The First Rappers
Hip hop first arose on the streets of the Bronx in the early 1970s, when Jamaican
immigrant Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, invented the "break
beat" in what is widely held to be the founding moment in hip hop music. Campbell
also introduced the sound-system culture of Jamaican Dancehall and its DJ tradition
of "toasting," a lyrical chant used by MCs to whip up the crowd at block
parties and public events. These MCs were the very first rappers, and they set their
"toasts" to musical tracks drawn from funk and soul classics by the likes
of James Brown. With mixing tables, beatboxes and samplers, these
early rappers were able to transform sound clips into "new" compositions.
Heir to the griot oral traditions of Africa and early Afro-American music, hip hop
music also gave voice to the contemporary concerns of the black community. Toward
the mid-1970s, New York DJ Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation
to co-opt street gangs and channel the violence of troubled youth through the practice
of DJing or MCing; in doing so, the organization helped to earn international recognition
for hip hop as a cultural movement.
The 1980s: The Explosion
In 1979, American group Sugarhill Gang released Rapper's Delight,
an iconic album considered to be among the first hip hop recordings. Three years
later, the group Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five revolutionized
the genre with The Message, an album that evoked the hardscrabble life
of the urban projects and marked the birth of politicized rap. In 1986, the Queens-based
group Run-D.M.C. became the first to blend rap and rock, collaborating
with Aerosmith on a remix of the rock band's classic hit, Walk
this Way. The same year, the Beastie Boys, a Jewish trio
from New York, vaulted to popular success with the hybrid song, (You Gotta) Fight
For Your Right (To Party!).
With the 1987 album Criminal Minded, Boogie Down Productions,
a group founded by Bronx-born rapper KRS-ONE, made its mark with
a definitive blend of hip hop and dancehall reggae. The following year, Public
Enemy rose above the fray with the rich and rhythmic lyrics of their
album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Also marking the period
were the albums Paid in Full by Eric B. & Rakim and
Stricly Business by EPMD. In 1989, Queen Latifah
became one of the first women to carve out a place in this male-dominated musical
Once Upon a Time in the West
The advent of gangsta rap, with its sometimes crude lyrics evoking crime, police
brutality, drugs, money and sex, served to shake the hip hop establishment to its
foundations. With their respective albums Rhyme Pays (1987) and Straight
Outta Compton (1988), rapper Ice-T and the group Niggaz
With Attitude (NWA) are credited with pioneering the genre. In
response to the verbal violence of gangsta rap, however, a more relaxed hip hop
style emerged, with the group Arrested Development among its chief
The long-simmering issues of race that exploded during the Los Angeles riots of
April 1992 provoked a powerful response on the part of the hip hop community. Among
the many hip hop artists to express their outrage was rapper Ice Cube,
with his album Predator. While gangsta rap continued its ascension, the
release of the album The Chronics, on which rapper Dr. Dre
swapped samples for real instruments, was among the decade's defining musical
moments. Dr Dre, the producer, would go on to play a key role
in launching the careers of Eminem, The Game,
Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent - a Who's Who of today's
leading rap artists.
The 1990s also saw East Coast rappers enjoy their fair share of success: the group
Gang Starr earned kudos for its jazz-inspired hip hop album Daily
Operation (1992), and the decade's hit songs included Enter the Wu-Tang
by Wu-Tang Clan (from 36th Chambers), and Ready to Die
by rapper The Notorious B.I.G. In March 1997, just months after
Tupac Shakur was gunned down, Christopher Wallace (aka The Notorious
B.I.G.) met the same fate, yet another victim of the ongoing feud between East Coast
and West Coast rappers.
At the turn of the 20th century, groups such as Goodie Mob and
OutKast made a name for themselves, as did solo artists such as
Gnarls Barkley, whose genre-bending efforts produced the hit song,
Crazy, from the 2006 album St Elsewhere (2006). With the albums
Kingdom Come (2006) and The Blueprint 3 (2009), Brooklyn-born
rapper Jay-Z has also emerged as a leading voice on the rap scene.
Nowhere in Europe has rap earned a greater following than in France. In the 1990s,
the "Hexagone" – France's nickname – became the second-largest
rap market in the world thanks to such artists as MC Solaar,
Suprême NTM, IAM, Assassin
and Arsenik, while the post-2000 period has witnessed the emergence
of new voices in French rap, among them Sefyu and Diam's.
One of the first rap groups to achieve popular success in Quebec was Dubmatique.
The trio's 1997 album La force de comprendre sold more than 125,000
copies. In 1999, it was rapper Sans Pression's turn to triumph
with the record 514-50 dans mon réseau. Since then, the trio
Loco Locass has earned a loyal legion of fans with hard-hitting rhymes
and hit songs such as Libérez-nous des libéraux, from the
2004 album Amour oral.
The next generation of home-grown hip hop artists is on the rise: with several albums,
including the 2008 release, Le cœur et la raison, the duo Taktika
is certainly among its leaders. Also making waves are L'Assemblée,
Payz Play, started by four members of the defunct group, Atach
Tatuq, and young rappers Samian (Face à soi-même,
2007), Koriass (Les racines dans le béton, 2008)
and Papaz (3, 2009).
Hip Hop at the Festival
In 2008, the legendary group
Public Enemy appeared at the Festival, performing songs
from its album How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul.
The same year, RZA
two American rappers from the Wu-Tang Clan, thrilled Festivals
fans with a memorable double-bill.
In 2009, the Quebec-based collective,
Kalmunity – which numbers more than 80 musicians
– brought down the house with an improvised performance blending rap, poetry,
funk, jazz and soul. Festival fans also had a chance to hear some trilingual (French,
English and Creole) homegrown rap courtesy of Nomadic Massive. And finally, the two
musicians of the Montréal-based group, Random Recipe, gave fans a taste of
their innovative rap set to guitar and beatbox.