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Crossing Genres — When Rap and Alt Music Collide

It’s undeniable that hip-hop music — with its characteristic rhythmic beat and rapping vocal track — is an incredibly catchy genre. As highlighted by Billboard Explains, hip-hop has dominated the United States music charts since 2017, and has come to be the definition of modern popular music. The appeal of hip-hop is owed to its influence on and from other genres, as it can seamlessly blend in and integrate across different music styles. One of the rising subgenres in hip-hop is alternative rap (also known as alternative hip-hop), which draws on both stereotypical and unconventional music types like funk, soul, and reggae. Today, it is one of the most extensive and dynamic subgenres around. It's also one of the most interesting. Read on to know more about it.

Alternative hip-hop began in the late 1980s

Some of the early pioneers of alternative hip-hop include groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, The Pharcyde, and Souls of Mischief. Many of their songs featured cleverly crafted wordplay that played to a wide mix of music. It was with De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising” in 1989 that alternative hip-hop started to make waves in the music industry. During the 90s, the booming gangsta West Coast vs East Coast rap styles of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. dwarfed alternative hip-hop, but artists like The Roots, Hieroglyphics, and Mos Def & Black Star kept the subgenre alive. The eventual resurgence of alternative hip-hop in the 2000s can be attributed to critically acclaimed albums by Jurassic 5, El-P, and Talib Kweli, as well as the crossover success of artists such as Outkast and Kanye West.

Many alternative rap artists emerged from the underground scene

Initially, alternative rap did not produce the consistent audience needed to bring it into the mainstream. Case in point, New Jersey-born artist Russ first came onto the scene with the underground hit “What They Want” in 2015. As noted in his autobiography IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD, the rapper, songwriter, and producer didn’t need a major label to surpass over a billion streams on Spotify and Apple Music, nor to get on Forbes’ 2019 “30 Under 30” list. Instead, he focused on walking to his own rhythm — echoing the ethos of alt music. Gradually, artists who focused on the message and the rhythm of alt rap found their way into public recognition. The late MF Doom, a rap icon in his own right, started his career by attending open mic events before the release of his iconic album “Operation: Doomsday”. With the advent of music streaming platforms in our modern-day, the subgenre is finally finding its place away from the charts.

Universal themes form the core of alternative hip-hop The power of music ultimately comes from its ability to carry messages in different forms. Currently, the trend among artists is to cover their personal struggles, as well as concepts of grief and self-love. Alternative music has become an avenue to share these darker feelings, as seen in Indigo De Souza’s “Any Shape You Take” and Manchester Orchestra’s “The Million Masks Of God”, which we listed in the “Alt Revue Top 30 Albums of 2021”. An identical approach to these very human, emotional subjects can be seen in rap. Gangsta rap or ‘reality rap’ was frequently used in the late 1980s and mid-1990s as a voice for those victimized by racism, as described by writer Eric Harvey in his book Who Got the Camera?: A History of Rap and Reality. Even in recent years, songs like the controversial hip-hop “This Is America” by Childish Gambino tackles gun violence and other systemic issues in America, and these types of messages continue to persist in the present through alternative hip-hop. With its ability to communicate and express, it is no surprise that alternative rap has become a beloved form of music. The collision of alternative and rap music comes from the blurring of the lines between music genres, with much room for experimentation, expansion, and free expression. Written by Athena Gwen C. Exclusive for

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