Rap: From The Pioneers To Recent     

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Posted by Robert
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12/30/2003 5:45:48 AM
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Rap: From The Pioneers To Recent

The origin of rap can be traced back to performers such as Gil Scott-Heron and Last Poets, whose street poetry addressed the civil rights' struggles of the late-1960s and 70s. Muhammad Ali's quickfire boasts about knocking out opponents ("To prove I'm great/ he will fall in eight!") made him a proto-rapper. Jamaican DJs, "toasting" over reggae, have also been cited as influential, as has the griot tradition of oral storytelling in West Africa.

In the mid-1970s, pioneering New York DJs such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa invented ways of mixing and scratching records on a pair of turntables, so making music for rappers to rap over. But hip-hop is more than just rapping. As the politically militant rapper KRS-One put it: "Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live." Notably, hip-hop also refers to breakdancing and graffiti.

The first hit, in 1979, was the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight". Cheerfully banal, it featured lines such as: "I said a hip hop, the hippie the hippie, to the hip hip hop and you don't stop." More hardhitting was Grandmaster Flash's 1982 single "The Message", with its bleak portrait of inner city life in black America: "It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under."

In the late-1980s, performers such as LL Cool J, Run-DMC and KRS-One enjoyed some success, but the heavyweight presence was Public Enemy - a rap missile powered by revolutionary black politics and explosively confrontational music. The band's frontman Chuck D once memorably described rap music as "black people's CNN" - the only medium in which black voices could tell the truth in a white-dominated country.

In Los Angeles, in the late 1980s, the emergence of performers such as Ice-T and Niggaz With Attitude signalled the increasing dominance of gangsta rap, so-called for its glamorisation of ghetto brutality. Political exhortation, in songs such as Public Enemy's "Fight the Power", gave way to boasting, as in NWA's "Gangsta Gangsta": "To a kid looking up to me, life ain't nothin' but bitches and money."

De La Soul's 1989 album Three Feet High and Rising offered a gentler, playful alternative to amoral gangsta rap. But despite the best efforts of bands like A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers, the so-called "Daisy Age" wilted as rap fans showed a preference for the stronger meat of performers like Snoop Doggy Dogg (acquitted of murder in 1996).

LA's emergence as a rap capital to rival New York sparked a feud between the east and west coasts that was blamed for the murder of rappers Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur in the 1990s. (Puff Daddy commemorated his friend Smalls' death in the ghastly, Police-sampling song "Every Breath You Take".) Both slain rappers are now revered as hip-hop saints and sell more records dead than they did alive.

On the west coast, g-funk was a successfu

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