The early 1980s marked a (one of many) crucial turning point for hip hop production. As synthesizers and drum became more affordable, producers started creating more extravagant beats. Lets take a look at the evolution of hip hop production, and its impact throughout the decades.
New York duo Run DMC created a style of hip hop that fused rap with hard rock. Fast forward to the present, Lil Uzi Vert’s influence is a fuze between Lil Wayne and Marylin Manson.
The roots of hip hop began in the 1970s at block parties. Intersecting communities would gather for a night of dance and community.
NYC DJs like Kool Herc, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and Afrika Bambaataa experimented with techniques that influenced the modern sound of hip hop. These innovations included longer percussive breaks (called breakbeats), turntable techniques, scratching, and freestyle.
By the mid-1980s, hip hop gained national recognition. Artists like Run-D.M.C, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy brought the movement into the mainstream. They pushed rapping into new directions, with Run-D.M.C embracing the new media of MTV, and the Beastie Boys pushing deejaying into the digital age with their sampling.
The 1990s saw the hip hop industry explode into a major commercial success. Rappers and producers diversified the genre with diverse sounds, styles and storylines. Female rappers like Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill’s smooth neo soul, R&B with a feminine presence.
Their lyrics and production provided a popular alternative to the macho, gangster themes. Producers like Q-Tip’s laid-back jazz and bebop sampling influenced an era of smoother hip hop. It shifted away from the harsh, gangsta-style production of the previous decade.
In the early 90s, the genre began to break out of its New York City origins. Groups like A Tribe Called Quest and the Fugees introduced jazz rap. Jazz rap which combined jazz and R&B samples with gangsta rap themes.
All-girl groups such as Salt-n-Pepa created a fun style of hip hop pop. Later, rappers such as Mos Def and Talib Kweli began to discuss social issues in their music.
By the mid-90s, rock influences began to creep into hip hop, both in musical style and lyrical content. Punk guitarist-turned-producer Rick Rubin helped drive this change. He created sparse beats that emphasized hard-hitting bass and guitars.
This helped push hip hop artists like LL Cool J into mainstream popularity. The brash, shouting rap style of the Beastie Boys made them popular as well. From there, the genre continued to grow.
Rappers began international tours selling out large venues that finally accepted rap concerts. The genre’s biggest artists inevitably forged rap beefs with each other. The rivalries often ended with murders in both parties, like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
The emergence of hip hop superstars like the members of N.W.A further expanded the genre. Their songs featured lyrical references to real-life struggles in the city streets. Their urban sagas were lyrical inspiration and fierce competition for other rappers.
They introduced profanity to the microphone, which rappers before them feared to do. Their feuds created excitement, but often led to tragic ends, even within the group itself.
Hip hop production’s evolution replaced turntables and drum kits with more sophisticated technology. Drum machines and samplers enabled producers to create sonic landscapes that were dense with varying time feels. Complex arrangements of sampled funk and even film score elements.
The 2000s saw hip hop evolve to a new, different generation of artists. The 00s’ artists weren’t afraid to take risks and step outside the genre’s comfort zone.
Producers mastered synthesizers and drum machines instead of samplers and turntables. This created a more modern and melodic sound that many producers embraced. Thanks to digital technology, sampling became easier, allowing for complex beats and layering.
Producers like the RZA incorporated low rumbling bass and sharp snare drum sounds. He utilized a unique sampling style based on the Ensoniq Sampler that set him apart from his peers.
Throughout the evolution of hip hop production, politics became more mainstream. A large chunk of Billboard-topping songs in the 2000s had political undertones. The 2010s carried those political themes to new heights.
The late and very talented XXXTENTACTION was a prime example for his breakout song “Look at Me.” His music video featured beat changes and a surprise message about social injustice.
Hip hop tunes in more than most musical genres when it comes to concrete, day-to-day issues. This illustrates itself in lyrics with references to police brutality, oppression, etc.
The 2000s saw hip hop take steps toward becoming more diverse than ever before. Most artists used their voices to reflect the current state of society. With the growth of social media, it’s easier for rappers to reach a wider audience and share their messages.
This helped to make hip hop more accessible and a cultural phenomenon worldwide. The rise of the digital age also helped independent rappers to rise to prominence. Platforms like Soundcloud allow anyone to upload their own music to the public for free.
This era also introduced us to one of the greatest rappers and producers, Kanye West. Ye took music production to a whole new level with his unique sound and creative samples.
Yeezy’s albums revolutionized hip hop, including Graduation, Life of Pablo, and College Dropout. He even created the new blueprint for hip hop with the cult classic 808’s and Heartbreak.
With the growing popularity of hip hop, record labels jumped on the bandwagon. They invested heavily in the genre, helping it grow and evolve even more. The commercialization of hip hop was evident in the success of superstars such as DMX, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z.
The evolution of 2010s hip hop saw the birth of new styles. Hip hop production moved away from traditional DJs to focus more on catchy 808’s and trap drums. Rappers also grew even more socially conscious.
Many artists explored themes such as spirituality, activism, politics, and culture. Digital production allowed Kanye and other artists greater flexibility and speed in production. Samples and synthesizer riffs became more prevalent.
Songs also became shorter, which appealed to the radio even more. The internet’s dominance in the 10s changed how hip hop is distributed and consumed. Social media became more useful for upcoming rappers and legitimate record labels.
The 2020s/The Present
Fast Forward to today, hip hop evolved into one the single most prominent musical genres. Influencing music, fashion, art, and language.
The history of production in hip hop is a unique culture that encompasses four foundational elements. It includes DJing, deep and artistic samples, heart-pounding bass and 808’s, and emotional symphonies. Each of these have evolved into their own subcultures, all with lasting legacies.
Hip hop producers are the architects of a song’s sound and rhythm. They choose what samples to use, create beats, and mix/master the track. They have a vision that conveys the meaning of a song.
A producer’s sound is a direct reflection of his or her personality, background, and view of the world. The evolution of hip hop production illustrates the importance of the backbone of the most influential genre in all of music.
Traveling through time, hip hop’s evolution is a rhythm-packed odyssey that’s transformed music history. Starting in the 1980s, affordable tech ignited explosive beats, blending rap with rock. From Run-D.M.C’s MTV reign to Beastie Boys’ digital artistry, the 90s saw diversity bloom – from smooth neo-soul to jazz rap’s fusion.
The 2000s brought a digital dawn, with Kanye’s genius shining bright. Politics surged, social media soared, and 808s boomed. Fast forward to the 2020s, hip hop reigns as a cultural force, woven into art, fashion, and language.
Through all this, producers are the hidden architects, shaping the soul of hip hop’s journey.