The answer can be traced to the Bronx; but who invented it? It’s the music industry.
Brett Gheysens, author of The Roots of Contemporary Hip Hop, says an essential part of the origin myth of the genre is being forgotten.
“The history of hip hop, if you want to get into it, is how the first generation didn’t understand that hip hop was music – it was a party,” Gheysens says.
“The first generation was totally disconnected from what was happening in hip hop’s history. The early pioneers never wanted to connect to the roots of hip hop at an emotional level. It had to be a party.”
At first, the music industry tried to make hip hop appealing to the young – with the “rap revolution”, the “gangsta decade”, the “gangsta rap” (which emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s, as the group of musicians including Eminem, Ice-T, Tupac Shakur, and Nas were all young) and the rise of the internet as the major platforms for distribution.
It worked – in the US and UK – for decades. But as these social media “pop culture” phenomena flourished, people were no longer just attracted by what they saw. They were also increasingly drawn to the music themselves by its emotional depth and its musicality – the way that hip hop made the listener feel.
And as audiences became increasingly addicted to the music itself, hip hop evolved from being about listening to music to being about feeling on the dancefloor. Artists like Eminem and Kanye West went to extraordinary lengths to get their songs heard and to connect with audiences – and to show that these moves didn’t just create a new style, but a new way of life.
“What Kanye West was saying was you’ve got to make people feel what you feel. You’ve got to make what people feel in America you want to feel in the world,” Gheysens says.
Kanye West and fellow rapper Jay-Z were the first to make use of audio clips; and to create a new genre called “viral rap” – in which lyrics are cut and pasted onto the back of a DJ’s turntable, and then played over the music, so that they don’t need to be repeated each time.
A version of this was later to be applied to the live set of Eminem in the mid-1990s.
Rappers like these were doing all the things
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