Gangsta Rap Essentials
Blurring the lines between documentary and action movie, between bleak realities and empowering fantasy, the unflinching narratives of gangsta rap remain among hip-hop’s most influential, popular and controversial strains. Inspired by Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D’s groundbreaking, monolithic 1985 12-inch "P.S.K.-What Does It Mean?" California rappers like Ice-T, N.W.A., and Too $hort started making records better suited for car stereos than pop radio—gleefully explicit, focused on violent realism and speaking frankly to systemic problems. In the ’90s, artists like Dr. Dre and 2Pac helped turn gangsta rap from underground sensation into a Billboard-dominating cultural force. Ice Cube preferred the term “reality rap,” and indeed gangsta rap provided a window into what was happening on the street corners of Houston, Memphis, Austin, Cleveland, New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, and beyond. Today, gangsta rap is part of hip-hop’s understructure, a key element in the luxury rap of Rick Ross and the Pulitzer-winning panoramas of Kendrick Lamar.