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Changing Soundscape Of American Hip Hop

Hip hop, as a genre and culture, got its start in the 1970s and conjures up early images of rapping, scratching, beatboxing, graffiti and baggy jeans. Hip hop has evolved over the years and today’s artists, more than ever, are pushing the limits and redefining the genre with the infusion of eclectic subtypes. From Caribbean dancehall to funk and jazz, popular mainstream artists are contributing to the changing soundscape of American hip hop.

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Most recent album: blkswn released on March 14, 2017

Smino (Charles Smith Jr.) was born in St. Louis to a musical family. His father plays keys, his mother sings, and his grandfather played bass guitar for blues musician Muddy Waters. His cousin, Drea Smith, was signed to Lupe Fiasco and toured with Kanye West. Smino grew up listening to a lot of jazz, gospel and hip hop and describes his sound as futuristic funk and soulful rap. This influence is evident in the recently released blkswn, with phone conversations and topics around his musical upbringing and the knowledge imparted onto him sprinkled throughout the album.

A Tribe Called Quest


Most recent album: We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service released November 11, 2016

Not the first hip hop group to sample jazz, but Tribe undoubtedly played a role in bringing jazz-infused hip hop into the mainstream. Their second album, The Low End Theory, influenced a generation of young people who may not have otherwise been exposed to jazz. Low End Theory also helped garner respect and attention from members of the jazz community who potentially had reserves about the integrity and value that hip hop added to their genre. Having legendary Ron Carter on bass and heavy sampling of other jazz musicians on this album demonstrated the possibility of successful cross-overs and new sounds.

Childish Gambino


Most recent album: Awaken, My Love! Released December 2, 2016

Childish Gambino’s (Donald Glover) latest album strayed so far into the pure funk and soul territory that the rap component was completely removed. Described as “parliament funkadelic”, Awaken, My Love! Is more focused on sound than lyrics and was heavily influenced by the funky soulful sounds of the 1970s, particularly Sly Stone and George Clinton. Gambino shows off his vocal range throughout, taking the listener on a journey from soulful crooning to screaming, and self-described the album as “an exercise in feeling and tone”.



Most recent album: More Life released March 18,2017

“Dancehall-inflected” could be the most common descriptor for Canadian rapper Drake’s newest album More Life. Touted as a playlist as opposed to an album or mixtape, More Life incorporates an eclectic international mix of styles from South African house to U.K. grime and of course Caribbean dancehall. Drake seems to be experimenting with all the beats and cool sounds floating around in his head in a search for his next favourite sound. Of these, dancehall is quickly gaining momentum in mainstream American hip hop and pop music, especially in 2016 thanks to artists like Drake (e.g. “One Dance” from Views) and Rihanna (e.g. “Work” from Anti).

The hip hop genre has become inextricably entwined with so many other sounds and subgenres and it looks like that trend will continue. It’s definitely an exciting time to be a hip hop fan.

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