What 90’s Hip Hop and Rap Music means for Today

In 90’s New York, as these artists were discovering how to send and present their stories and messages through the sonic art of music, the artists were able to spread their word so much easier than the decades before. The prominence of the internet and satellites played a major role in the meaning behind 90’s hip-hop and rap in New York. The reason being, not only did it disperse songs globally, but it opened up worldviews for people outside of New York and allowed people to form an understanding of this culture from the outside in. Like Osumare (2001 p.121) says, the steady increase and “extension of black music’s influence [in the 90’s] is part of the United States becoming the world power”.


Kanye West, Kid Cudi and Domo Genesis

The reason hip-hop and rap became so prominent from the 90’s onwards is because listeners slowly started to shift their focus from the feeling surrounding the genre as ‘new’ and ‘impulsive’ to an evolved vision of appreciating the talent and creativity of a rap vocalist or lyricist (Jenkins 2013). Jenkins (2013 p. 4) argues, using theories from Foucault, that “hip-hop increasingly operates as a kind of discourse, as a signal of this evolution”.
Although it was the late 70’s and 80’s that introduced rap and hip-hop into music, it wasn’t until the 90’s that it became a distinct culture and music genre that was prominent throughout society, with the most dominant influence of this form of communication and community forming in New York, during the 90’s, which was then named ‘the golden age’ of Hip-Hop.

“If we acknowledge hip hop as always already a verbally constructed space, both a spoken performance and an (un)written representation of the lyricist’s vision, then the application of literary analysis to hip hop and its fictions seems both appropriate and necessary.”

– Jenkins 2013

Today there are many rappers that discuss their influences and alot of the time they mention rappers like  Nas, Redman, Lauryn Hill and 2pac. Artist J. Cole explains how his style is influenced by New York 90’s rappers Jay-Z and 2Pac.

Kendrick Lamar, one of the most influential rappers of today, explains how he was influenced by so many different artists with different styles of rapping in the 90’s and that gave his music diversity and gave him as an artist “balance”, as he says in the interview below:

This topic is important to hip-hop and rappers of today because 90’s hip-hop, a.k.a ‘the golden age’ of hip-hop was the most influential time for rappers to express their stories and emotions through reasons explained throughout the blog, and this ‘golden age’ was a time that the rappers of today received most of their influence and passion from.


The Feeling 90’s Hip Hop Music Creates

Music is most easily understood as a communication. Throughout this blog I discuss how
music creates meaning through the artist’s expression. The artist will usually have a story to tell or an issue to raise or might just want to share their emotions with the listener. Like Hesmondhalgh (2013) says, music and affect are very closely related and sometimes there is a specific message and feeling that a rap and hip-hop lyricist wants to convey. Through 90’s hip-hop music, rappers are able to express their position in the world (Jenkins 2000).

All music is interpreted by everyone differently and evokes varied feelings and emotions, depending on what one might consciously or subconsciously relate the music to. Music is a form of communication that can be heard globally and transferred globally and ultimately understood globally through music evoking happiness or sadness (as the most basic forms) in its tone (Hesmondhaigh 2013).


Music has the “capacity to enrich our lives via the feelings and emotions it engenders” according to Hesmondhalgh (2013 p.2) however, as he explains, this enrichment is also restricted to a point when it is broadened out into society. For example, when looking further into 90’s hip-hop and rap in New York, the artists are fighting to explore their musical talent by either attempting to create new rhythmic flows or forming rap groups to be more diverse . The reason this creates more fortification is because it creates a new meaning for music in New York at the time. New emotions and questions arose around this time in relation to gender and race and therefore it wasn’t just the music creating feeling through the sound, it was also the statements the songs were making in the context of the time.

Here is an example of a 90’s rap song by New York’s Cam’Ron called D-Rugs (1998) that is specifically using tones to create a sad mood because of the topic its expressing.

It’s very interesting to consider how much music affects one’s emotions and to look deeper into why some people enjoy some genres over others. Hip-hop music was prominent in the 90’s in New York because of “canonization” or “violent speech” with lyrics that are maybe too explicit for some, but are purposefully sending this aggressive message to create a point and express the artists thoughts (Strawn 2013 p. 403). It could also be to help people empathise with the artist’s anger towards a certain topic or subject.

Strawn (2013) emphasises his point comparing 90’s gangsta rap with pslams. He explains that both can be interpreted differently depending on one’s perspective or emotions that are felt. However, pslams are not so “violent” when comparing to gangsta rap. As explained, gangsta rap has the musical affect to initially create an angry, stubborn message, “imitating”, “representing”, “arousing” and “expressing” emotion within the listener (Hesmondhalgh 2013).

An example of anger being expressed through sound, music and lyrics is this song from 1991 by Public Enemy called 1 Million Bottlebags which emphasises their disgust with alcohol abuse in the black community and the anger that comes with knowing nobody wants to make a change to this issue.


The Importance of Race in 90’s New York Rap Songs


Lil’ Kim

The communication of the importance of race in 90’s New York hip-hop and rap music has become a form derived from both male and female rappers including famous 90’s female rapper Lil’ Kim exemplifying the racial stereotypes of promiscuity in black women, at the same time “embracing sexuality of the self” (Peoples 2008 p.25).

“Hip-hop provides a language for and a way of conceptualizing (black) American subjectivity”

Jenkins 2013 p.5

The exclusion and race inequality in 90’s New York is communicated through many famous lyrics and it is through the power of lyrics in music, that the topic of race emerged during this time. The race differences were emphasised through lyrics in many songs including a song by Mos Def and Q-Tip called Mr. Nigga (1999) with lyrics including “Late night I’m on a first class flight / The only brother in sight the flight attendant catch fright… An hour later here she comes by walking past / ‘I hate to be a pest but my son would love your autograph.’” Which further emphasises the impact that race had in this culture and the outskirts of this culture and community. Mos Def is showing that if it wasn’t for his fame, the later response from the flight attendant wouldn’t have been a likely outcome.

There are a number of cultural analysts who argue that Hip-Hop and Rap in 90’s New York provided and communicated mostly problematic political scrutiny in terms of race, gender, economic topics, the authority (police) and community violence and there are not many that argue for the positive influence that was exercised during this time (Peoples 2008).

“African American rappers’ increasing use of language features associated with the use of specific words like nigger constitute a reaction that reinforces their identity by strengthening the barriers that separate their ethnic group from another.”

Álvarez-Mosquera 2015 p.64

Hip-hop began in New York in the very early 90s in response to the class exclusivity of the New York disco scene as well as the gradual growth of ‘gang’ cultures in inner city New York (Peoples 2008). This culture and appropriation of topics such as race created a discourse and topic for discussion throughout society, people started to question what they saw in terms of inequality surrounding different races because music and lyrics were bringing attention to it. This movement started because of a community that was created amongst the alienated, working-class people who were “pushed to the fringe of society and forgotten” (Peoples 2008 p. 22). This closely relates to identity and like Hall (1996) explains, power and exclusion are what create identities and units of cultures and identities, which is how the culture of hip-hop in New York began.


Mos Def and Q-Tip

In response to the alienation in society, a rap and hip-hop community formed in 90’s New York as a social and recreational common space for the racially marginalized. Race is an important factor in the contribution of what created the 90’s hip-hop and rap culture in New York and it is strongly linked to gender as well. Women who were growing up in 90’s New York as Black women influenced by both hip-hop and feminism developed their identity through this together with their community (Peoples 2008). Because of the exclusion these men and women shared, it created a community and this shows how having a shared identity in some ways can become very important (Hall 1996).

Reflection and Reason

The reason I have used the chosen medium of a blog for my assignment is because I was certain on doing a project relating to music in regards to the topic of hip-hop and rap culture in 90’s New York. As soon as I read the outline and requirements for this assignment I immediately wanted to choose a topic on music as it has always been a large passion of mine. When there is a freedom of choice of selected medium to use and the topic is music, a sound file seemed to fit perfectly as the medium of choice. When thinking a little more about my chosen topic, although the sound and feelings that music create is important as it can be interpreted and create feelings that are unexplainable, music and sound is only one of many elements involved in the topic of hip-hop and rap culture in 90’s New York so I changed my idea for choice of medium so that I could showcase the fashion side of it as well.

Rap and hip-hop music are my favourite genres to listen to and I have many favourite artists today who have been influenced heavily by 90’s artists through elements such as their rap style, with influences like the Notorious B.I.G, Tupac, and even modern collaborations with 90s hip-hop artists like Methodman, Raekwon, RZA and Ghostface Killah from the popular Wu-Tang clanIt was interesting to discover how this 90’s era of hip-hop didn’t just begin and end in the 90’s, it has carried on to this day. Although there are reasons mentioned throughout the blog as to the meaning of 90’s hip-hop and rap in New York and how it arose, I feel like I am part of the community and the communication of this culture. The reason I feel part of this culture is for reasons including, my interest in the fashion of the time and also the concerts the artists hold which I feel create a sense of belonging.

One of the criteria is ‘effective use of medium chosen’ and I thought, with hip-hop and rap culture in 90’s New York there are so many parts of this culture that created it. Including what I have mentioned throughout my blog such as race, gender, sound and fashion. These are all part of what created the New York rap and hip-hop culture in the 90’s. The reason I chose to do hip-hop and rap in the 90’s is because that decade is when it first made its major impact throughout the world and I wanted to see the impact that it made at the time specifically on the chosen topics mentioned. The 90’s hip-hop and rap era had so much influence and power and during this period of time, hip-hop and rap had created a new culture and genre with some ideologies carried through to this day.

Something that made this use of blog form better for me was the leniency for the amount of blog posts required. The reason  being, when thinking about the most important parts that I wanted to include in my blog, and seeing that if I did 15 pages on my blog, 160 words just wasn’t enough space for me to structure my blog the way I envisioned, and wasn’t enough words for the depth of research required as well. So the reason I chose to cut back on the amount of blog posts and instead, stick to the word count is because this way I could talk more about important aspects of the essay with visuals and links included.



The Rise of Women Rappers in 90s New York Hip-Hop

Missy Elliot, who was born in Virginia but started her career after moving to New York in the 90’s, aimed to bring hip-hop back to “the rope” and make it all about the music, not too much about politics or other opinionated topics like other rappers were doing at the time, strictly the music and how the music makes you feel and the meaning behind it. (Peoples 2008 p. 19). Missy Elliot had a different approach to music and creating an impact at the time compared to Lauryn Hill, a singer and rapper who made her debut in New York in the 90’s.

“Female rap artists have not only proven that they have lyrical skills; in their struggle to survive and thrive within this tradition [of male rappers’ predominance] they have created spaces from which to deliver powerful messages from Black female and Black feminist perspectives”

– Keyes 2000 p. 255

Below is a Lauryn Hill song called Doo-Wop (That Thing). Not only does it show how successful a woman can be in a male dominated profession through the song’s extreme popularity and success, it also inspires and links emotions to those listening, especially as it has so many lyrics that are easily relatable for example: “How you think you’re really gon’ pretend / like you wasn’t down and you called him again” which is relating to every girl out there waiting for that phone call!

Although the lyrics in this song are clever and fun, it still sends a message of encouragement for women throughout the song through lyrics such as: “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem” and “how you gon’ win when you ain’t right within?”

In terms of promoting her power and strength as a women in this male dominated industry Lauryn Hill writes in her 1998 song Everything is Everything saying “You can’t match this / Rapper slash actress / More powerful than two cleopatras”. She is referencing Cleopatra, one of the most famous female rulers in history, to emphasise her own female strength and talent.

Theorists have mixed opinions on the topic of gender in 90’s New York in the rap and hip-hop industry. Pough (2007) is accepting and encouraging of women in the industry’s possibilities, however Sharpley-Whiting (2007) thinks sexism, racism and misogyny are the controversies of this industry, especially for the women involved.


As a community, 1990s female rappers not only broke down a barrier for women in this industry, but they milked their power as a platform to reconstruct the visions of their identity as well as becoming a means of expression of seeking empowerment and create space for themselves and all other women (Keyes 2000)

“Women have always been a critical part of the foundation of hip-hop culture” Peoples 2008 p. 21

Not only does Peoples (2008) find it a form of communication, but she also explains how Missy Elliot speaks of her own songs and how she feels they links to Black American feminists in regards to “reworking black American feminism in the contemporary lives of black women and girls” (Peoples 2008 p. 20). Like Keyes (2000 p.265) projects, the 90’s female MC’s are what defined the “sexist repression” because of their passion and talent in writing, producing and recording their own songs.

Rappers Clothing Style in 90’s New York

The clothing and styling of 90’s hip-hop and rap groups in New York is a very important communicative element, arguably just as influential as the music. The clothing included lots of adidas, backwards hats and gold chains as examples of some visual elements of the ‘dress’ style. The Wu-Tang Clan and RUN DMC were major influences in terms of clothing style at this time because they communicated their unity by wearing similar clothes as a rap and hip-hop group.


The clothing of this time and place created meaning for the people that were following these artists. This clothing became a pronunciation of peoples interests or hobbies. It wasn’t only between rappers and people involved in the hip-hop scene, it was for fans wanting to be a part of the culture as well.

Clothing in 90’s New York communicated promotion of individuality however, to the media hip-hop and rap clothing in 90’s New York wreaked controversy (Morgado 2007).
As described by Morgado (2007) the characteristics of the hip-hop style of dressing included over-sized shirts, super drop-crotched pants, so large and baggy that sometimes the hemline dragged on the ground as they walked.

 “[Hip-hop is] very important fashion, which will become even more important” (Bloomingdale’s Vice President Kal Ruttenstein – 1992)

Although this style of hip-hop and rap clothing that formed during this time was mostly related to the rap culture, it didn’t solely represent a hip-hop or rap culture. This style was transferred into other cultures with very similar, if not the same, dress association at the time in New York. Cultures surrounding this same clothing and style of dress included the skateboard culture, prison culture, gang and drug cultures, surf culture and inner-city ghetto culture (Morgado 2007).

The 90’s New York clothing style created a sense of community within New York, not only between rappers and hip-hop fans but across multiple cultures. This clothing style even influenced well-known popular designers like DKNYCalvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger who decided to create specific collections for their designs in the 90’s derived from the hip-hop culture (Morgado 2007).

The Beginning of the 90’s Rap and Hip-Hop Culture

Rap and hip-hop significantly made its division from rock and roll, as a new culture and community in the 90’s in New York. Many artists like Kanye West and Ice Cube agree that rap and hip hop was derived from rock and roll, it was only in 90’s New York that made this new style of music. It began with groups such as RUN DMC, who’s music was sometimes described as ‘rap rock’, so the 90s hip-hop and rap in New York was the beginning of a very long and influential music progression and vogue. There are many arguments questioning what ‘rap’ was in the 90’s but these questions and discussions are part of what created a communicational element for this topic. It was the discussion of uniqueness and creating a story or message through lyricists and music as a form of art. Here are a couple of examples of how RUN DMC show their gangsta rap rock style:

“Parents do not want their children listening to [rap], and educators do not see the educational value in [rap]. I believe that the value resides in the critique”
Gwendolyn Pough  2002 pp. 92-93

Anything that is new or unknown is feared and in regards to the argument surrounding how rap and hip-hop music in New York arose, this topic can be easily misunderstood. This was a newly formed genre and there were questions on whether this new genre would become a bad influence on the younger generations. It was easier to look towards the negatives of this new art rather than the positives, like how it created a community and belongingness within many people (Feld 2010).