In the late 1980s, we saw a shift in the lyrical content of rap songs. This new style is referred to as political rap. The emcees started to talk about real life issues. Chuck D, of the legendary group Public Enemy once referred to rap music as “the Black people’s CNN.” His statement basically meant that hip-hop, at its root, could be used to deliver messages and educate the youth to issues that really mattered to them and the black community.
In 1987 Boogie Down Productions (BDP), with producer Scott La Rock and emcee Krs-One, came out with their historic album Criminal Minded. Public Enemy came out with Yo! Bum Rush the Show. These two albums set off a new mind state in hip-hop where social commentary and the message of the lyrics became just as important as the overall sound of the record.
The following year saw the release of an album that scared a lot of people outside of the hip-hop culture. NWA came out with Straight Outta Compton. The group consisted of Dre. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy-E, Mc Ren, and DJ Yella. Their raw sound and edgy lyrics really brought forth a new style and sound that would be referred to as gangsta rap.
NWA rapped about police brutality, poverty, and the daily life of the ghetto. This style of rap had been around for a few years but had been flying below the radar, as it were, until this album was released. Rappers that made this style of music described their sound not as gangsta rap but as reality rap.
NWA’s song F*&# The Police started off a heated debate about the censorship that would continue for quite some time. These three albums were hugely influential and proved that rap music was more than just putting simple and catchy rhymes to a break.
The production values took the music to new heights as well. The records sounded more musically complex, the lyrics were really saying something and people started to take notice.
Rap music exploded in popularity in the late 1980’s. People who didn’t understand what it was at the time and called it a fad, tried to dismiss it, or censor it. Fortunately, hip-hop would prevail and prove its staying power.