As with many genres of music, rap artists are often here today and gone tomorrow. So listing which artists are currently popular, or even which trends dominate rap music in countries outside the United States, would prove futile. Here, then, is some background information about the history of hip-hop around the world.
Music fans in most countries were introduced to rap music through forward-thinking disc jockeys playing rap tracks in the early 1980s (even before rap music took a foothold in U.S. pop culture) or from the 1983 film Wild Style. As MTV began playing rap music videos, the popularity spread even faster, beyond rap purists to mainstream, casual music fans in other countries.
It is often the case that as U.S. hip-hop goes, so goes hip-hop in other countries. In virtually all countries where rap music has blossomed, those artists follow the trends that started in America. While some observers view this as a form of cultural appropriation, it is little different from what happens within American rap music. Artists follow popular trends in the commoditized music business.
In Asia, hip-hop culture took hold as pop music. In countries like Japan and South Korea, pop groups incorporated rapping and the dancing aspects of hip-hop culture into pop hits. However, purists do exist there. Japanese people have carved out their own version of hip-hop culture.
Japan, among all the East Asian countries that have embraced rap music, has the most-developed hip-hop subculture. The development of the genre mimicked the development of rap music in the United States, as rap moved from party music to cultural zeitgeist and back to party music.
Japanese beat makers found a Western audience in the late 1990s. Producers like DJ Krush and the late Jun Seba (aka Nujabes) gained fans in the United States and worked with some American rap artists like Mos Def and members of the Wu Tang Clan.
Outside of music, other cultural aspects of hip-hop culture remain extremely popular in East Asia. Breaking and other forms of modern dance inspired by hip-hop appear in music videos and television programs. The Japanese program Super Chample is a popular hip-hop dance battle show. Hip-hop-style clothing remains popular.
Rap hit Europe in the early years of the genre, around the same time the music was gaining traction in the United States. The British and French, with their West Indian and Haitian immigrant population, were receptive to the music. However, as with the band Blondie and other new-wavers in New York, avant-garde musician Malcolm McLaren brought hip-hop to mainstream interest with his Duck Rock record in 1983. The record was also popular in the United States and accepted within hip-hop culture.
European music has been indirectly and directly influential on rap music. The German group Kraftwerk made electronic music that early rap disc jockeys loved to sample. Seminal rap crew The Soulsonic Force used the beats from two Kraftwerk songs to fashion their 1982 hit Planet Rock.
One Austrian artist, Falco, had a hit in the United States in 1983 with his novelty song Der Kommissar, originally released in 1981. His version was not a success in the states; however, the English language cover versions were. Falco followed up that success with the song Rock Me Amadeus. It was the only German language song to reach the top on the U.S. charts.
A loose collective of musicians in Bristol, England, created what became known as trip-hop. The style of music focused on synthesized beats and dark, minor chord melodies, it incorporated influences of bebop and fusion. The music gained some mainstream interest in the United States with bands like Massive Attack and Portishead becoming popular, and so briefly, U.S. rap and pop artists incorporated some trip-hop styles. With trip-hop, the beat maker was at the forefront, which was the opposite of the rap paradigm, in which the vocalist always the focus. U.S. beat makers like DJ Shadow and RZA of the Wu Tang Clan became nearly as famous as the rappers they laid down tracks for.
Hip-hop had a link to Latin America from its inception. Puerto Ricans in New York City and Mexican-Americans on the West Coast were early pioneers in the dance and graffiti aspects of hip-hop culture. Given those countries' proximity to the United States, rap music spread quickly to those nations. Mexico in particular has a significant group of popular rap musicians. Rappers of Puerto Rican ancestry have hit songs in the United States as well as their own nation.
In recent years, Latin music spawned a new sub-genre of rap music called reggaeton. It combines Latin dance music with rap and the driving beat of dance-hall music from the Jamaica.
Rap music spread to some South American nations, most notably Brazil, during the late 1980s. However, it took a decade for Brazil to develop a strong local scene. Most of the rap music emanates from that nation's large, urban cities.
Many of the countries on the African continent came to hip-hop culture relatively late, in the latter 1990s. However, rap music became popular in the early 1980s in countries with large urban centers and a link to United States or European culture. Even in countries where rap formed a fan base early on, it took a decade or two before major local artists developed. One exception to this is Senegalese rapper MC Solaar, whose French language raps were popular in France and gained some attention in the United States during the early 1990s.
Rap music is now a fixture in American popular music and has a permanent place in pop culture the world over.