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 reshaping
the course of hip hop. 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.” while Rosie Swash of The
Guardian stated that it, “highlighted the diverging facets of hip-hop in the
last decade; the former was gangsta rap for the noughties, while West was the
thinking man’s alternative.”