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Know Your History – Gangsta Rap
Rap music comes in many different shapes, forms, and styles. To the casual listener though, there may only appear to be two distinct categories of rap.
First, we have artists like Solja Boy or The Black Eyed Peas. These artists put out music with commercial and mainstream appeal. Like the pop artists before them, such as DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, or even LL Cool J, their music can seem light and fluffy.
On the other end of the spectrum we have what is referred to as Gangsta Rap. This style of hip-hop is laced with profanity and its subject matter is often violent.
Early artists doing this style of music preferred to call it Reality Rap since they believed their music reflected the harsh realities of living in poor black neighbourhoods.
The truth is, emcees had been bringing reality into their music for quite some time before this sub-genre took root in the mid 1980’s.
While we cannot divisively credit one artist with the creation of Gangsta Rap, it is safe to say that these four artists were definitely the pioneers of the form. I’m talking about BDP, Schooly D, Ice T, and NWA.
In 1986 BDP recorded a song entitled “9mm Goes Bang” in which the rapper recounts a tale of shooting a crack dealer and his posse to death. The following year, they came out with an album entitled Criminal Minded and this was the first rap record that showed a firearm on the cover.
Schooly D came out with a self-titled record the same year that BDP released that song. Lyrically, his record reflected the image on the cover of the BDP record in a way that BDP did not. His rhymes showed a brand new narrative which was distinctly urban and gritty.
PSK is a story rhyme that paints a day in the life of Schoolly D. He is basically taking an entire day to party, to drink, to smoke, to have sex, and to assert himself through threats, violence and the use of a gun. Schooly D doesn’t come out and say it directly in the song but PSK stands for Park Side Killers and is obviously a gang.
Schooly D is one of the forefathers of Gangsta rap, that is for sure and his influence can be heard in the artists who really helped popularize the genre of Gangsta Rap. The next song I’ll be playing for you is Ice T’s “6 in the Morning” and you will immediately hear how similar the songs are. Ice T gives a lot of credit to Schoolly D and rightfully so. I think it is safe to call Schoolly D a forefather of the genre.
There are certain NWA songs that contain the same cadence and vibe of Schoolly D. The influence is unmistakable. That is why I had to start off with PSK here. We’ll get to NWA a bit later in the show. For now though, let’s turn our attention to Ice T.
“Ice T has proven to be one of hip-hop’s most articulate and intelligent stars, as well as one of its most frustrating. At his best, the rapper has written some of the best portraits of ghetto life and gangsters, as well as some of the best social commentary hip-hop has produced. Just as often, he can slip into sexism and gratuitous violence, and even then his rhymes are clever and biting.”
In the last episode of Know Your History we discussed the power of hip-hop to educate and carry important messages. In this way, Political Rap and Gangsta Rap are closely related. However, like the quote says, Gangsta rap can sometimes perpetuate sexism and gratuitous violence. I think that it why many casual listeners despise hip-hop.
Quite often, this is the only rap music that makes it to the ears of the casual listener. Pop artists are coming out of Gangsta Rap genre more and more these days as well. And if this is all the casual listener is exposed to, it’s no surprise that many of them will come to despise rap music. Heck, even I hate a lot of those songs.
Artists like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, and Eminem as well as countless other disposable acts, that will never be able to achieve the longevity these artists have built, continue to put out music that can be deemed as offensive to a lot of people. Pop artists are using the conventions of Gangsta rap often in their songs and these seem to be the songs that get media exposure either on the radio or video outlets.
That being said, there is some great Gangsta Rap out there. Some of the rappers are calling attention to issues that reflect the harsh realities of urban life (poverty, violence, drug use, abuse, and trafficking, and whatnot)
Ice T has built a lengthy career for himself and released several albums based on his gansta image and persona. He not only helped pioneer the subgenre of Gangsta rap but he also helped establish a very strong West Coast scene. Let’s hear from him now.
This is “6 in the Morning” by Ice T. This is Chase March for DOPEfm will be right back with our continued coverage of Gangsta Rap. Stay with us.
This song documents Ice T’s flee from the police. He’s bragging that he is free and that he’s got lot of cash. Disturbingly, in his tale, he recounts beating a woman in the street. Of course, he ends up in jail and has to continue his violence in order to survive there. He does his time, gets out, and pretty much goes back to the same hustle.
Gangsta rap was originally meant to portray the reality young black men encounter in the poor neighbourhoods and ghettos. Early pioneers of the form even called it “Reality Rap” but the truth is, while the situations and stories told in these raps may be based on reality, in most cases, the emcee is playing a role.
Real gangsters would never talk about this stuff. They be admitting all sorts of crimes on record and would be prosecuted for it.
A lot of popular Gangsta rappers don’t live in the ghetto. They have families and have used the money they have made from this music to give them a better life. Yet they continue the persona that led them to the fame. We accept that Ice Cube is a gangsta because he has built such a strong image for himself and becuase of his great body of work.
I think he deserves to be in the Top 5 rappers of all time. He is gangsta rap. Simple as that. In fact, before his successful movie career, before his incredible solo albums, he was in a little group called NWA.
Let’s hear from them right now. This is “Fuck Tha Police “ from NWA.
NWA are probably the group most responsible for bringing Gangsta Rap to the forefront of hip-hop. Their debut album “Straight Outta Compton” was released in 1988 and it forever changed the face of hip-hop. The album managed to sell a ridiculous amount of copies with absolutely no radio play. Their music was so laced with profanity and violent lyrics that it simply didn’t have any outlets for it back them other than word of mouth.
But word spread quickly and the album went double platinum. It launched lengthy careers for some it’s members including Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy E.
NWA scared a lot of people. Their lyrics seemed to glamourize gang violence. But they called attention to issues such as police brutality and racism. It was a brand new world for me to be exposed to. Prior to hearing “Fuck Tha Police” I had no idea that police brutality even existed. It was shocking to me.
This album changed the landscape of hip-hop. Swearing took on a central role in a lot of records from that point onward, which I think is really a shame. Rap has always been about clever word play and sometimes it just seems to easy to swear.
There is a lot of rap music that doesn’t swear at all and it is really good. Yet, so many people think rap music has to have profanity in it to be rap. That is not the case at all.
Know Your History is a monthly show produced by Chase March. It can be heard on DOPEfm on 93.3 CFMU in Hamilton, Ontario. You can listen live every Saturday night starting at 12:00 midnight on the radio. You can also surf over to Cogeco Cable Channel 288 and catch us over the television, or point your browser to http://cfmu.msumcmaster.ca/