The Evolution of Hip-hop: Good or Bad? by Keionna Bailey

This paper is an argument about whether or not the changes hip-hop has undergone are positive or negative. However, pay attention to the structure of this paper–it has a history of the topic before the argument is actually stated. What effect does this structure have on you as a reader? This essay is also interesting because Keionna Bailey uses many examples of artists to support her ideas. Can you think of other hip-hop artists that would complicate her argument?


Hip-hop is a musical genre that has been around for almost forty years. It is relatively new compared to other genres but has yet evolved tremendously since it was created by Clive Campbell better known as DJ Kool Herc in the 1970s (Robinson). Hip-hop first started out as an outlet for the youth in the streets of New York and has now transcended into an international phenomenon. Along with this expanded access to the music are the debates on the quality of the music. Now in the 21st century, there are heated debates in the music industry on this transition, deeming this newer style of hip-hop as worthless and not true hip-hop. The older generation considers this age of hip-hop as trash and worthless compared to how it began. According to rapper Soulja Boy, “hip-hop has evolved and will continue to evolve as we move forward with the genre” (qtd. in Baraka). Also, we must consider the circumstances surrounding both time periods of hip-hop. Society has changed immensely since the 20th century and therefore relates to this new era of music. Both styles of hip-hop offer the world great aspects, but the modern style of hip-hop is more inclusive to all socioeconomic backgrounds compared to the traditional style.

How it started

Clive Campbell moved to Bronx, New York from Jamaica in 1973. With him, he brought a new sound and style to the Bronx (Robinson). He would later be known as DJ Kool Herc, the creator of hip-hop. As hip-hop gained popularity in the streets of New York in the 1980s people began to dance and rap on the street corners of their neighborhoods. In the 1980s, hip-hop was a way for young African-American males to express themselves and speak about the social issues they were facing during their time. During the 80s, Black America was overcome with crack, cocaine, and poverty, and along with that comes the persecution and arrest of them as well (Sebhatu). For that generation this new musical style was a way to address these issues through their lyrics and art. This encouraged other people in their society to become involved as well. As they transitioned into the 1990s, hip-hop began to have a negative light shed on it because people perceived it as being for thugs and criminal activity. Rappers during this time period had a persona that White America deemed as dangerous and inappropriate based on the lyrics and the images these artists tended to portray. During this time, hip-hop was exclusive to the black community and no one else listened to the genre.

People during the 1980s and 1990s saw hip-hop as their own genre that no one else had access to. To the black community “hip-hop was positive and uniting [but] to those on the outside looking in deemed hip-hop dark and menacing” (Robinson). As the genre progressed it began to be shown in movies and on the radio. Something that was exclusive to the east coast of the United States had now spread to the south, and even the west coast. In the 1990s, album sales for hip-hop began to sky-rocket and become more mainstream because it was shown in different media forms. For example, the TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, integrated hip-hop music and style into the theme song and some of the characters. Rap artists in this genre also began to collaborate with artists in different genres, for example Rock. The hip-hop group Run D.M.C. collaborated with Aerosmith which helped assimilate multiple ethnic groups into this genre. Also later on, rapper Eminem released his debut album in 1999, which also contributed to the transition into a mainstream musical genre. Something that was once only heard on the streets of the Bronx was now being heard worldwide.

Because Eminem was a white rap artist in a predominantly black genre, he was a major factor in the acceptance of hip-hop as something more than a criminalized and black genre. Also during this time and into the early 2000s, hip-hop became more commercialized as rappers began to be endorsed by clothing and other products. For example, Sean Combs also known as P-Diddy or Puff Daddy created his own clothing line, Sean Jean and Rapper 50 cent had his own vitamin water. With this major shift, hip-hop moved from having lyrics about political rift and social issues to more about materialistic concepts such as their bling (money) or the amount of women an artist was able to get.

Another important concept to mention is that all hip-hop at one point in time was underground (Kenon). Underground is a common term used in hip-hop that has varying meanings to different people, but it essentially means that it is exclusive to a certain group of people. The music isn’t available to everyone; it’s not on TV, it’s not on the radio, it’s definitely not on iTunes (Kenon). According to the Grammy-winning producer and artist, Sauce Money, “Underground is the very beginning stages of someone’s rap career” and it’s an opportunity for the people within in their community to hear that person’s lyrical talent (qtd. in Kenon). But even if you progress through the hip-hop industry to become a mainstream artist, you as an artist can no longer be considered underground because you are now well-known, although people may consider your music itself as underground. “With the bombardment of materialism in rap lyrics and video imagery its led traditionalists to broaden the term underground to include low-key, true, and ‘for- the- love- of -hip-hop’ vs. ‘for- the- love-of-money’” (Kenon). Ultimately, underground music is where the music still has that original hip-hop flavor before it became commercialized and flashy. Underground music concentrates on the lyrics, and not the music or the chorus of the song. It’s a rapper speaking over a simple beat. To the 80s and 90s generation, artists now only rap about the things that are trends and not the real issues at hand like older rappers used to do which leads into a heated debate in the hip-hop community on the quality of hip-hop music made after 2005.

The New Era

As hip-hop emerged in the 2000s, it became more widespread and more commercialized (Hip-Hop then and now). With this commercialization came the change in the musical content. Whereas 80s and 90s hip-hop music concentrated on people’s rise to the big screen, with focus on poverty and police brutality, the music today is more about their success now. Rappers today talk about partying and are more about a catchy tune. This is very different from the topics that aren’t of social issues like the creators of the genre. As this music has become more mainstream there are trends that are formed and record labels who ultimately control how an artist represents themselves in the music industry. For example, for hip-hop pre- 2005, it was common for rappers to carry on this thug or gangster persona usually wearing baggy clothes and “grills”, because that was the trend then. Now rappers come from all socio-economic backgrounds and aren’t expected to have this thug character and their clothes are tighter and more self-expressive. More rappers work towards developing their individuality and mainstream artists concentrate on connecting with different people (McNulty-Finn). Artists now dress differently from one another for example, Jidenna wears a suit and tie while Drake wears jeans and a hoodie. Hip-hop has also grown to include more women. Women have begun to rap and produce music, and are also a bigger part of the business aspect of the industry than before.

This transformation sounds amazing to the generation of today but to the people that were around when artists such as Sugar Cane Hill, N.W.A., Tupac, and Notorious B.I.G. were around, the music of today is garbage with no real meaning. They even hate how this music is still considered hip-hop because it is a disgrace to the people who help put hip-hop on the market. Everything changes eventually and it was bound to happen sooner or later. But I wouldn’t consider this change terrible.

A Change for the Better

Now that I have explained the history of hip-hop and its evolution, I can explain my view on the transition. Hip-hop has had a cultural effect on a wide variety of people, from the beginning of the style until now, and it will continue to affect people in the future. The traditional style of hip-hop inspired people to get politically involved to change the social issues. That was amazing! The black community encouraged their fellow members to get involved for a greater cause and their lyricism was outstanding. Society has changed from the 1980s. While there are some of the similar social issues they are not as intense as before. The modern style of hip-hop may not have the meaningful lyrics that the older crowd is wishing for but they still have an impact on the people who listen to it. The newer version of hip-hop is more inclusive to all cultures and isn’t underground as people prefer it to be. There are more rappers now than the usual poverty-stricken African-American males. There are more women and people from varying cultures involved in the hip-hop industry now. This is better than the almost segregated music form that was established in the 20th century.

So many critics of the modern style of hip-hop say they aren’t rapping about anything, but it is really difficult to rap about something that doesn’t pertain to you. Everyone hasn’t been poor or experienced the effects of drugs in their community. Also, traditionalists are quick to complain that the only thing rappers talk about today is money and women and recreational drugs, but it’s expected. They are rich and famous now. These are the things that are readily available to them. They aren’t around the same circumstances as earlier artists. People rap about what is surrounding them. Once you get to a certain level in the music industry things that were common for you before, like poverty, are no longer on your mindset as you have an abundance of assets now. I understand that hip-hop artists were looked at as social activists during the 80s and some would say in the 90s as well, but the expectations of artists have changed. While some people do hope that a rapper can be well-rounded – they  want them to be the activist but also the lyricist genius, it’s not what the artists want to do. We are not in 1988 anymore; our society has evolved, therefore so has the music. There is no longer a need for rap artists to fill this void.

That is not to say that there aren’t any current hip-hop artists that hold the traditional style of hip-hop. For example rappers such as Common, J.Cole, Nas, and Kendrick Lamar are recognized for their original hip-hop style. They are known in the hip-hop community to rap about “real” things that persist within our society. These artists do an amazing job of incorporating the 80s type of hip-hop with the new form of it today. These artists tend to not follow the trends of money, drugs, and sex like the rest of the current artists which is appealing to the older generation. Yet it is still necessary to point out that they do have some songs that fit into the category of the modern style of hip-hop, but holistically they create music that is “for-the-love-of-hip-hop”.

The most incredible thing about the modern style of hip-hop is how all-encompassing it can be. The new style allows everyone, not only rappers, to get involved in the music. For example, there are music challenges on social media websites, where everyday people can create a song that people can dance and sing along to. The newer style may not concentrate on the lyrics as much or attempt to have a message, but the point now is to have playful lyrics that will make people laugh and enjoy the moment they are in. Of course, there are still people who view hip-hop as a whole as dangerous, but this isn’t as common as before. Every genre has its critics. But this is good progression. Another positive change in hip-hop is how every artists is similar but also different from one another at the same time. They all have something that is unique about their sound. The major turn off for the traditionalists is hip-hop is no longer underground. Anyone can have access to the music now and it is not mutually exclusive to the “streets” as they would put it and there is less concentration on the meaning of the lyrics.

The pioneers of hip-hop created a beautiful sound; however, change is inevitable. It happens to all music not just hip-hop. For example, some artists in the pop genre are very common to use auto-tune and others wouldn’t dare try it.  The skeptics can criticize the change, but they shouldn’t forget that the creator and pioneers did the same thing when they first created this genre and the same can be said about Rock n’ Roll when it was first created.  It’s obvious that when this genre was first formed the founders wanted a change in music and the newer generation is making changes as well. I will always be grateful for the innovators of hip-hop. They changed the music world in a remarkably short amount of time and they also influenced their society. They paved the way so that artists now have the opportunity to make music. It’s time the traditionalists take off the training wheels and let this generation ride for a little bit on its own. We may continue to develop and change the sound or it may go back to the sound of the 80s. We never know what will happen next. That is the beauty of music.

Works Cited

Baraka, Rhonda. “Gettin’ Back to Basics.” Billboard, vol. 114, no. 14, 6 Apr 2002. EBSCOHost,

“Hip-Hop then and now.” New York Amsterdam News, 15 Nov 2001 EBSCO Host,

Kenon, Marci. “‘Under Ground’: What Does it Really Mean Anyway?”. Billboard, vol.112, no.14, 1 Apr 2000. EBSCOHost,

McNulty-Finn, Clara. “The Evolution of Rap.” Harvard Political Review., 10 Apr 2014,

Robinson, Ruth Adkins. “Hip-Hop History.” Billboard, vol.111, no. 49, 4 Dec 1999. EBSCOHost,

Sebhatu, Paulos. “The History of Hip-Hop.” Rap Rehab., 16 Aug 2015,


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