Hip Hop originated in the 1970s and spread. Mainstream America considered it little more than a curiosity or fad until the late 1980s when it began achieving chart success. By the early 1990s, music fans searched for alternatives and flocked to Hip Hop and rap. However, people objected to the genre’s use of sampling, glorification of violence, and objectification of women. The resulting controversies combined with high profile murders neutered the genre until Eminem arrived.
Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer achieved chart success in part due to sampling. Ice borrowed Queen’s “Under Pressure” and Hammer borrowed Rick James' “Superfreak.” Some music fans and rock stars questioned Hip Hop’s integrity. In their view, the artists were not writing original works. Instead, they simply stole from someone else and changed the lyrics. Eventually, lawsuits brought the practice to heel. Now, artists ask permission before sampling.
While sampling brought questions of integrity and legality, the Gangsta Rap sub-genre nearly destroyed Hip Hop. The music had a distinctive edge and portrayed a subculture Middle America found difficult to accept. Gangsta rappers seemed to glorify violence and the urban drug culture. Additionally, critics claimed it denigrated women. However, its popularity insulated Gangsta Rap from criticism until reality reflected the art.
On September 7, 1996, 25-year-old Tupac Shakur was murdered in a Las Vegas drive-by shooting. A few months later, Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G., met the same fate in Los Angeles. Some believe Smalls murder was in retaliation for Shakur’s. He was 24. The twin murders shook the music industry and artists needed to change. The crimes threatened the genre’s existence.
The next few years brought a more sanitized version of Hip Hop. Rap songs became more traditional pop. The music industry absorbed the outsiders leaving little difference between Puff Daddy and Britney Spears. Additionally, rock incorporated rap into music creating Nu Metal. The sub-genre is scoffed at today, but Limp Bizkit and other acts enjoyed massive success.
In 1999, the Hip Hop genre appeared tired and boring when Eminem reinvigorated it. The native Detroiter used his personal demons and opinions to create edgy Hip Hop. Few acts combined wit, skill, and personal demons as artistically and successfully as Eminem. He might not have saved Hip Hop, but Eminem kept it relevant.
Hip Hop rose and fell and rose again in the 1990s. MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice achieved amazing success, which the Gangsta rappers built upon. Although plagiarism and copyright issues plagued the genre until a legal consensus settled the sampling controversy, violence proved the genre’s real enemy. The Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur murders combined with a changing music scene neutered Hip Hop until Eminem arrived to reinvent the genre.