Hip Hop Today: The Emergence of Mafioso Rap

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In 1988 N.W.A released their infamous record Straight Outta Compton and introduced a blossoming gangsta rap narrative to an unsuspecting society. Although Ice T is often credited with developing the style, he states that it was in fact Philadelphia MC Schoolly D that truly invented gangsta pap.

Then, 28 years ago today, after a few years of releasing singles, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo dropped their debut album Road to the Riches in 1989. It is often cited as the first hip hop project to exhibit the mafioso rap style which became an east coast version of hardcore west coast rap. It is characterised by references to famous mobsters, organised crime, racketeering and a lavish lifestyle sponsored by crime.

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Cover of Road to the Riches

The duo were originally both members of the legendary Juice Crew that was led by Marley Marl who handled production on Road to the Riches. Their first record showcased Kool G Rap’s intricate multi-syllabic rhyme style as well as a crucial knack for spinning the fables of crime, love and materialism. However, most of the tracks on the album did not overly reference crime and exuded a battle rap style more similar to that of Rakim or LL Cool J.

Despite this, Road to the Riches laid the groundwork for future east coast hip hop heavyweights like Jay-Z, Nas and The Notorious B.I.G. who went on to expand the mafioso sector of rap while making extensive record sales. He is also considered to have helped refine and popularise a sort of rapid fire multi-syllable rhyming structure alongside other pioneers like Rakim in the late 80s.

The liner notes on The Roots’ Phrenology indicate that the track Men At Work was what bought the group together during a school lunch break. Kool G Rap went on to further develop the mafioso rap genre inspiring a whole generation of hip hop artists like Nas and Eminem. Kool Moe Dee described him as “the progenitor and prototype for Biggie, Jay-Z, Treach, Nore, Fat Joe, Big Pun, and about twenty-five more hard-core emcees”.

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