Rap and heavy metal developed in underground scenes and emerged into the mainstream in the second half of the 1980s; hardcore and indie represented an outgrowth of punk and largely remained out of the mainstream until alternative rock became popular in the 1990s.
Heavy! Duty! Heavy Metal in the 1980s
Heavy Metal Thunder
Heavy metal developed out of the harder, more aggressive styles of rock from the 1960s and 1970s, including garage rock, progressive psychedelia, and the gothic character of bands such as Black Sabbath; it became a separate category when bands in England and Los Angeles started to have mainstream success.
Blue-Collar Man: Image and Class
Heavy metal fans were stereotyped as unsophisticated and it was typically assumed that fans were white and blue-collar; metal bands rejected the status quo, which fans embraced as a mark of authenticity.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal
British heavy metal musicians reacted to mainstream rock with a “return to heavy rock and roll,” and they were often from working-class sections of England.
The first American heavy metal group to reach megastar status was Bon Jovi, led by singer Jon Bon Jovi; the group developed a more pop-oriented style.
Guns N’ Roses, with singer Axl Rose and guitarist Slash, also came out of the metal scene to become mainstream stars.
“Hair bands” distinguished themselves through the use of costumes, makeup, and heavily teased hair; Poison, Warrant, Winger, and Skid Row are examples of hair bands.
Some metal groups, including the American band Metallica and the British band Motörhead, were serious-minded and musically ambitious.
Speed metal is characterized by fast tempos and blazing guitar solos, while thrash metal allowed for a wider range of textures and tempos; Metallica experimented with speed and thrash metal, and “One” is a representative example of their music from the late 1980s.
Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer were all important thrash metal bands.
Instrumental virtuosity was an important musical element for many metal bands, particularly those influenced by guitarists Richie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen, and Randy Rhoads; Yngwie Malmsteen is an example of a virtuosic metal guitarist.
Rap originated in New York’s African American and Latino communities in the late 1970s alongside other elements of hip-hop culture: graffiti, break dancing, and distinctive fashion trends.
The first hip-hop DJs played records at neighborhood parties, while MCs commented on the music and encouraged partygoers.
Early hip-hop DJs including Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash developed technical innovations important to modern rap, including techniques involving portable turntables and mixers.
Afrika Bambaataa, another early DJ, helped to expand the range of source recordings used in hip-hop; his Zulu Nation was founded to reduce crime in New York neighborhoods.
From the Park to the Radio: The First Rap Records
Early hip-hop was a live event; “Rapper’s Delight” (1979) is often cited as the first recorded hip-hop single, and the label that released it, Sugar Hill, was the most important rap label of the early 1980s.
Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin: Crossing Over to White Audiences
Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin formed Def Jam Records, and Simmons owned the management company Rush Entertainment; they managed and produced many of the leading rappers of the 1980s and defined a new style of mainstream hip-hop.
LL Cool J was one of the first successful artists on Def Jam; he had hits on the rhythm and blues charts and crossed over with “I Need Love” in 1987.
Run-DMC was an influential group that had a crossover hit with the single “Rock Box” and mainstream success with the album Raising Hell.
Run-DMC frequently used the opening drumbeat from Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”; a Run-DMC version of the song featured Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, bringing rap to the attention of white rockers.
Def Jam also produced the Beastie Boys, a group of white rappers; the Beastie Boys were also one of the first groups to use digital sampling technology.
Challenging the Status Quo
Ice-T was one of the most important West Coast rappers in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the music of West Coast artists that depicted urban life was known as “gangsta rap.”
N.W.A was controversial for the themes in their music; the group often used samples from funk.
Rap artists began to engage in social and political criticism; Boogie Down Productions (BDP), led by KRS-One, is often cited as particularly significant.
Public Enemy, led by Chuck D and Flavor Flav, built on the rhythmic style of Run-DMC and the social and political approach of BDP; the group had significant crossover success and was one of the most influential groups in rap.
Queen Latifah started in a hip-hop group called Ladies Fresh before signing as a solo artist with Tommy Boy Records and releasing her debut album All Hail the Queen.
Fear of a Black Planet? The Flap over Rap
Some critics claimed that hip-hop was not music since rappers did not play instruments or sing, and offensive lyrics in some rap also sparked debate; race and class were factors in the reception of rap by some white listeners, and this tension was sometimes portrayed as a conflict between rock and rap.
The video for Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” depicts the racial tension between rock and rap; rap musicians often reshape preexisting music into something new, which is an aesthetic approach dating back to at least World War II.
Rap and heavy metal might have appeared to be in opposition, but there are similarities in the commercial development of both genres.
Punk Goes Hardcore
Hardcore developed out of 1970s punk, but remained largely underground; hardcore continued the punk traditions of loud, fast, and aggressive music grounded in the DIY aesthetic.
Los Angeles was a center for hardcore music in the 1980s as the home of Fear, X, the Germs, the Circle Jerks, and Black Flag; Fear is perhaps known for an infamous 1981 performance on Saturday Night Live.
Black Flag was an important part of the Los Angeles hardcore scene; their music was representative of the hardcore movement in its rough production values, fast tempos, distorted guitars, screaming vocals, profane lyrics, and brief songs.
The Minutemen embraced the DIY aesthetic and performed music that lacked the distortion and anarchistic lyrics of other hardcore bands; they changed their sound in the mid-1980s to incorporate a wider range of styles.
Washington D.C.’s hardcore scene was unique because of the stances on social and political issues taken by bands such as Bad Brains, Teen Idles, and Minor Threat in their music; Bad Brains incorporated elements of funk and reggae.
The most important figure in the D.C. hardcore scene was Ian MacKaye, who formed the short-lived Teen Idles and then Minor Threat; Minor Threat was inspired by UK punk rock, but advocated for a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle.
Twin Cities Punk
The Minnesota-based hardcore scene produced accessible music with a melodic foundation; Hüsker Dü and the Replacements are representative of this scene.
“Color Me Impressed” demonstrates the Replacements’ typical style, blending features of punk rock with pop elements.
Hüsker Dü experimented with more accessible music in the mid-1980s and appealed to the college rock market; hardcore bands continued the tradition of underground punk and paved the way for the alternative movement.
Indie and College Rock
College Rock Underground: R.E.M.
An outgrowth of hardcore, college rock music circulated through independent labels, college radio stations, and clubs in college towns; R.E.M. from Athens, Georgia, was one of the first successful bands to come from this scene.
Massachusetts Indie: Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies
Western Massachusetts was an important center for independent rock, where bands including Dinosaur Jr. first succeeded; Boston also had an independent rock scene, which produced the Pixies.
Sonic Youth blended pop and art, employing dissonance, noise, and novel guitar sounds; they signed with a major label in 1990, but kept their experimental musical approach.
UK Indie: The Smiths and the Cure
The Smiths went from the British underground to mainstream success on the UK charts; they never had mainstream success in the United States, but were heard on college radio.
The Cure enjoyed mainstream success in the United States after gaining popularity in the United Kingdom and on college radio.
College radio also played mainstream artists such as the Police, David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Peter Gabriel; college radio also provided an alternative to FM radio and MTV and helped to nurture a new rock culture that would become alternative rock.