Gangsta Rap in the 1990s

Dave Busch

Revisiting the 90s

Professor Urban

Gangsta Rap in the 90s: Hip-Hop

For my mixtape, I would like to analyze the coastal and inter-coastal warfare that is present during the 1990s rap sphere. Rappers and MCs employed a state of mind that embraced the idea of “if you aren’t with me you’re against me”. These rappers had a unique way of expressing their art which is vital when analyzing the zeitgeist of the 90s. Their art is often resembled in forms of “diss tracks”. These songs want to publicly slander and publicly embarrass another rapper. Sometimes this rapper would be from a different coast, and sometimes they would come from familiar territory. Robin Kelley, an American studies scholar, writes about the rise and storied history of hip hop. He writes, “Many of these violent lyrics are not meant to be literal. Rather, they are boasting raps in which the imagery of gang banging to challenge competitors on the microphone”(Kelly 189). These rappers rap about killing the opposition which is used metaphorically as a part of their art. 90s rappers also used their songs as awareness for cultural injustices that were present on the African-American society. To conclude, 90s rap is a lot more than lyrics behind a funky beat. These lyrics are well-nuanced and have a deeper and intellectual meaning in which they represent either pride or cultural awareness.

Song 1

Hit em up- Tupac

June 4, 1996

Tupac came out with this tack in the midst of an cross-coastal rivalry that was omnipotent in the 90s rap game. This track was directed towards Biggie Smalls who represented the east coast at that time while Tupac was a member of West Coast gang. To start off the song, Tupac starts the song by saying, “West side, bad boys killas” and then goes on to say “West side when we ride come equipped with game”.  He then takes on a masculine identity by rapping about being a father figure to Biggie and how he’s been with all his women. Kelley writes, “Indeed, it’s masculine emphasis and pimp-inspired vitriol toward women are central to gangsta rap” (Kelly 185). In the 1990s, many of these rappers took pride in where they came from and rapped heavily about their territory.

Song 2

Shoot em up- Biggie

December 30, 1994

To start off this diss track directed towards Tupac, Biggie says, “Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete. Hard to creep on them Brooklyn streets”. Again, to start off this track, he represents his coast with pride. The 90s was an era where rappers started to create this spectacle of a “east vs west” coastal rivalry which lead to a greater following for the gangsta rap culture.

Song 3 

The Message- Nas

February 3, 1997

In Nas’s song “The Message”, he takes pride in the East coast and starts and inter-coast rivalry with Biggie with this song. Nas wants to show Biggie how there can only king of New York and that he can’t compete with him. The music video also is significant here too. The video shows what a normal inner-city New York block would look like, and it starts off with a black teen getting harassed by the police. Nas wants to show the normalization of police brutality that is directed towards their culture. Kelly writes, “Of course, this is not unique of gangsta rap; all kinds of “b-boys” and “b-girls” have been dealing with and challenging police repression, the media’s decriminalization of inner-city youth, and the just-us system of the get-go” (Kelly 185).  Stuff like that is so uniform to Nas and the whole black community in America itself, which is what Nas wanted to exemplify.


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