A BRIEF HISTORY
Rap music, sometimes referred to
as hip-hop, grew out of black and Puerto Rican communities in
US cities in the 1970's. Strictly, hip-hop refers to the wider
culture which includes break dancing and graffiti-art in addition
to rap music, but the terms are now interchangeable.
In its early years, it was promoted
as a positive alternative to gang culture, which encouraged participants
to settle disputes through music and dance rather than guns or
It rapidly became the indigenous
"street" black music of urban America.
One of the key features of the music
was the rhythmic spoken story-line that described the life, times
and characters of deprived urban America.
Hip-hop revolutionised contemporary
music, introducing sounds, techniques and formats that are now
global standards of youth culture.
In the 1980's hip-hop spread across
America and the World. The central figures in the genre built
a multi-billion dollar industryinitially around music but
also on films and clothing.
In 2001, rap overtook country music
to become the largest single genre in the US, accounting for 13%
of music sales. Although sales have since declinedit is
still a powerful international force.
Eminema young, white, working
class rapper from Detroitis credited with taking the genre
to its widest-ever mainstream audience. His four multi-million
selling albums and nine Grammy awards have made him the world's
most successful solo artist, and established rap at the core of
global youth culture.
The language of rap is often uncompromising
and, depending on perspective, can be seen as poetic and "real",
or aggressive and provocative.
The early 1990's saw the rise of
so-called "Gangsta Rap", initially from Los Angeles,
with content that was criticised for apparently glorifying violence,
gun culture and misogyny. "Gangsta Rap" as a sub-genre
has all but disappeared, but much of the lyrical content of rap
is still concerned with the sometimes grim realities of urban
It should be stressed that only a
limited proportion of rap focuses on story-lines that feature
gangs or violence. More common in recent years have been lyrics
boasting about the performers' extravagant lifestyle, cars, houses
and clothes; although there are clear signs that the audience
is tiring of these as subject matter and is looking to more restrained
and "conscious" performers such as Kanye West.
In addition to the music, hip-hop
has had a major impact on global youth fashion. Dress styles and
conventions which had their roots in US gangs and prisons (baggy,
low-slung trousers; bandanas; baseball caps and basketball shoes)
are now standard wear for young people around the worldalthough
again mainstream fashion is moving away.
Critics of rap point to its alleged
negative influence on young people, especially young men. They
highlight in particular its attitudes towards drugs, violence,
women and homosexuality.
In defence, supporters say that violence,
drugs and criminality have long been key themes in other contemporary
art forms such as film, novels and other music genres. Rap fans
point out that other audiences are credited with the ability to
distinguish entertainment from real life, and to separate the
graphic content from the actors or performers, a distinction which
they feel is not afforded to hip-hop culture.
In 2005, rap singles accounted for
13.7% of all sales in the UK, rap albums for 5.9%. There is anecdotal
evidence that rap sales have declined since then, though definitive
figures are not yet available.
% SALES OF HIP HOP/RAP IN THE UK
Most rap records are bought by young white males.
In comparison, rock singles accounted for 23.5
% of sales.