The first priority when recounting the story of rap is to acknowledge the true school OG fathers who inseminated the world with the seeds of genius. The Pioneers were from the Bronx and listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, and Muhammad Ali, and Lou Reed, and Shakespeare, and came up with the idea of rhyming words together. But before that the Pioneers were Jamaicans who played two records really loudly at the same time. The Pioneers would say stuff on the microphone on top of all the rest of the noise. These were DJs. The people who took the microphones away from them and rhymed words together just to prove that they could do better than chanting eventually would become known as rappers, themselves Pioneers. The Pioneers rapped a bunch of words with “party,” and sometimes would rhyme fight with each other but in an innocuous way, like how they fight in musicals. This was When Rap Was Fun. Fun was soon sacrificed, but that was okay because the music was about to become immensely popular worldwide.
The Pioneers were all hunted and eaten by a wave of predators who would join Presidents and serial killers as the most famous people in America. A guy named Russell Simmons made everybody famous. They toured the world, turning an underground subculture into an imperial force, fucking and smoking and drinking and rapping their way into the hearts and orifices of billions of people. They legitimized themselves by crossing over with traditional American rock and roll music of the kind invented by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. They recorded music over other recorded music, an inside joke that no one got and made everybody wealthy. What’s important about this era is that it was the last time anyone could Rock a Party at a professional level. Once it was discovered that all the effort involved in putting on an entertaining live show was unrelated to selling tickets, it pretty much ended the era of live DJs, stagecraft, and having to say the words that rhymed. On came the DATs, minimalist stage dressing, and anyone but the actual rappers screaming the ends of lines for them. The focus shifted from live performance to recording, bringing on the Golden Age.
This was when Real Hip-Hop Fuck Lil Wayne ruled. Real Hip-Hop Fuck Lil Wayne made perfect music, mixed very low and shittily so as not to overshadow the complexity of the impeccably crafted samples and virtuoso rap performances. Subject matters such as pussy and violence were explored from an intellectual perspective. Rappers swore off sex and avoided violent altercations. They were referred to as Conscious, because they were very aware of the sex and violence being thrust upon them in a way that the oblivious Pioneers were not. Real Hip-Hop Fuck Lil Wayne produced the best rap music that would ever be created, like EVER. It was played in cars. It was played in Walkmans. (Walkmen? They were rendered obsolete before the plural form was agreed upon.) It was played in public gatherings of human beings. The clothes got really big too, it should be noted. Looks ranged from astronaut to farmer to little brother to arctic explorer. Also of note is the birth of the white rap expert. Some of them were listening to GNR and Alice in Chains when this period was actually happening, but the important thing is that they did their research and have very definitive opinions about it now. They call this the Golden Age so that’s what it’s called. Real Hip-Hop Fuck Lil Wayne could not last forever, unfortunately, and fell in a hail of bullets to the next period of rap music.
Gone was the consciousness of Real Hip-Hop Fuck Lil Wayne, and in came the senseless violence of Gangsta Rap. No music was made during this period. Rap was banned by the government and, like the Prohibition era, everyone responded by killing each other for 5 years. Gangsta Rap ended in an abandoned Las Vegas warehouse, where a standoff turned into a mass shooting, and everybody associated with this era lost their lives. One rapper hiding under a loading ramp did make it out alive, going on to become the most popular rapper in the world. People especially liked him when he said he would stop rapping. He kept rapping after that though. Nevermind all that because the next era would restore order to the rap world.
A guy named Puffy incredibly made it out of the Gangsta Rap era alive and ushered in the period associated with rap’s greatest monetary success. Everybody wore suits. Even the rappers talking about selling drugs did it from the perspective of the people at the top of the organization, not the low level dealers. No one listened to rap during this period. It was played in clubs people spent little of their lives in. It was pressed onto compact discs that no one bought. It was played on radios that were never turned on. No one rapped during this period. They acted. They sold soft drinks. They invested in property. The most important contribution of this time was the complete destruction of the concept of Doing It for the Love. From now on, an ironic distance would separate effort from output. In other words, this is when rap would REALLY get good. ;-)