By Tyson Taylor
Over the course of its history, hip-hop has turned into a melting pot of different cultures. For our parent’s generation, rock n’ roll was an influential statement in society. Arguably today I, as well as many others, believe that hip-hop has taken its place as the most influential genre of music. With the growth of the genre, sub-genres have emerged that cater to niche audiences of music lovers. Everyone has their style and interests, and hip-hop aids in expressing those styles and feelings. In my humble opinion, I believe that gangsta rap, alternative hip-hop and trap music have been the most influential hip-hop subgenres. So let’s talk about how these subgenres formed and have evolved to be what they are today.
I believe that gangsta rap is what started the influence and power that hip-hop holds today. Gangsta rap started to emerge around the late 1980s and is mainly known for its harsh lifestyle and cultures within gangs and urban street hustlers. Since the beginning of its emergence, gangsta rap has gained a reputation for promoting disorderly conduct such as assault, drug dealing, and materialism. This reputation is based on outdated stereotypes that have been associated with the subgenre for multiple decades. A lot of people have come to the defense of the side of gangsta arguing that it’s music that is expressing struggles that most people won’t experience such as the reality of life in American ghettos, police brutality and racism. Some of the very first pioneers of gangsta rap were Ice-T from Los Angeles and Schoolly D of Philadelphia. Later expanding into some of the most influential artists of hip-hop such as Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G and N.W.A. The controversial conversation about whether the explicit nature contained in this subgenre will most likely live as hip-hop goes on. However one cannot deny the fact that this subgenre has influenced and brought many of the most recognized hip-hop artists of all time into the limelight.
The next subgenre I will discuss is the alternative hip-hop subgenre. Alternative hip-hop has been around longer than most would expect. The subgenre began to take off around the late 1980’s around the same time that gangsta rap was beginning to make its name in the hip-hop industry. Interestingly, alternative hip-hop was the first hip-hop subgenre to garner mainstream attention. Only a few years later, gangsta rap would take the country by storm and send alternative rap back into the underground scene. Some of the first pioneers of this subgenre were A Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground and OutKast. These artists would refuse to conform to the type of rap that characterizes gangsta rap. Instead, these artists would focus more heavily on incorporating sounds from different genres such as jazz, soul and funk. The focus on the lyrical nature was different as well, instead of discussing the harsh life in the streets, alternative hip-hop artists would turn their attention towards politics, love and fun. Some may think that alternative hip-hop has died but that is not the case at all. Some of the more recent alternative hip-hop artists include MF DOOM, Kanye West and Tyler, The Creator. Not to mention, MF DOOM arguably might be the most influential artist of our generation. I think of alternative hip-hop as an experimental genre where artists test new things and with their results they influence other artists. For example, Tyler, the Creator might not be the same artist he is today if MF DOOM wasn’t around to inspire him.
The last subgenre under the hip-hop umbrella that I will be discussing is none other than trap music. I believe this to be the most sought-after subgenre in our society today. Many think that trap music is still quite a newer concept, however, it began arising around the 1990s in southern cities such as Atlanta and Memphis. Trap music emphasizes complex hi-hat patterns and kick drums from an 808 drum machine. Pioneer producers of trap music include the likes of Kurtis Mantronik, Zaytoven and DJ Screw. These producers laid down the blueprints and foundations of how modern trap music sounds today. Without the influence of DJ Screw and Zaytoven, trap music might not be what it is today. Some of the pioneer rappers include Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne and Waka Flocka Flame. During the mid-2000s, trap music quickly made a transition into the mainstream and has never looked back. As of today, some of the biggest artists in the hip-hop industry fall under this subgenre. Artists such as Drake, Future and Travis Scott are some of the biggest names in this subgenre. Trap music has influenced current street fashion, our modern vernacular and so much more. Trap music is considered to be one of the more mainstream sub-genres within the hip-hop genre today and it continues to evolve. With new sounds and artists arising every year, I’m excited to see the road that trap music will take in the future.
Hip-hop is made from different backgrounds and experiences from all over the world, just like the people who love to listen to it. Over the past few decades, hip-hop has changed and taken turns a lot of people wouldn’t have ever expected. It is certainly a genre of continuing innovation and creativity. Nobody knows what the most influential subgenres of hip-hop will look like in 30 years, but as of now I strongly believe these three subgenres will hold the test of time.
Written by: Preethi Mangadu