Alternative hip hop (also known as alternative rap) is a sub-genre of hip hop music that is defined in greatly varying ways. Allmusic defines it as follows:
Originating in the late-80s, in midst of the Golden age of hip hop, alternative hip hop was headed primarily by East Coast groups such as De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, and Digable Planets in subsidiary conjunction by West Coast acts such as Del Tha Funkee Homosapien,The Pharcyde, Digital Underground, and Jurassic 5 as well as certain Southern acts such as Arrested Development, Goodie Mob, and OutKast. Similar to the alternative rock movement, alternative hip hop initially began to segue into the mainstream at the dawn of the 1990s. The classic debut albums 3 Feet High and Rising, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, and Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde achieved minor commercial success as they garnered immense acclaim from music critics, who described the records as managing to be both ambitiously innovative but playful masterpieces, hailing the artists as the future of hip hop music as a whole. Christened as "The Sgt. Pepper of hip hop", De La Soul's debut album 3 Feet High and Rising was considered the forefront of the sub-genre. As music critic Jon Bush wrote in retrospect:
Decline of Alternative rap and rise of Gangsta rap
The revolution did not take place however. Contrary to alternative rock, which went on to become a mainstay in mainstream music and replaced the glam metal of the previous generation as the most popular form of hard rock, alternative hip hop's commercial momentum was impeded by the then also newly emerging, significantly harder-edged West Coast Gangsta rap. With its aggressive tone, nihilistic tendencies, and violent imagery, gangsta rap was considered to be the more entertaining, more lucrative sub-genre as signified by the high chart placings, radio success and multiplatinum-selling records of gangsta rappers such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G and N.W.A., who were widely embraced by major record labels and produced a legion of imitators. Straight Outta Compton, The Chronic and Doggystyle redefined the direction of hip hop, which resulted in lyricism concerning the gangsta lifestyle becoming the driving force with sales figures. The situation broke way around the mid-90s with the emergence and mainstream popularity of East Coast hardcore rap artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., and Mobb Deep. Both West Coast gangsta rap and East Coast hardcore and their many derivatives subsequently became more prominent in popular music, whereas alt-rap became largely relegated to the underground scene. Following this development, many alternative rap acts eventually either disbanded or faded into obscurity.
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