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This lesson will offer a definition of rap and explain its correlation to the larger culture of hip-hop. The origins of rap will be summarized and the significance of hip-hop music and culture will be considered.

What is The Difference Between Rap and Hip-Hop?

We have all heard rap before. Whether it is on a TV commercial, coming from a friend’s car, or at a dance club, rap is one of the most popular and distinctive vocal techniques in the world today. Though rap is widely known, there are still several questions surrounding the genre. What’s the difference between rap and hip-hop? Where does rap come from? Is rap a type of singing, or something else? Why is rap important? This lesson will try to answer these questions individually in order to place rap in its proper context.Rap is a vocal technique, while hip-hop is a subculture.

Rap only makes up one part of hip-hop, so the two terms are not interchangeable. Afrika Bambaataa was one of the most important figures in the early development of hip-hop and articulated the four elements that made up the subculture: DJing, b-boying (also known as breakdancing), graffiti writing, and MCing. Rapping is another word for MCing.Rappers became the most visible and marketable proponents of hip-hop in the 1980s. For this reason, they came to represent the subculture as a whole in the minds of some people.

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Although many people familiar with hip-hop music in the 21st century may assume that rap is the most important pillar of hip-hop, in the early days of the subculture, the other pillars were perhaps even more critical.

Where Does Rap Come From?

Rap has two basic points of origin: Jamaica and New York City. Although many people associate Jamaica only with reggae, the island has been profoundly influential on numerous forms of popular music, including rap. In the 1960s, Jamaican DJs playing and mixing records at big outdoor parties started picking up the microphones and yelling at the crowd to dance. This practice came to be called toasting and was the precursor to rap.Hip-hop culture, and rap more specifically, emerged in African-American and Latino neighborhoods in New York City during the early 1970s.

The Bronx was the most important borough for the development of rap and hip-hop, but other boroughs like Queens were soon to follow.DJ Kool Herc was born in Jamaica, but came to prominence in the Bronx. Familiar with the dance party culture, DJing, and toasting traditions of Jamaica, he transformed these styles into a vibrant form of youth culture that served as the basis for hip-hop. Other important figures in the Bronx during this early period included Afrika Bambaataa, Melle Mel, and Grandmaster Flash.

Rap and hip-hop came into being at a time when African-American communities in New York City and elsewhere were being neglected by municipal governments and falling into poverty. Rap music gave a voice and an empowering sense of identity to young people who felt like no one was listening to them.

Is Rap a Type of Singing or Something Else?

Rap is a vocal technique that falls somewhere between singing and chanting. The ability to rhyme different words is a vital component of rapping.

Improvised rap is known as freestyling and is considered a highly prized skill, although most recorded rap is not improvised.Rap is not as complex in its melody or harmony as traditional singing is, being very much focused on rhythm. The quality of a rapper’s rhythmic pattern is sometimes referred to as flow. Everyone has different ideas about what makes a good flow or a bad flow, so hip-hop culture is filled with variance contingent upon individual preferences.

Since rap’s inception in the early 1970s, an almost infinite number of different styles, individual interpretations, and subgenres have emerged. It is safe to say that rapping is different from singing, although many rappers include singing alongside rapping.

Why is Rap Important?

Rap is important because it’s probably the most internationally recognized form of American popular music.

Rap and hip-hop are performed throughout the world and in just about every language that you can imagine. The hip-hop subculture that rap is a part of is one of the most influential and controversial manifestations of American culture. Rap and hip-hop represent the best of American culture in terms of creativity and resilience, but they also reflect America’s history of racism and inequality.

Lesson Summary

Rap is a vocal technique that emphasizes rhyme, rhythm, and individual expression. Rap is one component of hip-hop subculture, alongside break dancing, graffiti, and DJing. As the most well-known aspect of hip-hop, rap is one of the most important forms of American popular culture.

Points to Remember

Rap is a form of American pop culture
  • Rap is both a type of music and a form of social expression
  • Rap is one of the four pillars of the hip-hop subculture
  • Rap has origins in New York and Jamaica
  • Rap is focused on the rhythm, or flow, rather than musical melodies
  • Some big names of early rap include DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Melle Mel, and Grandmaster Flash

Learning Outcomes

When you are done, you should be able to:

  • Explain what rap is and where it comes from
  • Distinguish between rap music and hip-hop
  • Name some of the major contributors to rap’s early roots
  • Discuss rap as a music form and as a form of social expression

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