To the untrained
ear, all rap and hip-hop may sound the same, but there's a number
of different levels in even the simplest rap song. At its core,
hip-hop is a post-modern musical genre that deconstructs familiar
sounds and songs, rebuilding them as entirely new, unpredictable
songs. Early rap records, commonly called "old school,"
were made by DJs scratching records and playing drum loops,
with MCs rapping over the resulting rhythms. As the genre progressed,
hard-rock guitars and hard-hitting beats were introduced by
Run-D.M.C., the first hardcore rap group, and the scratching
techniques were replaced by sampling. With their dense collages
of samples, beats and white noise, Public Enemy took sampling
to the extreme, and they helped introduce a social and political
conscience to hip-hop. That faded in the '90s, as gangsta rap
— originally introduced by NWA, who used Public Enemy's sound
as a template — became the dominant form. By the '90s, gangsta
rap, which originally was in direct opposition to such pop-oriented
rappers as MC Hammer, had become smoothed over and stylish,
and consequently was more popular than ever, as evidenced by
the success of pop-gangsta Puff Daddy.
In the terminology of rap music, Hip-Hop usually refers to the
culture — graffiti-spraying, breakdancing, and turntablism in
addition to rapping itself — surrounding the music. As a style
however, hip-hop refers to music created with those values in
mind. Once rap had been around long enough to actually have
a history, hip-hop groups began looking back to old-school figures
including MCs like Kurtis Blow and Whodini, and DJs like Grandmaster
Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. In fact, the latter's Zulu Nation
collective sprang up in the late '80s around two of the most
notable hip-hop artists, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.
With rap music's mainstream breakout during the '90s, dozens
of hip-hop artists pointed the way back to the old school, including
underground rappers like Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch.