevalent ‘disco-funk’ giving way to a more stripped down style, with the distinctive tones of the Roland TR-808 drum machine coming to the fore, while DJs played shorter extracts from records, often ‘scratching’ the record to further alter its sound. At around the same time, social commentary raps such as the Furious Five’s ‘The Message’ and Run DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’ began appearing. This trend was taken further in what is often considered a golden age for rap music, the years 1987 and 1988, by one of the leading acts of the time, Public Enemy.
   Public Enemy’s sound was an intense combination of 808 drum beats, looped samples (the sampler, an instrument for digitally reproducing any sound fed into it had been added to the tools of the DJ, allowing ever smaller extracts of records to be used) and the ferocious rhymes of Chuck D. Along with the likes of Boogie Down Productions, Eric B and Rakim and EPMD, Public Enemy took rap music to new heights of popularity in the late 1980s.
   By this time rap was well established in the UK, and although commercial success has always evaded British rap acts (the exceptions being Slick Rick and Monie Love, both of whom relocated to the USA before establishing themselves), fans of the music are fiercely loyal to it. Indeed, it was British rap fans whose cheers and whistles were used for the live segments of Public Enemy’s seminal It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back album. Rap’s popularity in Britain was probably only further increased by a media backlash, with the Beastie Boys coming in for particular press disapproval during their 1987 tour of the UK. Meanwhile, in the USA, rap music was being attacked in the press for being both violent—the ‘gangsta’ rap of groups such as NWA (Niggaz With Attitude) and Compton’s Most Wanted—and misogynist—the 2-Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be album was eventually banned on grounds of obscenity, and became part of a larger debate over freedom of speech. ‘Gangsta’ rap became the next major wave of rap music, although it provided few hits in the UK. Whereas earlier rap acts had achieved crossover success (Run DMC and Aerosmith hit the top ten with ‘Walk This Way’ in 1986), gangsta rap appealed more to the small, solid fanbase. Throughout much of the 1990s, rap music remained a largely underground form. While there were occasional rap hits (A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Can I Kick It?’, for example), it was not until the mid-1990s that a resurgence of rap’s popularity occurred. While groups such as the Wu-Tang Clan created a sound that renewed the faith of rap followers, commercial success was coming for ‘poppier’ rap acts like Coolio, whose ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ (the title hints at the content: watereddown gangsta rap) became, in 1995, the first rap song to reach number one in the UK.
   Subsequently, rap reached a much wider audience, with rap records and records that incorporated elements of rap music being heard with increased frequency on daytime radio. Although the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. meant that the shadow of violence was never far from rap music, producers such as Puff Daddy made slick, commercial rap records that were hugely successful. Many long-term rap fans, however, decried this commercialization, preferring to return to the sounds of the ‘old school’. By 1998, this more traditional rap sound was making a comeback, as evidenced in groups such as the Jurassic 5. The old school also seemed to be returning with Jason Nevins’s house remix of Run DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’ (although the lyrical content of the song was less foregrounded in this version) and the related rise in popularity of related hip hop artforms, such as breakdancing.
   See also: disco
   Further reading
    Fernando, S.H., Jr (1995) The New Beats, Edinburgh: Payback Press.
    Toop, D. (1984, 1991) Rap Attack 2: African Rap to Global Hip Hop, London: Serpent’s Tail.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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