The Origins of Rap:

The roots of hip-hop can be traced back to primarily African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino communities in the Bronx, and then to Harlem and other boroughs of New York City starting in the early 70s. Rap is the most prominent hip-hop component. By the 1990s, hip-hop had become an internationally recognized cultural phenomenon largely due to its popularity as rap music. This youth-oriented dance music emphasizes stylized verbal delivery of rhymed couplets over pre recorded accompaniment.

Although the hip hop/ rap of the early 90s was iconic, it served more as a reinforcement/reshaping of foundational hip hop, rather than a new sub-genre.



The term “hardcore” encompasses two key concepts essential to hip-hop, especially in the 1990s: “hardness” (signifying impenetrability, control, and coldness) and “core” (meaning centrality, authenticity, and essence). Ice Cube, Just-Ice, and Ice-T are rap artists whose names are metaphorical for hardness. As well as this, hardness carries with it the general belief that men are sexually dominant and can, at their extreme, dominate women. Hardness was valued by urban Black males as part of the hip-hop value system.

Gangsta Rap emerged during the 90s and became a way for artists to bring neighborhood violence, gang relations, drug dealing, and drug use into the public eye. Gangsta Rap was known for its vulgar and openly honest lyrics. The song “Gin and Juice” showed the more laid back side of the streets as Snoop talks about sippin on gin and juice while relaxing. “Gin and Juice” is one of the staple songs of 90s rap/hip hop as it’s catchy chorus was and still is loved by fans. Snoop Dogg like many rappers of this decade talks about having sexual relations with women all while chasing money. Many people found the type of language used in 90s rap and hip hop to be offensive and vulgar while others loved everything about it.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Biggie Smalls emerged as the face of east coast Gangsta rap in the 90’s. B.I.G. and Bone Thugs N Harmony rapped about the revolutionized culture within the black community. Notorious Thugs is a narrative that denotes the importance of money gain, marijuana consumption, and cocaine distribution. The riff of the electric guitar and bass guitar heavily influences the rhythm of the song, in which samples within some of Smalls’s songs were usually cut from The Isley Brothers’ spunky discography. The song even references the gang culture in comparison to the Civil Rights Era of the 50s and 60s: “Beg my pardon to Martin: baby, we ain’t marchin’, we shootin.’” Nonviolence protest was no longer considered as a means to achieve advancement and economic mobility in America as a black man. It was either to kill or be killed, literally and figuratively; this song vehemently highlights the intraracial tension evident during the late 90’s. 

Extra songs and more!

Even though rap, specifically gangsta rap in the 90s, drew criticism for its explicit lyrics, it was a way for the black community to showcase their struggles with violence, poverty, and drugs. It took creativity and rhythm from the artists to create and produce music that expressed daily black struggles in their music.

By: Aiyanna Manning, Leah Robinson, Trinity Seegars