Hip Hop

Hip hop is an extremely young genre only originating in the 70s, however, it has since developed massively and is now one of the biggest genres of music all around the world. From humble beginnings in small urban communities in New York, it has grown beyond all proportion, producing many of today’s best-selling, festival-headlining artists such as Drake, Kanye West, and Doja Cat. 

Old School Hip Hop

Early hip hop grew out of the culturally diverse and less wealthy communities in New York in the early 1970s. It provided an outlet reflecting the social and economic hardships of these struggling communities. A catalyst for the development of early hip hop was the increasing popularity of street parties, especially among African American communities in the Bronx, where DJs would play popular music styles. One of the earliest pioneers, DJ Kool Herc, massively influenced the sound of hip hop by extending the percussive breaks in popular funk and soul songs to create breakbeats. This was combined with MCing (otherwise known as rapping), and this fusion meant hip hop quickly rose to popularity. Early hip hop was also very influential through its development of DJing techniques. Grandmaster Flash was arguably the biggest pioneer, developing techniques that allowed for the creation of new music such as backspin (beat juggling), punch phrasing, scratching, and needle dropping. Previously, hip hop was a style that was only performed live at parties, however, in 1979 Sugarhill Gang released what is commonly regarded as the first hip hop record, Rapper’s Delight. It was immediately popular and propelled hip hop into the mainstream. By the early 80s, hip hop was reaching clubs in cities all around the US and new styles were beginning to be developed. Old school hip hop is characterised by the now commonplace hip hop sounds of DJ techniques and breakbeats. The rapping style is relatively simple, relying on basic rhythms at a moderate tempo, and usually covers themes of partying.

Notable artists:

DJ Kool Herc

Grandmaster Flash

Sugarhill Gang

Kurtis Blow

Afrika Bambaataa

Funky Four Plus One

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New School Hip Hop

The new school of hip hop marks the second major period in the development of the genre. By the time of the movement’s inception, around 1983, hip hop was already highly popular. However, with the release of the two tracks It’s Like That and Sucker MCs, Run-D.M.C. developed a rawer sound consisting of a more aggressive rap style and a stripped-down backing track, mainly produced by a drum machine. In 1984, they released their eponymous debut LP which is considered a hallmark of hip hop. Two years later Run-D.M.C. followed up with Raising Hell, a highly successful record that was equally influential, containing the Aerosmith crossover, Walk This Way. Integral to the production of Raising Hell were Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, both of whom were co-owners of Def Jam Recordings. This label proved very important and released music by LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. 1984-6 saw the release of LL Cool J’s I Can’t Live Without My Radio and the Beastie Boys debut record, Licensed to III which was the first rap LP to top the Billboard album chart. Hip hop’s success was now undeniable, and the genre was cemented in the mainstream, no longer overlooked by major record labels. New school hip hop adopted a more stripped-down, minimalist sound prioritising drum machine beats, occasionally incorporating elements of rock music. The songs were also typically shorter and more radio friendly. The rapping style is more aggressive and covers socio-political themes rather than the more light-hearted style of old school hip hop. 

Notable artists:


Beastie Boys

LL Cool J

MC Shan

Marley Marl

Public Enemy

Gangsta Rap

Gangsta rap appeared in the mid-1980s whereby the lyrics or the artists themselves were connected to American street gangs. The style originated in 1985 with artists such as Schoolly D, who influenced the genre with his self-title debut record, and Ice-T, who experienced success in 1986 with his defining track, 6 in the Mornin’. The following year, Ice-T released his similarly successful debut studio record Rhyme Pays. 1988 was a landmark year for gangsta rap, seeing the release of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton which featured the infamous and controversial track Fuck tha Police which was a protest song covering the ongoing problem of police brutality. Coming from California, N.W.A’s immediate success subverted the idea that hip hop was exclusively an East Coast movement. Into the 90s, Ice Cube left N.W.A to release a variety of highly influential records. 1991 also saw the release of N.W.A’s second record (now without Ice Cube), Efil4zaggin which was immensely successful, topping the Billboard 200. Other artists, such as Too Short and Above the Law were also experiencing success through gangsta rap style, meanwhile East Coast artists, such as Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane were adopting the style into their music. By 1992 Dr. Dre had left N.W.A and released his first solo venture, The Chronic, featuring Snoop Dog on many tracks. The record was extremely successful and is certified triple platinum. Gangsta rap continued to be incredibly popular and influential, leading to many of the biggest names in hip hop, if not all popular music. Gangsta rap typically feature aggressive beats and lyrics. The lyrical themes vary, covering socio-political issues, but also regularly cover gang crime, misogyny, drugs, materialism, and violence.

Notable artists:


Ice Cube


Dr. Dre

Snoop Dog



Too Short

The Notorious B.I.G.

Alternative Hip Hop

Alternative hip hop encompasses rap music that didn’t conform to any one of the mainstream hip hop styles. As such, alternative hip hop typically includes elements of the more popular rap genres however fuses these with influences from genres including funk, jazz, soul, rock, and pop. Alternative hip hop emerged in the late-80s when hip hop was dominating the mainstream and various bands, specifically on the East Coast, were trying to push the genre in new directions. Some of the earliest influential bands include A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and KRS-One. De La Soul’s 1989 release, 3 Feet High was especially influential on the genre as it garnered widespread acclaim and attention. The 90s saw alternative hip hop decline from the mainstream however Arrested Development and the Fugees both experienced significant commercial successes. After a brief hiatus from the mainstream throughout the 90s, the 2000s saw a resurgence of alternative hip hop, producing artists such as Jurassic 5, El-P and Outkast. To date, alternative hip hop has remained extremely popular, with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino pushing the bounds of creativity within the genre to great success. Alternative hip hop is typically more creative and experimental that traditional hip hop styles. This includes taking influence from a variety of other genres, sampling anything from country to psychedelic pop. The lyrics cover a variety of themes and tend to stray away from the grittier subject matter that you would find in gangsta rap.

Notable artists:

A Tribe Called Quest

De La Soul

Arrested Development

MF Doom


Kendrick Lamar

Childish Gambino

Tyler the Creator


Trap music is one of the more recent offshoot genres from hip hop but it has grown to be one of the biggest. The style combines traditional elements of hip hop music with electronic dance music influences. Trap originated in the 90s and was centred in the Southern region of America. It wasn’t until the 2000s however, when trap really took off, encouraged by the influence of electronic dance music. A number of artists focused songs around beats that were increasingly similar to that you might find in house or trance music. Rappers such as Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne were also producing crossover hits that helped propel the genre to popularity. Shawty Redd and Drumma Boy were particularly influential on the development of the genre during this period. The 2010s brought with it a massive influx of extremely successful trap artists including the likes of Future, Travis Scott, 21 Savage, XXXTentacion, and Migos. To this day trap continues to maintain a strong role in mainstream popular music, with many successful artists headlining festivals around the world and producing hit tracks. Trap is characterised by the use of synth/electronic beats. Usually relying on the classic 808 drum machine sound, the beats also heavily emphasise a triplet feel. Lyrical content of trap music typically centres around sex, drugs, and money. 

Notable artists:

Shawty Redd

Gucci Mane

Travis Scott



Young Jeezy

Lil Yachty

21 Savage