From early disco accents to shocking trap lyrics, American hip-hop has evolved steadily over its half-century history.
Here is an overview of the main phases of this musical current.
So-called “old school” hip-hop corresponds to the first commercial recordings from 1979 to 1983, such as the title “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, the first rap hit in history, released on September 16, 1979 and kept at the prestigious Library of Congress in Washington.
In its early days, hip-hop focused on the theme of the party, with simple rap techniques and a moderate tempo, before the group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five with their song “The Message”, which describes with realistic life and poverty in the ghettos, brings a “conscious” style to the genre.
Grandmaster Flash during a concert on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, in New York, August 4, 2023 © ANGELA WEISS / AFP
Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Melle Mel and Grandmaster Caz are also among the major artists of this era.
The East Coast, particularly New York, played a pivotal role in the development of hip-hop in the 1980s and early 1990s, the so-called “golden age”.
The American group Wu-Tang Clan in New York, April 25, 2019 © Angela Weiss / AFP/Archives
The groups Run-DMC and Beastie Boys stand out for their stricter interpretation of hip-hop than their disco-inflected predecessors, as does Public Enemy, which is known for its songs with political themes, evoking racism and “Black Power”. .
Complex puns and elaborate metaphors uttered with a rapid flow characterized the music of the time, embodied by artists such as LL Cool J, Nas, Big Daddy Kane or the group Wu-Tang Clan.
Introducing jazz and R&B elements, bands De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest became pioneers of “alternative hip-hop” as women began to make their mark on the scene, including Salt-N-Pepa, Foxy Brown and Lauryn Hill, champion of melodic rap.
Puff Daddy-backed rapper The Notorious BIG became king of the East Coast with the release of his cult album ‘Ready to Die’ in 1994, until his murder in 1997.
Fast-paced, electronically-influenced West Coast hip-hop hit its peak in the mid-’90s, when gangsta rap and G-Funk began to take hold.
Singer Dr. Dre at the Met Gala in New York, May 1, 2023 © Angela WEISS / AFP/Archives
The NWA group thus enjoyed dazzling success in 1988 with its platinum-certified album “Straight Outta Compton”, in which it denounced racism and police violence with crude lyrics that sparked controversy.
After its dissolution, some members made a brilliant solo career like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre whose album “The Chronic” introduced the public to a certain Snoop Dogg, whose relaxed style became a symbol of G-Funk.
Dr. Dre reveals and shapes another big name in rap: Eminem.
Tupac Shakur, considered one of the greatest rappers in history, also spoke out against injustice in his lyrics before his murder in 1996, a few months before that of his great rival The Notorious BIG (Biggie).
Biggie’s commercial triumph paves the way for other East Coast stars like Jay-Z, DMX, Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent. The bling of the turn of the 2000s was born.
Jay-Z, whose title “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” is a hit, surrounds himself with producers like Kanye West, recognized from the start of his career for his sense of innovation.
American rapper Nicki Minaj at a preview of the film “Barbie” in Los Angeles, July 9, 2023 © Michael Tran / AFP/Archives
Nicki Minaj is hailed for her lightning flow while Kendrick Lamar becomes one of the most influential rappers of his generation with his political and poetic lyrics.
In the 2010s, the hard core of rap migrated to Atlanta, Georgia in the south of the country, where trap, a subgenre of hip-hop marked by cymbals and electronic drums, developed.
The rappers of the group Migos on stage in Los Angeles, September 25, 2021 © Michael Tran / AFP / Archives
Trap, whose name refers to places where drug trafficking takes place, remains one of the most popular styles of American music, its influence ranging from pop to electronic music to reggaeton.
OutKast, TI, Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne popularized it and allowed stars like Young Thug, Migos, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion to emerge.
The drill, another sub-genre, which revives the aggressive lyrics of gangsta rap, was born in Chicago before imposing itself in New York with rappers like Pop Smoke, Fivio Foreign and Ice Spice.