Then and Now: The Digressive Evolution of Rap

Rap has changed over the years. Many wonder if these changes were for the better.

Provided by: Wallpoper

Rap has changed over the years. Many wonder if these changes were for the better.

In terms of hip-hop history, the 1980s marks the birth of the roots of the hip-hop we listen to today. Today’s rap shows the significant evolution that this genre of music has undergone in the last 30 years. Although this much is true, my question is this: is this evolution good? As I did my research and listened to a copious number of songs from each era of hip hop, I came to a conclusion. But before I give my two cents, I’ll give some background knowledge and a basic summary of the evolution of rap.

The ‘80s was a time of innovation because the idea of rap was not a widely accepted or appreciated type of music. The gradually developing popularity of musicians like Run-DMC, NWA, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys promoted this new form of lyrical poetry.

“I grew up listening to artists like Boogie Down Productions to LL Cool J,” explained Kobie Lyons, an aspiring figure in the entertainment industry who grew up in the 80s. “Since then, rap content has changed for the worst.”

The rising fame of songs such as “Straight Outta Compton” by NWA and “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy started to give the whole genre of hip-hop a name for itself. During this period, themes portrayed in songs included political notions, perspectives on society, as well as prototypes of gangsta rap themes. The typical song from this era was produced over electro beats as well as simple synthetic sounds.

As time slipped into the late ‘80s/ early ‘90s, the “Golden Age” of hip hop was born. Popular rappers from the ‘80s were prominent in the early ‘90s as well; they all played a huge role in making this age golden. According to Rolling Stone, this was a time that “every new single reinvented the genre.” The combination of catchy and innovative beats was produced, and thoughtful verses were written by skilled rappers who delivered them in a ground-breaking way. They were able to convey a message that related to their audiences. Some of these rappers include the Wu-Tang Clan, Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D, and Rakim. A copious number of songs had beats that were samples from other songs; this was very popular among audiences because it gave them something they were familiar with but with a lyrical change. Rappers were all different from each other and expressed themselves in a way that was special to each song. This “Golden Era” was ended by the exponential growth of the popularity of gangsta rap. Golden Age rap can be viewed as the pinnacle of hip-hop lyricism due to the fact that truly thought-provoking and poetic flows were rapped about; rap from this time was special. The subject matter in songs today is laughable compared to that of songs from this period.

Gangsta rap took hip-hop to a different level.  It can be viewed as a major evolvement that changed not only hip-hop music, but hip-hop culture as well. NWA as well as artists like Rakim and Ice T translated their raps into more aggressive, profanity-laden, and politically questionable material. Gangsta rap is a major influence of the hip-hop we hear today. This subgenre introduced names you may have heard; 2pac, The Notorious B.I.G, Nas, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg. These names became big near the late ‘90s. This period was a time of even more developed beats, inappropriate-for-school topics, and the famous West coast- East coast feuds. As rappers started to rap about violence, drug abuse, and other illicit topics, their raps always seemed to have a connotation of haughtiness, and superiority over other rappers. This started a trend of rappers having beefs with each other. At first, this was good for entertainment industries, rappers would have diss songs to offend other rappers and it called for good media. However, things were taken too far when rappers and their groups would have violent affairs with each other. This resulted in the premature deaths of some artists, including 2pac and the Notorious
B.I.G. Gangsta rap was important because it brought about much more improved instrumentals due to technological advances. Producers were able to control the rap through the sounds behind the lyrics. Although this instrumental improvement was extraordinary, the content reflected the ‘gangsta’ life. Although some say that the culture behind this music is what defines rap as it is today, it can be said that words were less meaningful and graceful than those from the “Golden Age”.

Since the big feuds between artists, things have gradually cooled down, and that era of violence and gangsta-styled approaches has slowly faded. This lead to the next era of hip-hop, the one we are in now. Themes from the gangsta rap stuck on, because it can be found in the music today. Although the culture behind today’s hip-hop is not about the violence and feuding as it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there is still that ‘gangsta’ dogma that rappers hold up. Today’s hip-hop is full of synthetic beats combined with deep bass undertones. If you turn on the radio, you’ll soon discover that lyrics constantly talk about being rich, drug use, and sex. Most lyrics today cover absurd and profanity filled topics that I cannot discuss in a school newspaper. Rappers today (excluding a select handful) desperately lack poetic flow and thoughtfulness in their lyrics, two of the very things that made rap successful.

So, there you have it, a summary of the last 30 years in hip-hop. As you can tell, the music that we had in the 1980s has truly evolved to something different today. But is this change good?

“Although the sound has improved a lot, rap’s content has changed for the worse,” said Lyons.

Lauren Chuasebin, a senior hip-hop team member, had different views.

“Lyrics have changed, but not all are about the nasty; some are still meaningful,” she said.

As a listener and fan of both contemporary and old hip-hop, I agree that beats and sounds behind the lyrics have improved, but lyrics today convey arrogant rappers who discuss random topics that have no meaning whatsoever. However, as Chuasebin stated, I still believe that there are still some diamonds in the rough. Although I am still an avid fan of hip-hop, it is disappointing to see digression instead of progression in this evolution that has taken place. Rappers today seem to have forgotten about the things that made rap successful.