Ten acts that helped make hip-hop more accessible to mainstream audiences
Hip-hop is a world unto itself. Its rich tradition of spoken word poetry, self-referential subject matter and electronic and sample-based production make it, in many ways, a difficult musical form to adapt to, especially if you come from a more traditional background. These ten acts helped make rap more accessible to mainstream audiences.
10. Linkin Park
Linkin Park first earned mainstream success during the short-lived nu-metal trend with their 2000 album, Hybrid Theory. Although Linkin Park is not strictly a "hip-hop" group, they punctuate their rock-metal-grunge fusion with flourishes from turntablist Joe Hahn, while vocalist Mike Shinoda also contributes a degree of rap to the group with his hip-hop influenced lyrics. With their hybrid music, they opened the eyes of metalheads to hip-hop and vice-versa.
Atmosphere, composed of MC Slug and producer Ant, is responsible for the hip-hopification of untold numbers of angsty adolescents in the '90s who were initially driven away by the glamorization of sex, violence and self-aggrandizement that dominated mainstream '90s rap. The Rhymesayers act caught on in a big way with 2002's God Loves Ugly and has been a force ever since. The utter hopelessness of Slug's lyrics, along with his down-to-earth persona, connected with a generation left wanting from the early demise of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, and with Ant's friendly production, Atmosphere became the perfect soundtrack for young people caught in the roller coaster of their own emotions.
8. Rage Against the Machine
Skirting right on the boundary of rap and metal, Rage Against the Machine fuses the revolutionary lyrics of Zack de la Rocha and the extraordinarily heavy but surprisingly eclectic playing of guitarist Tom Morello. The group's self-titled 1992 debut is not only one of the greatest rap metal albums ever, it's a powerful political statement. Through this act, rap, metal and punk fans learned that they all had problems with the status quo, and they didn't necessarily all need to go about solving it separately.
7. Deltron 3030
Deltron 3030 isn't so much a group or an album as it is a mode of thought, and there are few hip-hop albums (or albums of any genre, for that matter) with the cinematic quality of this one. Dan the Automator created deeply textured and darkly evocative soundscapes, aided by Kid Koala's turntablism, as a backdrop for Teren Delvon Jones (aka Del tha Funkee Homosapien, aka Deltron Zero) to tell the tale of how he becomes Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion. Similar to Dan the Automator's earlier work with Kool Keith, Dr. Octagonecologyst, but more coherent and accessible, this album proved that hip-hop could successfully travel to where only geeks had gone before -- silly non sequiturs, outer space fantasy and ridiculous characters all became fair game, and so did the out-crowd that relished them.
6. A Tribe Called Quest
Fair or not, rap carries a connotation for hooliganism that, for some people, is wholly unappealing. A Tribe Called Quest provided an access point into the genre for listeners looking for more high-brow fare. From one legendary producer to another, 9th Wonder credits Tribe producer Q-Tip with creating the feel-good, soulful style that inspired later artists like his group Little Brother, J Dilla's Slum Village and Kanye West. The Tribe is not music to drink 40s to. Rather, it's music to sip wine to. One is not necessarily better that the other, they just appeal to different people and different states of mind.
5. Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang's crossover appeal doesn't come as much from musical influence as it does from cultural influence; these were guys who spent hours upon hours watching old kung-fu flicks, and it shows. Hip-hop had been an arena for style warfare long before 1993, when Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) changed the game forever. Wu-Tang made it seem as if rapping was a form of combat. Kids from all backgrounds who idolized martial arts heroes like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris flocked to hip-hop because it gave them a weapon. No longer did you need to be from the streets of a rough neighborhood to be a warrior.
Eminem best describes his monumental impact on mainstream culture in his song "White America": "See the problem is I speak to suburban kids/Who otherwise woulda never knew these words exist/Whose moms woulda never gave two squirts exist/Til I created so much motherfucking turbulence." Eminem won the hearts of millions of impressionable American kids with his 1999 album The Slim Shady LP, with his middle finger up and the other hand on his junk. By next year's The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem was one of the top-selling artists in the world. To see his influence, you need look no farther than the incredible backlash against him, the likes of which hadn't bee seen since NWA's Straight Outta Compton.
Without a doubt, the most sonically dynamic duo in hip-hop history has been OutKast. Album after album, Andre 3000 and Big Boi come out with something new and innovative, taking hip-hop to previously unknown places. Though diehard hip-hop heads will usually champion either ATLiens or Aquemini as OutKast's best album, the duo reached their commercial peak with 2000's Stankonia, which was certified gold within its first week of release. With influences ranging from high-speed electronica to salsa, Stankonia was unlike anything hip-hop had heard before and thus gained fans in nearly every musical camp -- it's near impossible to find anybody who flat out doesn't like OutKast.
2. Kanye West
Kanye West: Musical genius, voice of a generation, gay fish. You know you're a cultural fixture when you get lampooned on South Park, and Kanye West is a cultural phenomenon. Since The College Dropout, his 2003 debut, which peaked at number two on the charts, Kanye has released four consecutive number one albums, each a critical success as well as commercial. And as ubiquitous as his voice is, his production is even more omnipresent, and Kanye will undoubtedly retire as one of the greatest producers of all time. Kanye is truly an artist that transcends genre, encompassing styles that range from classical music to EDM -- his legacy will likely be similar to that of a David Bowie or Prince as an innovator that changed the face of music forever.
1. Snoop Dogg and the Dogg Pound
It only takes one listen of "Murder Was the Case" to realize that Snoop Dogg has seen some serious shit, but it wasn't those types of songs that brought Snoop Dogg to the mainstream. Everybody wants to have that tough as nails friend that gives them a little bit of an edge by association, and Snoop Dogg was that for millions of people. With lighthearted joints like "Gin and Juice" and "Drop it Like it's Hot," which transcended multiple generations, Snoop was relatable to anybody looking to have a good, if slightly irresponsible time.
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