Gangsta rap is a form of hip-hop music which became the genre’s main style during the 1990s. Aside from that, it also became a reflection and product of the violent lifestyle of American inner cities that is affected by poverty along with the dangers of drug dealing and abuse. The romanization of the outlaw becamethe theme of mostgangsta rap songs because it appealed to rebellious teenagersmore importantly to those who had firsthand experience of the harsh realities of the ghetto life.
Gangsta or gangster rap first became popular on the East Coast. Schoolly D, of Philadelphia, was one of the first to present graphic tales of gangs and violence such as in his song entitled “PSK—What Does It Mean?” which was released in 1985. While in New York City, Boogie Down Productions, which was formed by DJ Scott LaRock and KRS-One, also known as Lawrence Krisna Parker, released hard-hitting depictions of crack-cocaine-related crimes on their single entitled Criminal Minded which was released in 1987. While in Houston, Texas, a group named the Geto Boys’ released sex- and violence-dominated music which became the subject of outrage in some areas. On the other hand, gangsta rap was slowly becoming a national phenomenon in California, where a distinct school of West Coast hip-hop began when Eazy E formed a group called N.W.A. or Ni— With Attitude.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, an artist named Too $hort became a major regional hit and his profane and sexually explicit style of songs was able to influence N.W.A’smember, Ice Cube, in his early writing skills. However, it was N.W.A.’s controversial album entitled Straight Outta Compton which shifted hip-hop’s geographic center. Themost noticeable characteristic of N.W.A.’s approach was theirstraightforward way of how they described violence: as normally as it occurred in the streets of south-central Los Angeles and Compton
As N.W.A. disbanded, the group’s importance multiplied because they allreleased a solo album. Ice Cube’s album calledAmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted which was released in 1990 employed Public Enemy’s production team, the Bomb Squad.They helped introduce New York City listeners to the West Coast sound, which was known at this point as gangsta rap. In 1992, Dr. Dre, who happened to be N.W.A’s producer and sometime rapper, released his own album which became California rap scene’s most influential and definitive album. He called it The Chronic and it is about themarriage of unhurried beats along with murderous gangsta mentality.This album resulted in phenomenal sales and it also helped launched Death Row Records andlater on, the career of Snoop Doggy Dogg.
From 1988, several other gangsta rap artists from California began making waves in the music scene. Artists such as Too $hort, Ice-T relied on their self-styled pimp image in order to make sales; Even though his lyrics were all well-respected, his single entitled “Cop Killer” which was released in 1992, like gangsta rap in general, raised controversy among listeners. On the other hand, N.W.A.’s influence in the gangsta rap scene are pretty evident and it could be heard in several other groups such as Compton’s Most Wanted, DJ Quik, and Above the Law. In the early 1990s, several gangsta rap groups emerged buttheir approach was the opposite of N.W.A.’s violence and misogyny.
Elements and Style of Gangsta Rap
Style wise,gangsta rap has more aggressive lyrics along with hard hitting beats. But despite being widely accepted in the 1990s, gangsta rap soon fade in popularity. This is because hip-hop critics werecensuringgangsta rap because of its violent themes. Rappers went on the defensive and they said that gangsta rap was just their way of reflectingthe hardships that they faced out in the real world.
Notable Gangsta Rap Artists
- Notorious B.I.G – Notorious B.I.G was considered to be one of the greatest rappers of all time and his debut album called Ready To Die which was released in 1994 made him one of the most iconic rap artists in the East Coast hip hop scene.
- Ice Cube – Born as O’Shea Jackson, Ice Cube entered the gangsta rap music scene as a member of the hip hop group named C.I.A. The group gained limited commercial success and disbanded after three years. Which is why after that, Ice Cube joined Eazy E, Dr.Dre to form the hip hop group N.W.A where he gained more popularity.
- W.A – N.W.A was one of the first and most popular artists in the gangsta rap scene. They are also considered as one of the greatest, most influential, and most controversial groups in the history of hip hop.
- Too $hort – Too $hortis considered to be as one of the pioneer rappers in the West Coast hip hop scene. He is known for his hit songs such as Blow the Whistle and The Ghetto. He started his career in 1985 and since then he became known as one of Oakland’s best underground emcee.
- Dr. Dre – Dr. Dre started his career as a member of N.W.A. Since then, he became one of the most successful artist in the hip hop scene and today he is now a record producer and entrepreneur. He is now one of the most respected artist in the music industry.