Rap  •  Hip-Hop/Urban

Old-School Rap

Old-School Rap is the style of the very first rap artists who emerged from New York City in the late '70s and early '80s. Old school is easily identified by its relatively simple raps -- most lines take up approximately equal amounts of time, and the rhythms of the language rarely twisted around the beats of the song. The cadences usually fell squarely on the beat, and when they didn't, they wouldn't stray for long, returning to the original pattern for quick resolution. The emphasis was not on lyrical technique, but simply on good times -- aside from the socially conscious material of Grandmaster Flash, which greatly expanded rap's horizons, most old-school rap had the fun, playful flavor of the block parties and dances at which it was born. In keeping with the laid-back, communal good vibes, old-school rap seemed to have more room and appreciation for female MCs, although none achieved the higher profile of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five or the Sugarhill Gang. Some old-school songs were performed over disco or funk-style tracks, while others featured synthesized backing (this latter type of music, either with or without raps, was known as electro). Old-school rap's recorded history begins with two 1979 singles, Fatback's "King Tim III" and the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," although the movement had been taking shape for almost a decade prior. Sugarhill Records quickly became the center for old-school rap, dominating the market until Run-D.M.C. upped the ante for technique and hardcore urban toughness in 1983-84. Their sound and style soon took over the rap world, making old-school's party orientation and '70s funk influences seem outdated. When compared with the more complex rhythms and rhyme schemes of modern-day rap -- or even the hip-hop that was being produced less than ten years after "Rapper's Delight" -- old-school rap can sound dated and a little unadventurous. However, the best old-school tracks retain their liveliness as great party music no matter what the era, holding up surprisingly well considering all that's happened since.