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What Is Rap Music?

Marjorie McAtee
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Rap music, also sometimes known as hip-hop music, is a style of popular music believed to have its beginnings in African-American inner-city street culture. Rap musicians generally perform in a vocal style in which the lyrics are spoken, rather than sung. This type of music often deals with the hardships of inner-city life, though it is generally as varied in theme as any other style of music. Hip hop is generally characterized more by its often complex, rhyming lyrics than by its subject matter. Though it has its beginnings in the underground music scene of the 1970s, this music is today considered a very mainstream music genre, popular among people of all ages and backgrounds.

Unlike many other styles of music, rap music is generally not sung, and lyrics are spoken against a backdrop of music. This music often consists of beats and rhythms borrowed from the soul, funk, or rock genres. Musicians typically remix these sounds and rhythms, adding their own innovations, and often synthesized musical elements.

Rap songs are often known for their focus on controversial themes, such as gang violence. Often, however, musicians sing about a wide range of events and themes. They often express their political and social views, and they may discuss their own lives or even write love songs. Performers have even been known to write rap songs about fictional events.

The DJs and MCs of the 1970s music scene in New York are generally credited with developing the first rap songs. These performers emphasized rhythm and percussion instruments in their music. The group The Sugarhill Gang is believed to have released the first recognizable rap music single, "Rapper's Delight," in 1979.

Early influential rap musicians included DJs Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc. DJ Afrika Bambaataa is considered one of the first to use synthesizers in his music. As hip hop music gained popularity throughout the early 1980s, recording labels, such as Def Jam, dedicated to producing this style of music, emerged.

Sub-genres began to develop with the passage of time, with gansta rap as perhaps the most widely known. Its lyrics are often the most contentious, as they tend to directly address the violent realities of life in the inner city. Influential gangsta rap artists include Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Notorious BIG. Many rappers, however, continue to draw from the soul music tradition. These artists include Lil Kim and Missy Elliot.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee , Former Writer
Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By anon964230 — On Aug 03, 2014

"Rap music, also sometimes known as hip-hop music, is a style of popular music believed to have its beginnings in African-American inner-city street culture."

There is no "...believed to have its beginnings in African-American inner-city street culture," because it most definitely started in the black community in the 70's, in the Bronx, NYC. Since the rap/hip hop culture has gone global, little by little, the powers that be try to minimize the role of American Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and especially African-Americans had in inventing this life style (the rapping, DJ'ing, street dancing, graffiti, b boys and fly girls) that everyone wants to claim now.

Every tired hip hop dance battle movie out now has mostly whites starring in them as if there are no black and Latino hip hop dancers. Every movie is about some white bread suburban kid (mostly girls) trying to fight the system with street dancing. Get out of here. Hollyweird will rewrite history and say whites created the hip hop culture. We'd better recognize who started this movement and hold on to our culture. Real talk!

Oh, save it and don't tell me that I'm not on topic because I am specifically speaking about the first sentence of the article.

By anon350734 — On Oct 07, 2013

What is rap music usually about?

By MrMoody — On May 28, 2011

@Mammmood - So what about the fact that we have warning labels on music? Parent advisory labels have become pretty standard now. You see those familiar black and white labels just about everywhere.

My point is if you don’t like the music, or think it may send the wrong message to your kids, you can screen what they’re listening to. As for me, I think hip hop rap music will stay with us for a long time.

By David09 — On May 26, 2011

@Mammmood - I see it a little different. Yes, the new rap music is a bit controversial, but it is what it is. Rap is rap. It’s not meant to be pop, soul, Gospel, rock or any of those other genres. Each genre speaks from its own life experiences.

This is certainly true of soul, and Gospel, what have you. People who have come from those backgrounds can relate to the music. Rap music history has its own life experiences too, as raw as they are.

Perhaps you and I can’t relate. If you’ve lived a life where you were down and out, but you picked yourself up, and hoped for a better day, soul music might speak to you. It just depends on the individual and where they’ve come from.

By Mammmood — On May 23, 2011

I’m not a prude by I don’t think rap music contributes a whole lot to the discussion we should be having as a society. Some of the lyrics are extremely violent and offensive by any standard, and young people eat up the rhetoric of violence in an almost unthinking manner. I realize that certain types of rap, like gangster rap, are about inner city life, but I think there are probably better ways to communicate about the harsh realities of our society without descending to that level of rhetoric in our songs.

Marjorie McAtee

Marjorie McAtee

Former Writer

Marjorie McAtee, a talented writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, brings her diverse background and education to everything she writes. With degrees in relevant fields, she crafts compelling content that informs, engages, and inspires readers across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a skilled member of any content creation team.
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