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Sounding OFF: A Brief History of Violence in Rap

The Foundations of “Gangsta” Music

If there is anything that has held back the progress of Hip-Hop music in its more than forty-year history, it’s how we all seem to think the genre itself is doomed to repeat a never-ending cycle of violence and crime, when it was invented to give a voice back to the disenfranchised.

Violence wouldn’t become part of the culture until the late-80s and early-90s, with the development of hardcore and “gangsta” rap artists like Schoolly D and Ice-T, who spoke from real life experiences in the street, while breaking taboos by rapping about drugs, theft, rape, murder, vandalism, promiscuity, and street gangs.

The message came at a pinnacle time for the country, following the Rodney King beatings in Los Angeles and the worsening crack epidemic which transformed some inner-city neighborhoods into war zones, complete with tanks and riot gear.

Public Enemy and N.W.A. are also considered pioneers of Gangsta rap, but it is somewhat of a misnomer created by a society that found such protest songs as “Fight the Power” and “Fuck the Police” to be controversial solely for their overtly anti-authoritarian message. Yet, you’d rarely if ever, hear talk of Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger in such a tone. Why is that?

Then, of course, you had the introduction of actual gangs like the Bloods and Crips. Of course, what many don’t realize is that the beef between the two gangs isn’t something as simple as “East Coast vs. West Coast” because you have entire networks of gangs out in the midwest and down south. 

Despite any rumors about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Tupac Shakur, it is a little-known fact that the rapper helped broker a ceasefire between warring gangs in the Los Angeles community of Watts, which according to a report from South Carolina Public Radio, brought about a temporary calm between bitter rivals with a treaty that was modeled after the 1949 ceasefire agreement between Egypt and Israel.


Today, things are much more complicated. Not only are there a number of artists who are affiliated with different gangs, there are many who aren’t affiliated with any sort of disreputable street organization. Years of different sets going to war is how we find special cases like Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Jay Rock, a member of the Bloods organization, to sign labelmate Schoolboy Q who has repped the L.A. Crips. Some other noteworthy crips include Snoop Dogg, Nipsey Hussle, Jeezy, and Bobby Shmurda—who is currently serving out the remainder of his seven-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder, weapons possession, and reckless endangerment. Whereas some noteworthy Bloods include The Game, YG, Cam’ron, Lil Wayne.

In addition to the gangs, by the early 2000s there had been several shootings that occurred right outside of Hot 97 radio station in New York City, one involving Capone-N-Noreaga, Foxy Brown, and Lil Kim in 2001, and another between The Game and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.

That’s why last night’s pandemonium during A$AP Yams Day in the Bronx is a solid reminder to “Stop the Violence.” Despite the rumors circulating on the internet, it is still unclear if it had anything to do with the beef between rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine and gang members.


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