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A BRIEF HISTORY OF RAP
5th & 12th April 2003
Presented by Mark Lamarr


Chuck D of Public Enemy


Rap represents the ultimate expression of attitude in popular culture, provoking even more outrage than Rock 'n Roll in the 50s and Punk in the 70s. MARK LAMARR charts the story of Rap and introduces listeners to an important musical and social phenomenon.

Both the musical and lyrical content of Rap still make it anathema to the majority of the public, but there is little doubt that its enormous significance as a social document will be recognised when future generations write the history books.

AN INTRODUCTION TO RAP
The Sugarhill Gang's Rappers Delight in 1979 is widely held as the first rap single. Although regarded by many as little more than a novelty hit, it did show the commercial possibilities of the genre. Others were quickly to follow suit. Foremost in the first generation of rap artists were Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc, all of whom initially made their name as DJs. Bambaataa's Planet Rock mixed rap with German synth pioneers Kraftwerk, while Grandmaster Flash was the first rap artist to introduce social comment with The Message.

Afrika Bambaataa
Above: Afrika Bambaataa.
A host of small labels, such as Def Jam, sprang up to as Rap continued to diversify throughout the 80s. Run DMC stripped the backing down to thunderous beats and added rock guitars, before scoring a huge hit with their collaboration with Aerosmith on Walk This Way. Meanwhile The Beastie Boys, a trio of middle class white kids, mixed rap with their roots in punk and metal on their bestselling Licence To Ill.

Whereas many rappers were content to resort to hip hop caricature, Public Enemy introduced radical politics along groundbreaking sonic collages of sampled beats and white noise. On the other hand De La Soul proved themselves masters of the art of sampling with Three Feet High and Rising, steering hip hop towards a softer, more peaceful vibe.

GANGSTA'S PARADISE
Over on the west coast, however, dark clouds were gathering. Gangsta Rap, spearheaded by groups such as N.W.A. emerged from the troubled inner cities, with a new breed of rappers, reflecting the prevailing culture of guns, drugs and violence. The nihilism and attitude of gangsta rap endeared it to the emergent alternative rock scene, even as pop rappers such as MC Hammer dominated the mainstream.

Puff Daddy
Above: Puff Daddy.
Arguably the most influential figure in 90s rap music was ex-NWA man Dr Dre, architect of the radio friendly G-Funk sound, co-founder of Death Row records and producer of albums for Snoop Doggy Dog and Blackstreet. On the east coast, Sean 'Puff Daddy' Combs established an empire of his own, Bad Boy records. Long standing animosities between east and west were blamed for the violence which claimed the lives of rising stars Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG, although both Combs and Dre were quick to distance themselves from the fallout.

ONE TIME
Outside of the Death Row / Bad Boy circus, numerous acts continued to experiment with the genre. The Fugees achieved massive popularity with their eclectic blend of rap and soul, while New York collective The Wu-Tang Clan branched out with its own brand of urban street wear and a bewildering array of solo projects. The Clan were a direct influence on such homegrown British units as So Solid Crew, no strangers to controversy themselves. Women also fought back against rap's prevailing male culture, with Missy Elliot and Lil' Kim releasing albums of sassy rap flavoured r'n'b.

Ironically, the biggest rap star of the moment is white. Eminem, alias Marshall Mathers, has aroused controversy and adulation in equal measure, but there is no denying his talents as a lyricist. His records, produced by Dr Dre, have become rap's biggest crossover success since the days of the Beastie Boys. If you want proof of the mainstream acceptance rap has gained, look no further than Eminem's recent Oscar win for Best Original Song.

LINKS

Radio 1 Urban
The latest black sounds around.


1 Xtra
The BBC's new black music station.
BBCi Music
More hip hop from across the BBC.
DOC ARCHIVE
Info on previous programmes


Stuart Maconie
Stuart Maconie

Find out more about Stuart's Saturday show featuring The Critical List.
  R2 Music Home
  Brief History of Rap
  Essential Rap Albums
MORE RAP ON BBCi

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1 Xtra

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