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Hip hop is a music genre that has evolved and diversified significantly since its formation in the 1970s. Most music listeners nowadays associate hip hop music with songs of Kanye West and other modern mainstream performers. However, although today’s hip hop music does share some similarities with old school hip hop, it is much more superficial and generic, compared to the timeless music of the old school hip hop.
Old hip hop music
Old school hip hop was developed between the 1970s and early 1980s as rhythmic music with extended breaks, characterized by beat juggling and mixing. Although rapping was not present in all old school hip hop tracks, this vocal style gained widespread adoption by the hip hop artists by the early 1980s. During the early history of hip hop music, due to the competition between the hip hop artists, this music genre became more varied in vocal and rhythmical aspects.
The sound became more complex, too, and featured several layers of samples and sophisticated arrangements. The lyrical content of early hip hop songs was similar to the lyrical content of modern hip hop songs and centered mainly around sexual themes. However, as the genre grew more mature, the lyrics became more conscious and focused on cultural, political, and philosophical themes. Since hip hop is mainly an African-American genre, it became an expression of struggles the African-Americans performers at that time faced, leading to the creation of conscious hip hop subgenre in the early 80s.
Among the first conscious hip, hop compositions were How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise? by Brother D with Collective Effort, and The Message by Grandmaster Flash. In the latter years, the hip hop performers went on to write metaphor-loaded rhymes that inspired people and explored such topics as poverty and domestic violence.
Contemporary hip hop music
In the 2000s, hip hop music saw mainstream success and heavily influenced other genres such as pop music. Similarly to old school hip hop, the modern version of this genre still consisted of rhythmic music accompanied by rap. Some artists also saw this music as a way to tackle challenging themes, continuing the work of the performers of the old school era. However, the popularization of the genre did lead to some significant changes to both the sound and the lyrical content.
Some albums featured as few as four samples, compared to up to thirty-five of the samples used in earlier hip hop songs. Lyrical content became much more simplified and focused on materialistic and sexual themes, going as far as popularizing personal and social corruption. The lack of substance led to the decrease in record sales, which prompted some artists to experiment with the sound and blur the boundaries of the genre.
The music industry of the 2010s is heavily skewed towards pop and electronic music lovers; as a result, the alternative hip hop artists draw inspiration from pop and electronic genres. This mixture of genres made hip hop music sound very generic, just like pop, or EDM music. The lyrical content of contemporary mainstream hip hop artists lost its edge and is mainly focused on sexual themes and money.
It is a hot debate whether old hip hop is better than today’s hip hop music. There is no denying that contemporary hip hop is much more accessible and diversified, but also generic and features some of the most trivial lyrics.