In this first musicological history of rap, Cheryl L. Keyes traces the genre's history from its roots in West African bardic traditions, the Jamaican dancehall tradition, and African American vernacular expressions to its permeation of the cultural mainstream as a major tenet of the hip-hop lifestyle.
Rap music, according to Keyes, is a forum that addresses the political and economic disfranchisement of black youths and other groups, fosters ethnic pride, and displays cultural values and aesthetics. Blending popular culture with folklore and ethnomusicology, Keyes offers a nuanced portrait of the artists, themes, and varying styles reflective of urban life and street consciousness.
In addition to penetrating discussions of rap's historically central figures, Keyes's vivid and wide-ranging analysis also covers the emergence and personas of female rappers and white rappers, the legal repercussions of advancements such as electronic mixing and digital sampling, the advent of rap music videos, and the existence of various rap subgenres. Also considered are the crossover careers of rap artists in movies and television; rapper-turned-mogul phenomena such as Queen Latifah and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs; the role of rap music as a political platform for AIDS awareness; East Coast versus West Coast tensions; and the unification efforts of the Nation of Islam and the Hip-Hop Nation.