What a great question! We all know that gangster rap was a huge influential part of hip hop in the 90’s, but where did it come from? If you do any kind of google search, you’ll find multiple answers to this. I’m here to just consolidate it down.
Depending on which coast you are looking at, the answer to who started it first will differ. It’s safe to say that the form of gangster rap really started in the mid to late 80’s but then exploded onto the scene as we got into the 90’s. On the east coast, you had artists like Schoolly D, Boogie Down Productions offering up the tales of life in the urban streets .
The south had their share of gangster rap artists as well. Get Boys being one of the biggest, but they really didn’t come on the scene big until we got into the 90’s. When you listen to their albums and subsequently some of the solo albums from the group, you can definitely get the vibe of life growing up in the hard streets of Texas.
Most people associate the beginnings of gangster rap though with the west coast. With super groups like NWA who spawned multiple solo artist albums all along the same theme with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy- E leading the way. Can’t forget about Ice-T who’s only subject matter was real life. Too $hort’s songs were more of the ways of the pimp rather than the gangster but that was also a part of that life. The gangster lifestyle was prominently felt on the west coast, in my opinion. The subjects of drugs, violence and gang life resonates throughout all of those early artists careers. The 90’s spun off more gangster rap artists as the sub-genre grew. Snoop Dogg, Westside Connection, 2Pac are just a few that we really saw gain tremendous fame and connection, not just from the west coast, but throughout the entire world.
The sound of gangster rap was not merely to gain fame. When it came to the subject matter, the pioneers were all about being able to have the freedom to express themselves and describe what they were seeing and dealing with on a daily basis. It wasn’t about partying and expensive cars. It was about life on the streets. It was about either watching the dope boys and how they affected their community or being the dope boy and how you had to hustle to make it. Every artist had a different path and you can definitely hear that in the lyrics they spit.
Now I know you’re still probably wondering “who actually had the first gangster rap?” Turns out, that prestigious award goes to Schoolly B out of Philly. Schoolly’s PSK What Does It Mean? Seems to take the honors. The song pays homage to the city’s Park Side Killers gang I this 1985 track. While the west coast has seemed to lead the charge, turns out, they weren’t the very first.