It’s the most common question asked around our community.
Since the rise of gangsta rap, the concept of “gangsta rap” has taken on new status.
It is inescapable: a hip-hop album is the most likely to be nominated for an award, followed by several months’ worth of TV shows and movies and a year’s worth of Grammy nominations and album of the year.
From the first time I heard gangsta rap, I knew that this was where the genre was heading.
The phrase “gangsta rap” was first used by my cousin, one of the first rappers I was exposed to, as he described the sound and style with which he introduced his work.
The rapper and writer Frank Ocean put the term in an obvious way: while other rap artists were producing beats based on the beat-making conventions of jazz piano and classical strings, he chose to employ an all-natural, almost unplugged production, and a vocabulary that combined a high degree of precision and simplicity with all the elements of a West Coast beat.
In that sense gangsta rap is what we call “hip-hip”, the same term used to describe the “hip-hop-infused” sound found on the more traditional soundtracks and R&B/Funk music that is found on many contemporary rap albums. The fact that such a variety of genre was introduced by one person is no coincidence.
There is no “gangsta rap” in music today. There are no classic, platinum-selling albums of rappers named Biggie, Nas or Tupac, no hip hop artist named T.I. or The Game.
These were all artists who were making music inspired by the culture of their time from which they emerged, not by a genre.
It is true that today’s rappers are more skilled at crafting sophisticated compositions than in the past, but they are not rap artists in the same way that jazz or classical instruments were to musicians of two centuries ago.
Rap does still involve some skill, but to say it does not is to ignore the very real cultural context in which this genre emerged, and to misrepresent a wide range of the genre’s artists – who, like the composers who created it, were doing their best to make their art, whether it was a musical or an artistic expression.
For the past five decades, gangsta rap has defined a very specific type of music within the cultural context of gangbanging.
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