Hip hop music originated from African-American, Latino-American, and Caribbean-American communities in big US urban centers in the 1970's. This genre is derived from funk, disco, dancehall, reggae, and jazz. The word hip hop refers to both a musical genre and an urban culture.
In the 1970's, lower-income urban minority communities often got together for so-called "block parties". This practice was especially prominent in The Bronx borough of New York City. At these parties on the street, usually one person shared the sound system with the community. These speakers were controlled by DJ’s, who usually played popular soul and funk music at the time. For effect, these DJ’s started to isolate the percussive breaks in these songs, and they used turntables to make them longer.
Jamaican DJ Kool Herc brought to New York the habit of “toasting”, popular in dancehall music in his home country. Toasting refers to the act of the DJ shouting out short upbeat or boastful utterances to keep the crowd hyped. After a while, instead of just random sentences, DJ’s (and later, the MC’s) started to say a few lines with clever rhymes. When they matched these rhymes to the rhythm of the beat playing in the background, similar to the African-American tradition of “capping”, the first rap songs were born.
Hip hop has its “official” 50th anniversary coming up. A block party hosted by the aforementioned DJ Kool Herc on August 11, 1973 in NYC will be celebrated by the modern hip hop community in 2023 as the birth date of the genre. A documentary on the American TV channel Showtime and a mixtape produced by DJ Premier will be made to commemorate the occasion.
Instrumentals for hip hop music have always been electronically produced, typically with turntables at the start. Now, computer softwares, such as Fruity Loops or DAW, are used. Less so, but drum machines, bass, and synths are also applied at times as well.
Typically, the vocalists are rapping over the beat. Rapping is the technique of switching between stressed and unstressed syllables so that it matches up with the four beats in the bars of the musical backdrop. In a sense, the artists are mimicking a percussion instrument with their voice. However, recently, almost all rap songs also have choruses, which have catchy melodic units, often referred to as “the hooks”. Some rappers sing their own choruses, while others have other artists featured on the track to sing them. As you can tell by that, hip hop songs tend to follow the classic verse-chorus structure.
Most hip hop beats are written in minor keys. As for their tempo, it is typically between 85 and 95 beats per minute.
Just like in every genre, love, sex, and relationship are common themes, but so are boasting of the artist’s own success, street life, and partying.
Eminem from the US kicked off his career in the 1990’s with his tongue-and-cheek, comical stylings. He achieved high levels of mainstream success in the early 2000’s with such hits as “Without Me” (2002), and “My Name Is” (2000). As years went on, he adapted a more serious and aggressive style, putting out hit singles like “Not Afraid” (2010) and “Rap God” (2013). He was discovered and mentored by another famous American rapper, Dr. Dre.
Kendrick Lamar had huge success in the 2010’s, with such classic albums as “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015) and “Damn” (2017). The best known tracks on those records are “Alright” and “Humble”, respectively. Drake from Canada is known to also show off his impressive singing voice in the choruses of his songs, fusing the rap genre with pop and R&B, something that had an influence on many other rappers’ works. His biggest hits to date are “Started from the Bottom” (2013), “Hotline Bling” (2015), and ”God’s Plan” (2018).
Other widely successful contemporary rap artists include Pitbull, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Post Malone, and Nicki Minaj.