Styles & Forms | Gangsta | Hip Hop

Rumbling out of Los Angeles with different beats, a different look and a very different attitude, gangsta rap was hip hop’s belligerent street child. This new sound grew up at black discos and parties away from mainstream interference, and so, much as the original hip hop had, it quite literally pleased itself and harked back to street funk for musical inspiration.

It was the first time rap had achieved any identity other than on the East Coast, but now, as hip hop moved closer to heavy metal and mainstream rock, upping its tempo and musical intensity, it appeared to be edging away from its home crowd. There had been signs that a change was due, when Eric B & Rakim’s minimalist Paid In Full was the biggest rap album of 1987, and the following year EPMD’s acclaimed Strictly Business proved how hip hop could still be funky. In the wake of these underground successes, it was not too much of a surprise when, at the end of the 1980s, west coast rap built itself almost exclusively on P-Funk samples – George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic always had huge support in California – for a bouncing, open-top car, hot-fun-in-the-California-sun type of vibe, laid-back in all but the lyrics.

Street Level

When N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude, as they were known back then) unleashed their Straight Outta Compton album on an unsuspecting world in 1988, it epitomized the state of their particular nation; both geographically and situationally. The album’s narrative told of the neglected world that was south central Los Angeles, which some 20 years after the Watts riots had slipped into decay and was ruled by the violent carryings-on of the Bloods and Crips street gangs. Songs from that LP like ‘Fuck Tha Police’, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and the track that gave the genre its name, ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ summed up a situation in a way that came to represent black rage’s new tone of voice – foul-mouthed, hate-filled, vitriolic and nihilistic.

In the city that, a few years later, would be notorious for the Rodney King beating, such an anti-authority attitude was understandable. The worrying factor was that in many ways this new attitude demonstrated a deep-rooted self-hatred, never more noticeable than in gangsta’s apparent relationship with women. At the time, the notions that women were nothing more than ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’, whose main role in life was to be scantily clad in videos, attracted more media flack than the preoccupations with violence. The fact that female rappers such as Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim endorsed that state of affairs – instead of using their success to prove the world otherwise – didn’t help matters.

As Cool As Ice

But in spite of – or perhaps because of – initial mainstream disapproval, gangsta rap flourished, as N.W.A. became the alma mater for the genre’s two most significant figures, lyricist/rapper Ice Cube and producer Dr. Dre. Also out of Los Angeles was Ice-T, who may ultimately have...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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