Whether you’re a hip-hop enthusiast or just dipping your toes into the world of rap, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the popular rap subgenres. These subgenres add diversity and flavor to the music, giving you a taste of different styles and techniques.
As an authority on the topic, let’s explore some prevalent rap subgenres you should know about.
Rap music has evolved over the years, incorporating different elements from other musical genres and adapting to regional and cultural influences.
As a result, several subgenres have emerged, capturing the unique flavors of various artists and scenes in which they originated.
Let’s dive into exploring the popular rap subgenres and what sets them apart from one another.
- Definitions of popular rap subgenres
- How regional and cultural influences shape the styles
- Examples of iconic artists and their contributions to each subgenre
Table of Contents
Origins and Evolution
The Old School era of rap began in the mid-1970s in the Bronx, New York, and laid the foundation for the genre. As the origin, this subgenre focused on the pillars of hip-hop culture: DJing, rapping, graffiti, and breakdancing. Artists like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa helped define the sound and feel of rap music with their creative use of beats, samples, and turntable techniques. The stories shared in these songs were often personal and close to home, which made the lyrics easy to identify with source.
The Golden Age of rap, which took place between the mid-1980s and late 1990s, witnessed a shift in focus towards more complex, intricate, and socially conscious lyrics. This era is often considered the height of creativity, innovation, and diversity in the genre. It is characterized by memorable beats, extensive sampling, and the emergence of distinct regional styles. Major artists from this period include Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and Public Enemy. West Coast rap also started to make a name for itself with acts like N.W.A. and Ice-T source.
Gangsta Rap emerged in the mid-1980s, led by artists like Schoolly D and Ice-T. This subgenre is characterized by its raw and gritty portrayal of street life, including stories of violence, drugs, and other aspects of urban realism. It gained immense popularity and commercial success throughout the 1990s, with artists like Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., and Snoop Dogg source.
Alternative Hip-Hop takes a more experimental and avant-garde approach to rap music, combining innovative beats, off-kilter song structures, and unique lyrical content. Often seen as counter-cultural to mainstream rap, it has roots in the late 1980s with De La Soul but became more prominent in the 1990s with acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and OutKast. This subgenre is marked by conscious, poetic, and introspective lyrics, with a focus on themes like social issues, personal growth, and self-reflection source.
Originating from Atlanta in the 1990s and pioneered by producers like Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, Trap music is characterized by its aggressive beats, heavy use of booming 808 bass, and rapid-fire hi-hats. The term “trap” refers to the pressures and struggles of street life, which often feature prominently in the lyrics of this subgenre. Trap has grown into one of the most popular rap styles in recent years, with artists such as Migos, Travis Scott, and Cardi B continuing to push the boundaries of the sound source.
Trap is a popular subgenre of rap that originated in the South during the early 1990s. It’s known for its heavy use of 808 drum machines, aggressive lyrics, and fast-paced hi-hats. Artists such as Lil Durk, Chief Keef, and Young Chop are well-known for their contributions to this genre.
Trap has evolved over time, branching into other subgenres like drill, which originated in Chicago and features more dark and grimy beats, with artists like Lil Reese making a name for themselves in this space.
Gangsta rap is another influential subgenre. Born in the late 1980s, it gained popularity by showcasing the harsh realities of life on the streets, including violence, crime, and systemic racism. This raw and unapologetic style often features explicit lyrics and hard-hitting beats. Iconic artists like N.W.A., Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre played a significant role in popularizing gangsta rap. This subgenre has undoubtedly had a lasting impact on the hip-hop world, with many modern artists paying tribute to its pioneers.
Moving into a more introspective realm, conscious hip-hop focuses on social issues, politics, and personal growth. This thought-provoking genre often features introspective lyrics and a strong message, encouraging self-reflection and a deeper understanding of the world. It’s less concerned with the glamorization of material wealth, instead opting for a more spiritual and philosophical approach. Prominent artists in this category include Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Talib Kweli, to name a few.
Boom bap is a classic hip-hop subgenre that gained popularity during the golden age of rap in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s characterized by its distinctive drum patterns, incorporating a hard-hitting kick drum (boom) and a snappy snare (bap). This style is deeply rooted in the East Coast and showcases wordplay, storytelling, and sophisticated lyricism, exemplified by legendary artists like Nas, Notorious B.I.G., and KRS-One.
Fusing the elegance of jazz with the power of rap, jazz rap is a unique subgenre that blends the two effortlessly. It incorporates the smooth melodies and live instrumentation of jazz with the poetic lyricism of rap. This combination allows for a refined, laid-back sound that appeals to a wide audience. Notable artists in this category include A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Roots.
Here is a brief list of these rap subgenres:
- Gangsta Rap
- Conscious Hip-Hop
- Boom Bap
- Jazz Rap
|Lil Durk, Chief Keef, Young Chop
|808 drums, fast hi-hats
|N.W.A., Ice Cube, Dr. Dre
|Explicit lyrics, gritty beats
|Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Talib Kweli
|Social issues, introspection
|Nas, Notorious B.I.G., KRS-One
|Classic drum patterns, lyricism
|A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Roots
|Jazz elements, poetic lyrics
The East Coast rap scene, primarily centered in New York City, has been present since the genre’s inception. Pioneers like Run DMC and Wu-Tang Clan helped establish the East Coast sound, characterized by hard-hitting beats, intricate lyricism, and a focus on storytelling.
Some prominent East Coast rappers include:
- Run DMC
- Wu-Tang Clan
With its roots in the early years of hip-hop, East Coast rap has evolved over time. However, it continues to maintain a strong presence in today’s rap landscape.
On the other side of the country lies the West Coast rap scene. Known for its laid-back vibe and smooth production, West Coast rap emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Tupac, one of the most iconic rappers in history, played a significant role in shaping the West Coast sound.
Some key West Coast rappers include:
- Snoop Dogg
- Ice Cube
Despite the sometimes tumultuous rivalry between East Coast and West Coast rappers, both styles have stood the test of time and continue to influence and inspire artists today.
Southern rap brings its own flavor to the hip-hop world. With origins in cities like Atlanta, Houston, and New Orleans, Southern rap has become increasingly popular in recent years. This subgenre is known for its catchy melodies, energetic beats, and often danceable tunes.
Influential Southern rappers to check out:
- Lil Wayne
Southern rap’s distinct sound and appeal have helped it become a major player in today’s rap scene.
From across the pond comes UK Drill, a subgenre of rap that originated in the streets of London. Influenced by Chicago drill music, UK Drill combines hard-hitting lyrics with dark, gritty beats to create a unique sound. This style gained prominence in the late 2010s and has continued to gain momentum.
Notable UK Drill artists include:
- Headie One
As the global popularity of hip-hop continues to soar, it’s fascinating to see how regional styles like East Coast, West Coast, Southern, and UK Drill contribute to the richness and diversity of the genre.
In the ever-evolving world of rap, new subgenres are constantly emerging. In this section, we’ll explore some of the popular subgenres that have gained prominence within the rap community.
We’ll look at their distinct sounds, beats, and rhyme styles, as well as some of the key artists associated with each subgenre.
Cloud rap is a subgenre characterized by its ethereal soundscapes and heavy use of reverb. This style often features offbeat, experimental beats and lo-fi production, giving it a dream-like quality. Cloud rap artists are known for their boundary-pushing approach to rap and a focus on introspective, emotionally-charged lyrics. Notable artists in this subgenre include Lil B and Chief Keef.
Emo rap combines emotional, introspective lyrics with elements of punk rock and emo music. It often features dark, moody beats with melodic hooks, giving it a distinct sonic identity. This subgenre has gained popularity in recent years thanks to the devoted fanbase of artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Juice WRLD, and XXXTentacion. The raw and honest nature of emo rap lyrics has resonated with many listeners.
Mumble rap is a subgenre that has gained notoriety for its artists’ often indecipherable lyrics, due to their focus on cadence and melody over enunciation. It typically features minimalist, trap-influenced beats, and has been popularized by artists such as Chief Keef and Lil Uzi Vert. Critics argue that mumble rap lacks substance and technical skill, while supporters appreciate its infectious rhythms and catchy hooks.
Frat rap, also known as party rap, is characterized by its upbeat, catchy hooks and light-hearted, often humorous lyrics. This style frequently references party culture and college life, and is especially popular at social gatherings. Key artists in the frat rap scene include Beastie Boys and Asher Roth. This subgenre is all about good vibes and having a great time with friends.
Rap rock combines elements of rap and rock music, resulting in an energetic and powerful sound. This fusion subgenre rose to prominence in the late 90s and early 2000s and has seen a resurgence in recent years. Its distinctive sound can be characterized by heavy guitar riffs, strong beats, and aggressive, fiery rhymes. Notable artists in the rap rock genre include Linkin Park, El-P, and Death Grips.
In summary, the rap world is full of diverse and innovative subgenres, each with its unique sound and style. These emerging subgenres continue to push the boundaries of rap music, exploring new beats, rhyme schemes, and thematic content. Whether you’re drawn to the introspective lyrics of emo-rap or the high-energy fusion of rap rock, there’s something for everyone in the vast rap landscape.
Influences and Crossovers
Hip-hop has evolved over the years, with rap subgenres incorporating various musical influences, such as house, R&B, funk, and soul. These musical connections have not only enriched the rap scene but also given birth to new, vibrant subgenres. This section will explore some of these influences and crossovers.
House music has had an impact on rap through the fusion of electronic beats with rap lyrics. With its origins in the underground club scene, house music’s up-tempo rhythms and bass-heavy beats provide an ideal backdrop for rappers to showcase their skills. In fact, a distinct subgenre dubbed “hip-house” emerged during the late 80s and early 90s, featuring notable artists like Tyree Cooper and Fast Eddie.
R&B is another significant influence on rap, adding smooth melodies and soulful hooks to the mix. This blend of rap and R&B has resulted in a popular subgenre known as “hip-hop soul.” Key artists in this genre include Mary J. Blige and Jodeci, who successfully integrated rap elements into their R&B tunes, offering listeners a fresh take that remains popular even today.
Here’s a brief list of popular rap subgenres that feature crossovers from other styles:
- Hip-hop soul
- Jazz rap
- Funk-infused rap
Funk and soul have indeed played a crucial role in the formation of many rap subgenres. For instance, G-funk, popularized by artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, skillfully combined rap with distinctive funk elements such as heavy basslines and synth melodies. This not only created a catchy, more accessible sound but also helped to introduce rap to a wider audience.
Moreover, soulful samples have long been a staple in rap production. This is evident in subgenres like “conscious rap” or “neo-soul hip-hop,” where rappers like Common and Talib Kweli utilize soulful beats and thoughtful lyricism to deliver meaningful messages to their listeners.
So, you see, rap subgenres have consistently drawn inspiration from various musical styles, leading to a diverse and dynamic landscape that continues to evolve. This constant blending and reinvention ensure that rap remains a relevant and ever-expanding genre, captivating audience’s interests, both old and new alike.
Top Artists to Watch
Rap music has various subgenres, and each one has its unique flair. In this section, we’ll introduce you to some of the top artists to watch in these popular rap subgenres.
Kendrick Lamar has made a name for himself in the conscious rap scene with thought-provoking lyrics that dive into social, racial, and political issues. Similarly, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest have used their music to address societal issues, earning them a respected place in the rap community^2^.
In the trap music realm, Gucci Mane, Drake, and Young Thug have gained immense popularity. Their music features hard-hitting beats, catchy hooks, and lyrics that often center around their experiences growing up in the streets^1^.
Emo-rap is another popular subgenre that meshes hip-hop with emotional rock elements. Artists like Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, and Juice WRLD have built massive followings with music that taps into raw emotions and darker themes^4^.
To help you get started with these artists, here’s a list of some of their notable albums:
- Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly, DAMN.
- Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
- A Tribe Called Quest: The Low-End Theory, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
- Gucci Mane: Trap House, Everybody Looking
- Drake: Take Care; Nothing Was the Same
- Young Thug: Slime Season 3, Beautiful Thugger Girls
- Lil Peep: Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1
- XXXTentacion: 17, *?
- Juice WRLD: Goodbye & Good Riddance, Death Race for Love
Whatever your tastes, exploring these varied rap subgenres and their top artists should offer a thrilling listening experience. As you dive into their music, pay attention to their unique styles, beats, and lyrics. You might just find a new favorite rapper or subgenre. Happy listening!
In the world of rap, a wide array of subgenres cater to different tastes and preferences.
Some popular subgenres include Gangsta rap, Trap, Cloud rap, Crunk, and Conscious hip hop1. With so many styles to explore, finding a rap subgenre that resonates with you is not hard.
So what does this mean for you?
As you delve deeper into the rap genre, keep an open mind and embrace the variety it offers.
You might find yourself drawn to the complex storytelling of Gangsta rap or the party atmosphere of Crunk. There’s something for everyone in rap music, and discovering new subgenres may even lead you down a path of newfound artistic inspiration.
Just remember: there’s more to the rap world. So get out there, and explore the diverse landscapes of rap’s many subgenres. You never know; you just might find your new favorite artist in the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main differences between East Coast and West Coast rap?
East Coast rap typically focuses on storytelling, complex lyrics, and sample-based beats. It originated in cities like New York and featured iconic artists such as The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and Nas. On the other hand, West Coast rap is known for its laid-back vibe, featuring funk-inspired beats and themes around gang life. This style emerged from cities like Los Angeles and boasts legends such as Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg1.
How do underground and mainstream rap styles differ?
Underground rap often prioritizes lyrical complexity, social commentary, and experimental production. It usually receives less commercial success and media attention compared to mainstream rap. Mainstream rap leans towards more accessible themes and trends that cater to a wider audience. It often features catchy hooks, high-profile collaborations, and radio-friendly production2.
What defines alternative hip-hop?
Alternative hip-hop is a subgenre that diverges from the traditional sound and themes of mainstream rap. It often incorporates elements from other music genres, such as rock, jazz, or electronic, and focuses on unconventional subject matter. Artists in this category frequently explore social and political issues, spirituality, or personal experiences3.
Which rap subgenre is prominent in the South?
Southern rap, also known as Dirty South, is the dominant subgenre in the southern United States. It features a distinctive sound characterized by 808 drums, heavy basslines, and slower tempos. Key elements are influenced by blues, gospel, and soul music. Prominent southern rap artists include Outkast, UGK, and Lil Wayne4.
How does trap music differentiate itself from traditional hip-hop?
Trap music is a subgenre known for its aggressive, dark, and gritty aesthetic. It emerged from the Atlanta hip-hop scene in the early 2000s and is characterized by high BPM, 808 bass drums, heavy use of hi-hats, and synthesized sounds. Trap lyrics often revolve around themes of crime, drug dealing, and street life. Key figures in trap music include T.I., Gucci Mane, and Migos5.
What are the characteristics of conscious rap?
Conscious rap is a subgenre that promotes awareness and instigates social change through its lyrical content. The subject matter often addresses social issues like poverty, racism, and political corruption. Conscious rap artists generally favor intellectual wordplay and poetic storytelling. Notable examples include Common, Talib Kweli, and Kendrick Lamar6.
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- What Are Some Popular Rap Subgenres? (A Quick Guide) – Sound Kickers ↩
- Types of Rap: Exploring the Genres of Rap Music – eMastered ↩
- Types of hip-hop: Guide to the different styles of rap – Red Bull ↩