The Evolution of Gangster Rap

Rap has its roots in Jazz and Blues, but what really shaped what the genre has become started with gangster rap. Ice-T, N.W.A., Big L, Big Pun — One could argue that even Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 was gangster rap at their very roots.


Now though, the many sounds of rap’s first true subgenre are fading and changing, which some may say is unfortunate.


It’s true that the original sound of gangster rap, from New York’s iconic boom bap to Cali’s hardcore funk, is few and far between in the genre today.


But that doesn’t mean the subgenre has gone extinct; It’s evolved into a sound that bares only subtle resemblance to the original sounds of gangster rap.


Rappers like the Game and YG often incorporate the traditional sound of west coast gangster rap into their music, but the original sound seems lost.


Today, gangster rap has taken a few twists and turns, adopting the same melodic approach as the rest of the genre, manifesting in the likes of the aforementioned YG, A Boogie, Lil Baby, Tory Lanez and Roddy Rich.


The subgenre has again split into multiple niches, each with a slightly different style, but the split can be examined, in the simplest form, as producing two branches of gangster rap — the melodic style described above and a more monotone, simple sound revolving around the lyrical content.


A few rappers — YG, A Boogie, and the late Nipsey Hussle (R.I.P.) among them — have walked the line between these two sub genres, rotating between melodic struggle rap and monotone story-telling. Artists like Schoolboy Q and Meek Mill’s entire discography seems to depend on this two-branched evolution of gangster rap.


Don’t believe me? Listen to Schoolboy’s Str8 Ballin and then There He Go, Floating and honestly the majority of CrasH Talk illustrates how Q walks this line to a tee.


Not sold on Meek either? Listen to Cold Hearted Pt. II, Dreams and Nightmares and then Tony Story Part 3. 


Artists like Jay Rock and Freddie Gibbs tend to lean toward the monotone style, though Rock’s last album showed how strong the influence of melodic gangster rap is becoming, forcing a traditional west coast rapper to experiment and evolve the way he tells his stories (which he did damn well).


The story of rap music can be summarized no simpler than that. Mixing, combining, creating and pulling key parts from different aspects of music and using the newly found sound to tell the artist’s story.


Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like traditional gangster rap — Pac’s Hit Em Up, prime MC Eiht, or pretty much Mobb Deep’s entire discography — but the evolution and experimentation between the two new channels is a powerful innovation for the genre, and arguably the reason that rap has become the new pop music, for better or for worse.


BUT, listening to someone like A Boogie so smoothly spit some hard content is the pinnacle of what the genre is, evolving into a combination of both of its origins in gangster rap like Ice T and melodic rhymes like Biz Markie. (Side note, Boogie is a better lyricist than he gets credit for so yes, I mean that)


The best part about it all, is gangster rap is still evolving, and who doesn’t want to hear something hard, unfiltered and brutally honest, sound the best it possibly could? Respect to the artists mentioned in this article doing their best to innovate and pay homage to who came before, as well as staying true to themselves.

Written by Thomas Herron