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What Does a Rapper Do?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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A rapper is a type of entertainer who mixes music and rhymes to tell a story. Typically focused on life in the ghetto and the tough times of growing up in the bad part of town, the rapper often uses explicit lyrics to drive the meaning home. Commonly taking music from other artists and music styles, this act of capturing a beat from a previously recorded song is known as sampling. Often the rapper will play a short piece of music on a continuous loop, placing his lyrics over the music and effectively making an original work. Rappers often emulate gang members and take on gang nicknames, which they perform under instead of using their birth names.

Many rappers, while portraying a life of abuse and neglect, are actually very wise and savvy businessmen and women and once they make it onto the music charts are able to negotiate contracts with major record labels and frequently start their own labels. A rapper is no different than any type of music artist in that the rap star will play concerts, sell and promote upcoming CDs and promote himself or herself through radio and television interviews and talk shows. Most of the major music awards shows have added the rapper to the list of award categories and recipients.

When the first awards ceremonies included a rapper, the artist was often grouped with other music styles and entertainers such as pop or hip hop. As the rap venue began to distinguish itself and emerge as a full-fledged music and entertainment style, the various awards categories began to recognize an artist as a rapper. While many people associate rap music with explicit lyrics and off-color subject matter, the first musicians who labeled themselves as rappers sang music that was played on public radio with no need to censor any of the lyrics.

The rap music community is divided by the traditional rap that is free of explicit lyrics for the most part and the more radical style of "gangster rap." Some rap artists, in an effort to release more CDs and sell more copies, often offer a recording in both an explicit version as well as a tamer version that eliminates the harsh lyrics and often replaces entire verses with friendlier lyrics. A rapper is often a musician and a salesman or woman who hopes to sell his or her art to a receptive buying public without compromising the art that is the music.

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Discussion Comments
By KaBoom — On Sep 13, 2011

@JessicaLynn - That is interesting about Lupe Fiasco. I'll have to check him out.

I'm not a big fan of rap music myself, but I have to admit it does take some skill. I hear people say stuff sometimes like "anyone could do that." However, I don't think that's true! I know I personally couldn't rap, much less in front of an audience!

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 13, 2011

I'm a feminist, and I have to say that I find a lot of rap to be degrading and offensive to women. I think a lot of young men and women internalize the messages in rap songs and videos, to the detriment of their interpersonal relationships.

However, as others have pointed out, there are some rappers that rap about positive things. When my boyfriend and I first started dating we went to see Lupe Fiasco, one of his favorite artists.

I actually didn't really know who Lupe Fiasco was, but I liked my boyfriend and respected his taste so much I decided to go. Halfway through the concert I realized I hadn't heard one curse word or any mention of "ho's."

I mentioned this to my boyfriend and he told me he read an interview with Lupe Fiasco awhile ago that explained the reason for that. Apparently when he first started out, he realized people actually listened to what he was saying and decided he wanted people to hear a positive message rather than a negative. Lupe Fiasco has been a-OK in my book ever since that concert!

By animegal — On Sep 12, 2011

@manykitties2 - I think there are some rappers today that still produce quality lyrics, but you are better off looking for some of the free music available online and stuff from independent labels, rather than what makes it to MTV's top 10 list.

The Roots, Dessa and Reflection Eternal, are all critically acclaimed in the rap community and you'll find the more substantial lyrics that you seem to be missing from the early '90s.

I really think that there is good music out there in any genre, you just have to really be willing to do a little digging and research things for yourself.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 11, 2011

It seems to me that a lot of rappers who make music videos nowadays put far too much focus on sex and drugs, and living the gangster life. Even in the early '90s it seemed like more rappers were really intent on telling stories, and speaking about the difficulties they faced in intercity neighborhoods.

A lot of the rappers today seem to have sold out by not producing music that actually has any content. Though, they are hardly the only genre of music that has gone this way. I suppose good beats and little substance just sell better to kids looking to fill their MP3 players with something they see as edgy.

By cupcake15 — On Sep 10, 2011

@Sunny27 - Most common rappers do rap about violent and scary things, but usually they are talking about their life experiences so the song really has a lot more meaning.

For example, Eminem offers a lot of graphic lyrics that are somewhat autobiographical. They are really telling a story about his life and while it does sound shocking at times it is an art form that is respected in the music industry.

He has even won a few Grammys along the way. What I love most about his music is that once you hear one of his songs you just can’t seem to get enough of it. He seems to have both commercial and artistic appeal that really speaks to a lot of people. His passion for his music is apparent with every song that he produces.

By Sunny27 — On Sep 10, 2011

I remember the first time I heard a rap song it was in the early eighties. The song was, “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. It had such a catchy beat and what I liked most about it was the continuous rhyming throughout the song.

They had rapper names like “Wonder Mike” that went perfectly with the song. I liked that it as a light-hearted song with no real drama attached to it.

I know that MC Hammer and Will Smith also had rap songs that were positive in nature and not so gritty like traditional urban rap songs. They proved that you could be successful without invoking a lot of violence and sexually explicit lyrics that you often hear in a lot of modern day rap music.

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