Gangsta Rap

Tupac Shakur
Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

What Is Gangsta Rap?:

Gangsta rap is a style of hip-hop that reflects the violent lifestyles of inner-city youth. Gangsta rap evolved from hardcore hip-hop in the early 1980s. Ice T, best known to kids everywhere as "That Guy from Law & Order," is widely credited as one of the early pioneers of gangsta rap. By the time 1983 rolled around, Ice T was making noise with his aggressive content. His first single, "Cold Winter Madness" (aka "The Coldest Rap") was banned on the radio because of its hardcore lyrics.

Hip-hop history buffs will recall that Ice T's "6 in the Morning" is also hugely influential as an early hardcore rap hit. Similarly, Schooly D played a pivotal part in advancing gangsta rap as an art form.

Later on, Ice T's reign made way for a groundbreaking collective from the west coast, namely N.W.A. Gangsta rap continues to gain popularity, with the likes of N.W.A., Boogie Down Productions (yes, that Boogie Down Productions), Geto Boys and more. This was the late-80s. Hip-hop was in its nascent stage and the world was terrified of this burgeoning art form.

Elements & Style of Gangsta Rap:

Stylistically, gangsta rap favors aggressive lyrics and hard hitting beats. Despite its relatively wide acceptance in the 1990s, gangsta rap would soon fade in popularity. Soon, hip-hop critics were criticizing gangsta rap for its violent themes. Rappers went on the defensive. Their argument? Gangsta rap was merely a reflection of the hardships they faced out in the real world.

Gangsta Rap as Hood Reportage

This was hood reportage at its grimiest, delivered live from the soldiers who lived these harsh realities. As such, the content of these songs ran the gamut from drive-by shootings, gang violence and substance abuse to misogyny, materialism and various forms of excess. It was perceived as an ugly picture.

Some criticized it as the new minstrel show. Ultimatelly, America was ready to flip the channel.

Gangsta Rap's Mainstream Success:

Before its eventual demise, gangsta rap did manage to gain some commercial momentum. You can thank The Notorious B.I.G's Ready To Die. B.I.G. for this success. Biggie's production crew (headed by Puff Daddy) meshed gritty narratives with polished pop beats entirely designed with clubs and pop charts in mind. Since then, the same blueprint has been reproduced over and over by today's rap artists.

Notable Gangsta Rappers:

  • N.W.A.
  • The Geto Boys
  • Ice-T
  • Snoop Dogg
  • Westside Connection
  • Kool G Rap
  • 50 Cent
  • Ice Cube
  • MC Eiht
  • Kurupt
  • 2Pac

Notable Gangsta Rap Albums:

  • Roots of Evil – Kool G Rap
  • Criminal Minded – Boogie Down Productions
  • Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.
  • The ChronicDr. Dre
  • Efil4Zaggin – N.W.A.