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Originating Location: United States
Originating Era: late 80s
- De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising 1989 (Tommy Boy)
- Freestyle Fellowhip - To Whom It May Concern 1991 (Beats & Rhymes)
- Black Star - Black Star 1998 (Rawkus)
- Aesop Rock - Labor Days 2001 (Definitive Jux)
Underground rap/hip-hop, alternative rap/hip-hop, independent rap/hip-hop is the result of a phenomenon frequently seen when a specific genre becomes immensly popular. The music inevitably becomes stale after a large number of fans begin to emulate their favorite superstars without adding any sort of variation on the now established formula. As a reaction, innovative artists will instead rebel against this formula and experiment within the definition of the genre in turn creating a sub-style that soon takes a life of its own and inevitably succumbs to the same process. In the late 80s, rap music quickly ascended to popularity throughout the United States, and began its reign as a mainstream genre that would rival the popularity of rock in the next decade. Thanks to artists like Run-DMC, Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim among others, rap found its sound, a sound that was inately somewhat angry and defiant. With that establishment came the rebellion, and in 1988 a trio out of New York City who called themselves De La Soul released the landmark album, 3 Feet High and Rising with production from Prince Paul. This album was far from even an inkling of anger, instead it embraced humor, happy vibes and a playful feel throughout with its carefree lyrics and its sample-heavy production. It not only was a critical and commercial success, but also open minds everwhere to the possibilities of the genre. The late 80s as well saw the emergence of jazz rap from Gang Starr and Stetsasonic, gangsta rap from Ice-T and LL Cool J and more dance-oriented styles from the Jungle Brothers.
As the 90s began, underground rap began to develop into the umbrella genre it is today thanks to the many different stlyes being developed under the mainstream radar. While mainstream hip-hop fans began to praise the bi-coastal rap feuds centered around gangsta rap, the underground embraced the likes of very lyrical emcees and jazzy beats. The second generation of alternative luminarees emerged being led by L.A.'s Freestyle Fellowship and The Pharcyde, the Bay Area's Souls of Mischief and Del tha Funkee Homosapien, New York City's A Tribe Called Quest and Atlanta's Arrested Development. Each of these artists had very different styles, but they all were spurred by a reaction to what was quickly becoming popular, simplistic lyrics about violence, drugs and sex. These alternative groups instead chose to rap about social concerns and anti-establishment topics along with other more jovial subjects. The "do it yourself" ethic also took shape during this years as many of these groups worked from the ground up to become heard; continuously promoting themselves by selling self-produced albums to fans and record stores with no majorly established label backing them. This period also birthed Southern rap, trip-hop, neo soul and British rap.
The state of underground hip-hop that exists today was shaped during the latter half of the 90s, after rap truley defined itself as a mainstream powerhouse. As production equipment became cheaper and more accessible, more and more amatuer musicians turned to hip-hop because of its somewhat simple formula. This, by no means, is a negative comment though; in fact, because of its simple structure, experimentation comes in high degrees and the genre is able to evolve in any number of directions. This is exactly what happened to rap starting in 1996 when Dr. Octagon (Kool Keith and Dan the Automator) released Dr. Octagonecologyst. This album, centralizing around a science-fiction theme with complex beats, showed how rap did not necessarily need to be something accepted by the popular masses to be a success, instead it developed a cult following and sprouted a whole new desciple of avant-hop. Other styles were revitalized with a class of new artists to redefine the possibilities of their particular obsession. Philadelphia's The Roots, a hip-hop band, took jazz rap to a new level, embracing a more hardcore lyrical style to front the music created by their live instrumentation. The socially conscious emcee was popularized by the teaming of Mos Def and Talib Kweli as Black Star. A style sometimes referred to as Backpacker Hip-Hop emerged combining funkier rhythms and more party-oriented lyrics thanks to crews like Dialted Peoples and Jurassic 5. Turntablism became a genre of its own as the producer began to receive more credit with the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Mix Master Mike and Cut Chemist making names for themselves. And a highly experimental scene came to life centered in the Bay Area as Blackalicious, Latyrx and the Hieroglyphics crew made noise.
This new creative momentum in rap did not miss a beat as we entered the new millineum. Quite the contrary, instead hip-hop music continued to flourish in every direction creating countless sub-styles. While rap has always been organized by sound, the next wave of underground rap could no longer be categorized by a particular style due to the expansive variety of the music. The new fan did not associate themself with a coast, city or particular artist, but rather they defined their tastes by label. With today's more accessible and affordable equipment, rappers and producers multiplied exponentially, as well as labels to support them. Mostly created by a single entrepreneurial person who is usually an artist themself, these independent labels are built from the ground up with clever marketing, an efficient buisness plan and a specific niche in rap all their own. Some of the more popular of these include L.A.'s Stones Throw and Mush, the Bay Area's Anticon and Quannum, New York's Definitive Jux, London's BBE and Lex, Chicago's Chocolate Industries, Minneapolis's Rhymesayers among others. The new styles ranged from political rap to avant-hop to emo rap to prog-hop to indie-hop to any other combination imagineable. The future of underground rap is hard to predict, if not impossible; because of new technology, the possibilities are endless. The arguement can be made that it should no longer be refered to as "underground" because of the increasing popularity in the recent years. The future lies in the imaginations of the up and coming artists emerging today, each trying to find their own specific voice for an ever-growing audience to embrace and support.
Artists in this genre Edit
- The Non-Gank Reckin' Crew
- Sean Knots
- Big Herk
- MF Doom
- Aesop Rock
- Vast Aire
- Lico Laats
- Rob Sonic
- Cannibal Ox
- Lyrics Born