The term derives from the late 1980s as a catchall label that applied to anything with the phrase “gangsta rap” in its title. It encompassed artists such as LL Cool J and DJ Premier, who appeared in the genre with the late ’90s debut album, Street Smart.
It would later morph to gangster rap, gangsta rap, and so on. There are many definitions of what it means to be a gangsta rapper, but none is as definitive as The RZA, the Wu-Tang Clan’s former mastermind who created its early material. In 1991, RZA was arrested on federal drug charges, but the next year, he released his The Life of Pablo, the only major album from the Clan that includes an entirely new production technique. The album was nominated for two Grammys by various music publications, including TIME’s 100 Greatest Albums of All Time, and was voted the best album of the 20th century by a number of people, including Rolling Stone, which said: “The Life of Pablo is like a musical version of the Great Gatsby: an exhilarating love letter to the decadence of a modern city, with a few swaggering lines of wisdom.”
In 2015, the album was re-released, and the new album’s “F— Yo Self” is the most successful of the gangsta rap material on the album, and a critical success, too, spawning numerous articles in the media about its influence. In 2015, Rolling Stone dubbed it “a genre-shaping album unlike any other, with its own unique brand of hip-hop”: “This isn’t hip-hop about the war, or even the rap wars. It’s about the struggle against the gangster rap—about being a person of substance in a city where it seems everyone wants to use every resource at their disposal to get ahead. The album is about living in a place where the police have a license to kill. And if you’re a black man, that’s the last place you want to be.” The Atlantic described its “disturbing and haunting” beats (“they feel like the last time, like the war hasn’t changed in years”) as “a new type of rap music, the rapping coming mostly from the ghetto, with an eerie precision.”
“The Life of Pablo” will be available for pre-order as a digital download, for $14.99, on September 16th. In addition to a release date, the album has a special edition
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