The History Of Violence In Hip-Hop: 6 Years Changed Everything
In the last year, Hip-Hop has lost an alarming number of its artists to violence. Young Dolph, PnB Rock, Trouble, and Drakeo The Ruler are just some of the noteworthy examples, among several others. In the last week, Migos member Takeoff was killed in Houston, Texas on November 1—adding to a list that spans over five dozen artists in the last 35 years. As Takeoff, a Grammy-nominated, chart-topping talent was only 28 years old, it’s a tragic reminder of short life—at a time when regular news of deceased artists is troubling enough.
On episode #93 of the What’s The Headline podcast (embedded in video and audio below), the Ambrosia For Heads team looks at Rap music’s history with violence. The conversation looks at 1987 in particular, as one where Hip-Hop artists evolved from released music with minimal curses and often PG-13 subject matter to the sensation and glorification of crime and murder. While some of those depictions were life lessons or cautionary tales, others began to show little consequence for the actions in the lyrics. That year, Boogie Down Productions released its debut, Criminal Minded, just months before the group’s founder Scott La Rock (aka Scott Sterling), was killed in a dispute that reportedly did not concern him. That same year, N.W.A. And The Posse contained early versions of “Boyz-N-The-Hood” and “Dope Man,” songs with grim reflections of reality and jarring subject matter.
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Over the next six years, much of Rap music followed in this direction—one first established by Schoolly D, Ice-T, Just-Ice, and others. By the late 1980s, songs like The Geto Boys’ “Mind Of A Lunatic” pushed the envelope further—with pulp tales of murder, rape, and necrophilia. N.W.A.’s momentum grew to more aggression on Straight Outta Compton, and strong themes of violence and misogyny on 1991’s Efil4zaggin—an album that eventually topped the overall pop charts. As two Hip-Hop Heads who are fans of all kinds of Rap, and cover as much through AFH, the conversation is not one about preaching. Instead, the discussion simply unpacks the growing popularity of violence in the music and questions the motives and support around this phenomenon.
The convo (which extends into Drill music and contemporary trends), also examines how art imitated life in the case of Snoop Dogg, Philip Woldemariam, and the controversial rollout surrounding another chart-topper, seen in 1993’s “Murder Was The Case” (and subsequent album). It looks at Horrorcore as a movement which developed new extremes in this imagery. By the six-year endpoint of 1993, violent Rap music was atop the charts, on radio, on television, and earning critical acclaim. The exception had become the norm, which arguably continues nearly 30 years later.
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Additionally, the podcast highlights songs in protest of violence, from KRS-One and Gang Starr, to Main Source and N.W.A. members, to Kendrick Lamar and dead prez. Powerful and troubling statistics are presented in the discussion, showing the correlation between music and life, art and reality. It wraps with a discussion of what needs to change in the music, the industry, and society to bring about change and a greater respect for life.
The time codes for episode #93 of the What’s The Headline podcast (with hyperlinks to skip around):
0:00 – Intro – More than 60 rappers have died from gun violence
2:01 – AFH’s coverage of Migos over the years and our personal relationships to their music
6:11 – There is a history and evolution of violence in Rap music. This is not preaching, but analysis and commentary from two devoted Hip-Hop Heads
9:31 – Rap music has always possessed the power to influence in many ways
12:31 – Violence is one of the ways that Rap music can influence. Trick-Trick recently made the point that music can put a spell on the listener
17:31 – There was a time in recorded Rap music where violence themes were barely existent
21:41 – Boogie Down Productions, Schoolly D, Ice-T, and N.W.A. changed things substantially, especially by 1987
25:51 – Shortly after BDP releases “My 9MM Goes Bang,” Scott La Rock is killed. It is also currently their most-streamed song on Spotify
29:31 – N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton began a time when violence in Rap music went from being the exception to the norm. That coincides with the crack epidemic
36:31 – The Geto Boys’ “Mind Of A Lunatic” took violence in Rap music to that other level
40:01 – N.W.A. raises the stakes again with Efil4zaggin and that album goes to #1 on the pop charts
45:50 – This trend continues with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, a critically-acclaimed, commercially successful, radio-embraced albums
48:00 – In a five-year span Rap music has gone from barely cursing to glorifying violence and misogyny
49:51 – Art imitates life with Snoop Dogg, the death of Philip Woldemariam, and Murder Was The Case
53:11 – The mid-‘90s emergence of Horrorcore and a whole movement built are violence and death
58:31 – The movement continues, into Tupac, Drill music, and beyond. People are addressing real violence in the music
1:01:41 – Some powerful statistics about murders in America, and the relationship those figures have to what is happening in the lyrics
1:09:01 – A history of anti-violence Rap songs involving KRS-One and H.E.A.L., We’re All In The Same Gang, Heather B, Organized Konfusion, Black Star, Gang Starr, Kendrick Lamar, Main Source, and more
1:16:00 – Beyond Rap music, there is an increasing prominence of violence in film, television, and video games 1:19:00 – Some powerful and troubling statistics about the murder rates and gun homicides of Black Americans versus white Americans
1:21:01 – What is the role that we, as Heads, and AFH play in this epidemic?
1:29:00 – What role do record labels and digital streaming platforms play in this?
1:33:01 – Is art really imitating life for some Rap artists?
1:36:11 – What can society do to be better with our appetite for destruction?
1:40:21 – Our songs of the week, from Heather B and Ab-Soul featuring Zacari
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AFH readers can catch regular discussions about the culture on our What’s The Headline. The podcast also features interviews with Rapper Big Pooh, Cormega, Meyhem Lauren & Daringer, Diamond D, Joell Ortiz, AZ, Blu & Mickey Factz, Kurupt, Evidence, Skyzoo, Pharoahe Monch, Prince Paul & Don Newkirk, Statik Selektah, Lyric Jones, The LOX, MC Eiht, Havoc, Duckwrth, photographer T. Eric Monroe, and Lord Finesse.