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Acoustic hip hop

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Acoustic hip hop is a musical style combining hip hop and rap with acoustic instruments. It was formed as an alternative to pop and gangsta rap in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has been growing steadily since.


Acoustic hip hop requires a backing accompaniment that is both rhythmic and harmonious. Accordingly, the guitar is the most popular instrument used in acoustic hip hop, while the piano and ukulele are also used. Beats and percussion tracks are usually created through the beatboxing or traditional percussion such as drum sets, bongos and Cuban box drums.


Early 1990s: the beginnings[edit]

Before the introduction of acoustic instruments into hip hop and rap, MCs predominantly used produced music that included samples, electronic beats and drum and bass tracks.[1] From the start of hip hop in the late 1970s until the early 1990s, acoustic instruments were rarely used to produce hip hop tracks. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, there was a perception that hip hop and rap had become too “pop” after acts like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice enjoyed great commercial success. In reaction to this, rappers began trying to take hip hop back to streets causing gangsta rap to surge in popularity, and new forms of hip hop to be created. Looking from something fresh and newer, several hip hop artists decided to buck the gangsta rap and pop trend and to create a new acoustic sound by using classic instruments and full bands as backing tracks. This new sound became extremely popular in the hip hop underground, in the 1990s and led to great commercial success for bands such as Arrested Development and Digable Planets.[2]

Although acoustic hip hop has not been as commercially successful as other forms of hip hop, it has maintained a steady influence on the hip hop scene. The Roots rose to prominence with an underground following that eventually led to great commercial successes. Perhaps the biggest acoustic hip hop album of all-time was The Score by the Fugees. The Score, which infused samples with classic instruments, became one of the most critically and commercially successful albums of the 1990s.[3]

Early to mid-2000s: wane in popularity[edit]

In the 2000s, big record labels appeared to be losing interest in the subgenre, with very few new acoustic hip hop artists releasing successful albums. The Roots and Wyclef Jean remained successful throughout the decade, and Outkast enjoyed some success using classic instruments, but the decade provided a noticeable decline in acoustic hip hop popularity.

Late 2000s to today: resurgence[edit]

In the late 2000s and early 2010s the acoustic hip hop genre seemed to gain a resurgence in popularity, due in part to YouTube and social media.[4] MCs with the ability to play instruments began posting videos of acoustic covers of old hip hop songs and within a short time many of these rappers had thousands of followers online. Recognizing that acoustic hip hop still remained popular in the underground scene, record labels began releasing new acoustic hip hop artists such as Gym Class Heroes, B.o.B and Travie McCoy – all of whom enjoyed commercial success.[5][6]

Notable acoustic hip hop artists[edit]

  • Andre 3000
  • Arrested Development
  • B.o.B
  • Dirty Heads
  • Rapha Ghetti
  • Ed Sheeran
  • The Fugees
  • Fun Lovin' Criminals
  • Lauryn Hill
  • Loveable Rogues
  • Outkast
  • Phatchance and Coptic Soldier
  • The Roots
  • The Streets
  • Travie McCoy
  • Wyclef Jean
  • Everlast
  • Flobots
  • Klumzy Tung
  • Jason Mraz
  • Dizraeli
  • [Dizraeli and the Small Gods]]
  • Astronautalis
  • Binbag Wisdom
  • Small Town Echoes


  1. Kenner, Rob. "Dancehall", in The Vibe History of Hip-hop, ed. Alan Light, 350-7. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
  2. "Arrested Development Biography". Sing365.com. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
  3. The Score album accolades. acclaimedmusic.net. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  4. "Acoustic Hip Hop . com". Acoustichiphop.com. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
  5. "B.o.B Biography - AOL Music". Music.aol.com. 1988-11-15. Archived from the original on 2010-08-30. Retrieved 2011-06-02.
  6. "Travie McCoy's Biography – Discover music, videos, concerts, stats, & pictures at". Last.fm. 2009-02-11. Retrieved 2011-06-02.

External links[edit]

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