Alternative hip hop is a subgenre of hip hop which surfaced
in the late 1980s during the “golden age of hip hop” – a period known for its
innovation and reinvention of the hip hop genre. Many artists contributed to its
development; to name a few were East Coast rappers Beastie Boys, De La Soul, A
Tribe Called Quest, and Jungle Brothers, West Coast artists such as Digital
Underground, The Pharcyde, and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, and last but not
least Southern acts like Goodie Mob, Arrested Development, and Outkast – again,
just to name a few. By the time the 1990s came around, alternative hip hop saw
a huge rise in popularity, but was forced back into the underground as it was ultimately
intercepted and subsequently drowned out by a more dominant genre known as
gangsta rap. Music critics deemed that the subgenre had been a failure.
However, a shift happened around the new millennium.
Gangsta rap hit a wall and was no longer dominating the mainstream market.
Instead, the public gained a newfound interest in indie music, and combined
with artists such as Gnarls Barkley, Outkast, and Kanye West who were known for
their fusion of genres, alternative hip hop once again took the spotlight and
regained its place within the mainstream.
A turning point for
hip hop happened in 2007 when Kanye West’s album “Graduation” and 50 Cent’s “Curtis”
released on the same day, resulting in a record-breaking sales performance for
both albums. The outcome was in West’s favor, and industry observers view it as
being responsible for altering the direction of hip hop, paving the way for new
rappers who didn’t want to follow the traditional hardcore-gangster mold. Ben Detrick
of XXL wrote, “If there was ever a watershed moment to indicate hip hop’s
changing direction, it may have come when 50 Cent competed with Kanye in 2007
to see whose album claim superior sales. 50 lost handily, and it was made clear
that excellent songcrafting trumped a street-life experience. Kanye led a wave
of new artists—Kid Cudi, Wale, Lupe Fiasco, Kidz in the Hall, Drake—who lacked
the interest or ability to creative narratives about any past gunplay or drug-dealing.”