Donald Byrd, a jazz trumpeter, describes hip-hop music as "part of the whole black experience" and says that the reason that so many people want to do it is that is is a "living music". I'm going to take you on a journey back to hip-hops roots in the 1970s and show how it evolved through the 80s and 90s into what it is today.
Hip-hop music can trace its roots back to the block parties that took place in early 1970s New York. One of the DJs who would play these parties was a Jamaican immigrant who went by the stage name of DJ Kool Herc. He and other DJs began using mixers and additional turntables to extend the percussion breaks on rock, fuck and disco songs, since those were the parts that people enjoyed dancing to the most. Herc decided to use one of the techniques that was often used in dub music in his native Jamaica, that of people speaking over the music. These people were known as MCs and Herc began using two of them (MC Coke La Rock and MC Clark Kent) at the parties he would play. At first, the MCs would simply introduce themselves and people in the crowd while the breaks played (this is how shoutouts began), but after a while, they began speaking in whymes to entertain the crowd and adding in short choruses of their own to give them time to gather their thoughts. This led to the formation of the first MC group, DJ Kool Herc and the Herculoids. This caught on and soon other groups began to form. This is the birth of hip-hop music.
By the late 70s, hip-hop had divided into two camps: one concentrated on exciting the crowds and the other was more interested in developing the music rhythmically. While the music was generally ignored by the mainstream media, it had spread to black communities across America. In 1979, the first commercially recorded rap records were produced, the most famous of them being The Sugarhill Gang, which produced the hit, "Rappers Delight", which is the first rap single to go gold. However most people saw the music as a fad that would soon fade.
As the 80s began, hip-hop began to diversify and develop both musically and lyrically. Artists like Afrika Bambaata and Run DMC helped to move the music from live pre-recorded tracks to a wholly eletronically produced sound. Rhythms also began to become more complex. The simple rhymes and funny tales gave way to more metaphoric songs and socially concious songs, like Grandmaster Flash's "The Message".
It was at this point the mainstream began to become more aware of hip-hop music, with Kurtis Blow becoming the first rapper to endorse a product, Sprite. Of course, this also led to accusations of "selling out". But it was the ground breaking group Run DMC that pushed the music as a whole into the mainstream spotlight. They were the first rap group to have a video aired on MTV and the first rap album to go gold. They were also the first group to fuse rap and heavy metal. Other acts that managed to gain mainstream acceptance were the former punk rock group the Beastie Boys,who also have the distinction of being the first white rap group to gain acceptance with the (at the time) almost entirely black hip-hop audience.
The diversification continued with Roxanne Shante becoming the first major female rapper in 1984 and Salt N Pepa becoming the first major female rap group in 1985. In addition, until this point, almost all major rappers were from the East Coast, and New York in particular. Los Angeles' Ice-T was the first to break that mold, producing his first hit single in 1986.
1987 saw beginning of an influx of politically charged rap groups, beginning with the release of Yo! Bum Rush the Show by Public Enemy. Boogie Down Productions followed in 1988 and over the next several years, many hip-hop groups would carry their politics onto their albums, Public Enemy remaining foremost among them.
By 1988, the West Coast still had little recognition from the hip-hop community. This changed with the release of Straight Outta Compton by the group N.W.A. Their ferocious delivery and controversial subject matter helped to popularize what is now known as gangsta rap, earned them a strongly worded letter from the F.B.I. for the song "Fuck Tha Police" and firmly put the West Coast on the map.
Other styles devloped during the late 80s include a fusion of rap and house music from Chicago(known as hip-house), Miami developed the bass-heavy Miami Bass style, the most infamous example of which being the 2Live Crew, and the go-go style out of Washington DC.
An hip-hop movement also developed during the late 80s in response to the rise of gangsta rap and hardcore rap. This movement was led by the Native Tounges collective of rap groups and included Queen Latifah, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and Black Sheep. The heavily jazz and funk influenced music tended to be quirky, insightful and socially concious. Some labled it "New School". This movement would seem to die out, but experience a resurgence in later years.
By the 1990s, hip-hop music had gained full mainstream acceptance, having even granted it's own Grammy award. The popularity of West Coast rap and gangsta rap in particular continued to rise and in 1992, one album solidified the West Coast's dominance for years.
Dr. Dre, formerly of N.W.A. released The Chronic in 1992 and took West Coast hip-hop in an entirely new direction. Along with collaborators Snoop Doggy Dog and Warren G, Dre developed what became known as the G-Funk style which dominated hip-hop's mainstream for some time. Sales of West Coasts rappers eclisped those of the East Coast for years.
Not to be counted out, sales on the East Coast became dominated by Sean Combs' Bad Boy label, although many hip-hop purists saw their music as being too watered down. More critically acclaimed performers like Nas, the Wu-Tang Clan and Busta Rhymes appeared around this period, but they performed modestly in sales by comparison.
The resurgence of New York as a force in hip-hop lead to a heated rivalry between Death Row Records (West Coast) and Bad Boy Records (East Coast), spearheaded by two of their top acts, 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G. This feud was fueled by the mainstream music media, who failed to realize that rappers tended to take verbal shots at each other and that little was meant by it. Things escalated until the murders of 2Pac (1996) and the Notorious B.I.G.(1997), both of which still remain unsolved.
In the wake of this, the southern states moved to fill the void. Outkast and the Goodie Mob from Atlanta became some of the first commercially successful Southern rappers, followed by Master P and the No Limit Posse as well as the Cash Money crew, both from New Orleans.
The New School's aforementioned resurgence also occured about this time, featuring acts like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots and Slum Village.
The early part of the 2000s was dominated by Dr. Dre's protege, Eminem, whose first two albums earned multiple platinum albums, despite (or perhaps because of) his violent, mysogynistic, homophobic lyrics and near constant use of profanity. He is notable for achieving more success than any white rap artist to this point, including the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice and 3rd Bass.
Beyond that, mainstream hip-hop sales was dominated mostly by pop oriented crossover acts, while performers like Jay-Z stayed mostly with a more black audience. It wasn't until the advent of 50 Cent that hardcore rap began to push its way back into the spotlight. New School rappers, or Nu-Soul as some call them now, have begun to experience more success than they have in the past 10 years.
In the meantime, the South has continued to become a force to be reckoned with and with the advent of the crunk style of southern rap, the South is well on it's way to dominating the hip-hop community.
To summarize, I have taken you through hip-hops beginnings in 1970s New York, through it's growing pains in the 80s and 90s and shown you the state of hip-hop today. I cannot begin to guess the future, but I can say this: hip-hop music has spread throught the world and affected every other musical form being produced today, as well as fashion and even language. It is indeed a living music.