This is a question that people like to ask, but I don’t think it’s one that is really well understood. Gangsta rap is a genre of rap that emerged in the mid-90s, so no genre is known as the definitive form or model of gangster rap, and no single genre is truly representative of its lineage. Instead, the term gangster rap is used to describe a range of styles and aesthetics, each of which is a variant on an underlying format:
Rockabilly was a variation on country songwriting that relied on a combination of vocal melody and lyrics written in verse form.
Pop was a genre that focused primarily on pop sounds and elements, such as acoustic guitar, bass, synthesizers, and vocal harmonies, rather than ballads and lyrics.
R&B and Motown were genres that were influenced by jazz, R&B, and soul, which were used as subgenres in their own right. These genres were often also influenced by African-American music – for example, The Roots, N.W.A., and Nas were all influenced by African-American soundscapes and styles, and have often been compared to African-American rap.
These styles are sometimes called ‘crossover’ because they are stylized versions of classic hip-hop. That said, the majority of crossover rappers today are not from traditionally ‘gangsta’ backgrounds: many mainstream rap producers (such as Jay Z, the RZA, Ice Cube) are not from the streets, and there is no clear correlation between their upbringing and gang affiliation. Instead, their influences are more from the mid-90s, but they have nonetheless become more popular in a similar vein to how the ’80s music scene evolved after its initial peak in the late 80s.
Most crossover rap producers, however, are from the suburbs and urban areas of their upbringing. For example, Jay Z’s mother was from the Bronx but grew up in a predominantly White suburb. Even more, most of the most popular rapper who used crossover tropes in their music throughout the 90s were not from the ghetto. This is especially noticeable in the 80s, when a number of artists from the ghetto – including T.I., the Notorious B.I.G., and Talib Kweli – were in the mainstream hip-hop scene.
If you look at the top twenty crossover rap albums released in 2014, the majority were from major suburbs, but that trend appears to be declining
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