Many critics and fans alike have come to put labels on different eras of hip-hop. These labels are accurate to the state of hip-hop at the time. However, to fit with the discussion of my question, I have split hip-hop into two distinctive groups, old school and new school. The old school, which is everything that happened to get rap into the mainstream, starting from the origins up until the end of gangsta rap. New school, how the genre has progressed through the 2000s and up until the present day.
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Old school rap is the era of rap before it fully entered the mainstream from its birth as an accompaniment to DJs up until the end of gangsta rap, the death of biggie smalls and Tupac. Rap comes under hip-hop as a subgroup with DJing and graffiti and breakdancing. The first person to ever start rapping was a DJ by the name of Kool Herc, he introduced simple rhymes into his DJing sets to get people dancing. When the rapping of DJ Kool Herc started to catch on many wanted to get into the new trend. Rapping became a staple at the DJing events with rappers (emcees) often being associated with a DJ in a crew, of the most famous being grandmaster flash and the furious five. In these years rap was always associated with DJs it was in the late 1970s and 1980s that rap started to become its own genre.
The first record to really start off the genre into the mainstream was 'rapper's delight' by the Sugarhill Gang in 1979. This rap and many at the time were heavily influenced by disco and funk and were all about partying and having a good time. This was more coupled with simple rhymes and unsophisticated technique. Rap became much more developed in the mid-1980s with rappers like Rakim really developing a flow with his raps and groups such as N.W.A and public enemy really switching the genre to a more political view. America in the 1980s still had a very negative view of the African American community and so some rap groups turned their music into an outlet about the problems they had in their life. This very political rap gained a lot of public attention as to the condition of the minorities lives and started to shape rap into a much tougher type of music. One of the most famous raps in this time was public enemy fight the power which “this song represented a call to action among the African American community”. One of the most influential groups of gangsta rap was the notorious NWA, some of their most famous songs being 'straight out of Compton' and 'fuck tha police'. This song spoke out against the oppression that the African American community faced by police.
The biggest event and the end of old-school hip-hop was the east coast west coast rivalry between Death Row Records (West Coast) and Bad Boy Records (East Coast), this rivalry caused and fuelled by Tupac and Biggie Smalls. The feud was fought mostly through the music that most companies were making. The most famous example being Biggies track 'Who Shot Ya?' which looked like a taunt towards Tupac as he had recently been shot five times in a New York studio and blamed Biggie for setting it up. At the source awards in New York 1995, Suge Knight CEO of Death Row took shots at Bad Boy CEO Puff Daddy referencing his habit of ad-libbing on Bad Boy tracks and appearing in music videos. Suge Knight also bailed Tupac out of jail and signed him as an artist at Death Row. Tupac released a song called Hit 'Em Up which made comments about him sleeping with Biggie's wife. This feud only ended when both rappers were shot and killed only a few months apart and really stopped the whole rivalry in its tracks. Rappers post this event would find it easier to befriend other rappers for the benefits and those who did create rivalries would never have as severe consequences as this iconic moment in the genres timeline. After the east coast west coast rivalry, the hip-hop community really came together and declared peace between the sides. Now the genre really started to move to a high level of production as the two sides would now work together.
Dr Dre, the creator of NWA and one of the best producers at this time would work with east coast rappers and really took the genre to a new level. He also picked up Eminem and helped make him into one of the most important figures in rap. Eminem is the most successful rap artist of all time with album sales reaching 100 million worldwide. After his first album was released, Eminem changed hip-hop in so many ways, even if some believe he is overrated as an artist. Eminem entered the scene with a flow and rhythm that had never been seen before. He rapped with such a complex rhyme pattern and speed that he pushed the level of rap to a new level in such a small space of time. His stage personas (slim shady, Marshal Mathers and Eminem) allowed him to work with different styles and deliver flows better than the rappers who were still stuck in the gangsta rap phase. The other big development Eminem had on the rap genre was that he showed rap could be a dominating genre, as he was the bestselling artist of the 2000s. He tore down the walls that rap was a genre for the African America community and allowed the rest of the world to enjoy and join the hip-hop culture fully.
The other main influencer that created the free rap that we have today is Kanye West. Along with Eminem, Kanye was another key rapper that changed the standard of rapping from gangsta. Kanye went for a more personal approach and rapped about 'religion, family, prejudice and materialism' topics that were very uncommon. In his college dropout album, he took a direct stance to the listener and proved that trying to relate to listener could make you as appealing as the old gangsta ways. Quote from Kanye talking about his persona; “My persona is that I’m the regular person. Just think about whatever you’ve been through in the past week, and I have a song about that on my album.” Later on, Kanye would release 808s and Heartbreak which was probably his most important album as it showed a dark personal side to the artist which would inspire many.In 2015, The Weeknd credited Kanye as an inspiration, saying:“808s and Heartbreak […] got mixed reviews but is one of the most important bodies of work of my generation. Kanye needed to be on [Beauty Behind The Madness], because I feel like I’m going through what he’s been going through — reinventing himself and pushing boundaries.”
The 808s and heartbreak album would change the hip-hop scene completely and it is seen that Future would use the auto-tune techniques to give his vocals more life. In the present day rap as changed once again and rap has gone into a more trap music direction and it’s thanks to the rising popularity of 'SoundCloud rappers' or 'mumble rappers'. This new subgenre of rap is starting to dominate the hip-hop scene and this new wave is being noticed by all rap artists around the world. Mumble rap, in essence, is a trap-inspired take on rap where the beat and the flow of the song is strongly prioritized over the lyrics. A complete reverse to any kind of rap up until this point. This twist to the genre was first widely recognized by rappers such as Future who rapped in a way that it was very hard to distinguish what he was saying. This rap took off so effectively due to the fact that the wider audience wants songs with good vibes and something they can dance to. Old hip-hop fans cared about the lyrics and what they were saying but those out the loop have found a part of the genre they can enjoy and so the audience of mumble rap grew rapidly. However, mumble rap is still only a subgenre of the whole rap scene at the moment. Many rappers such as Logic and Kendrick Lamar are still using the old formulas of rap and making great songs and albums. Rap is the most listened genre in the US and it's not surprising since the amount of different styles it has allows it to appeal to a huge audience and now even people who aren't fans of rap can still enjoy the mumble side of the genre.
Why is there a conflict between the old and new generations of the genre?
Mumble rap has taken the whole premise of rap and flip it around. The rappers now focus on beats and don't care at all about the lyrics. So it isn't surprising that old hip-hop fans have a lot of hate towards the new subgenre. There are really two main reasons that mumble rap is so disliked. The first is that no matter how hip-hop grew until this point the genre never lost its key element. Lyrics. The reason it was enjoyed so much was that of the fancy wordplay and extreme flows that the rappers had practiced and created. With it now gone a lot of hip-hop purists see no point in listening anymore. They seem to have lost all essence of hip-hop and rap and is now Killing the genre.
The other reason it is so hated is that the mumble rappers themselves have no respect or even consider the people who made rap what it is. They don't seem to care about the genre that they're growing an audience in and it’s seen as disrespectful towards the genre. To these fans mumble rap as ruined the genre they love and they don't give it any respect and this is why they have such a problem with the subgenre being so popular. It’s less about the lyrics and more a popularity contest.