Music: Hip-Hop Nation

There's more to rap than just rhythms and rhymes. After two decades, it has transformed the culture of America

Music mixes with memory. As we think back over the 20th century, every decade has a melody, a rhythm, a sound track. The years and the sounds bleed together as we scan through them in our recollections, a car radio searching for a clear station. The century starts off blue: Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads. Then the jazz age: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and, later on, Benny Goodman and "Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." Midcentury, things start to rock with Chuck Berry, "Wop-bop-a-loo-bop a-lop bam boom!" the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, "a hard rain's...

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