Styles & Forms | Alternative Hip Hop
Once hip hop had expanded beyond apparently using the hook lines from Chic’s ‘Good Times’ as the basis for just about everything, it quickly became as diverse as any other black music genre. Its evolution in recording studios took it way beyond the scope of conventional instruments. Can’t play piano like Herbie Hancock or bass like Bootsy? So what? Sample it.
The downside to this is that almost anybody can duplicate what just about anybody else does. Successful sounds and riffs get copied to trend-setting proportions, meaning that on the populist level, hip hop can sound unimaginative and uniform. But below this surface, in terms of influences and achievements, nothing could be further from the truth. This was the case practically from day one.
A Stylistic Melting Pot
Founding father Afrika Bambaataa was as partial to a bit of Teutonic rock as he was solid funk, and his synth-heavy early collaborations with Arthur Baker and John Robie owed a great deal to Kraftwerk, his favourite group. Rock, rather than soul, played a big part in Run DMC’s introducing rap to MTV: their marrying of heavy metal with hip hop was highlighted in ‘Walk This Way’, a collaboration with Aerosmith. This style went on to become the basis of Def Jam’s sound – hip hop’s most successful record label in the 1980s.
Jazz was always a popular alternative foundation, as used to particular effect by Gang Starr, Digable Planets, The Pharcyde, The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest, the latter creating a mellow, contemplative, sophisticated experience. Chilling out was the rap lifestyle explored famously by De La Soul, which produced a popular alternative to the more high-profile macho posturings. They were followed down this flowered-up, rural-type road by the laid-back likes of Black Eyed Peas and Arrested Development. Mantronix cleverly evolved from straight-ahead rap – albeit with a very musical bent – into an unique hip hop-flavoured dance style. The albums Three Feet High And Rising (De La Soul), Bizarre Ride II (The Pharcyde) and Reachin’ (Digable Planets) all worked hard to redefine rap as the 1980s eased into the 1990s.
Taking It Further
Rap’s Irish contingent was represented by House Of Pain (‘Jump Around’), while The Beastie Boys introduced an Animal House, frat-boy wildness to hip hop and took it to a whole new pop audience. Hispanic hip hop has been well established by Kid Frost, who aimed squarely at LA’s barrios with his low-riding ways, while Cypress Hill, which may have been mostly about getting stoned, remains overtly Latino. Most interesting in this area of late are Orishas, Paris-based Cuban exiles, who combine hip-hop techniques and rapping (in Spanish) spectacularly with traditional Cuban music (scratched-mixed) and singing.
Today, although gangsta seems to dominate, there are still plenty of alternatives. Rap and rock are common bedfellows: bands such as Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park have all adopted a hip hop way of doing things, and Ice-T’s...
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