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What is the Difference Between Rap and Hip Hop?

Rap and Hip Hop often intertwine, yet they stand distinct. Rap refers to the rhythmic vocal flow and lyrical prowess, while Hip Hop encompasses a broader cultural movement, including DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti art. It's a genre versus a lifestyle. Intrigued by how these elements shape the music you love? Discover the beats and rhymes that define these dynamic worlds.
Carol Francois
Carol Francois

Rap and hip hop are two of the most popular types of music in the hip hop subculture. These two genres have had tremendous impact on mass media and western culture. First developed in New York City in the 1970s, the hip hop subculture grew first among the African American and Latino American community. Over time, the music and culture gained widespread acceptance and by the late 1990s could be found in all popular media and entertainment worldwide.

There are three main differences between rap and hip-hop: musical features, culture and community message. These features are critical to separating these two very similar types of music from other popular music. The impact of rap and hip hop on modern culture has exceeded all expectations and continues to influence everything from commercials to politics.

A rapper uses musical beats and rhymes to tell a story.
A rapper uses musical beats and rhymes to tell a story.

The musical features of rap and hip hop are quite different. Rap is a combination of rhyming and poetry to a musical beat. The subject of the rap can range from local events to relationships. In the early 1970s and 1980s, rappers provided social commentary on issues that were not receiving regular media attention. In later years, popular rap became more focused on consumer commercialism and relationship issues.

Ludacris is an American rapper.
Ludacris is an American rapper.

Hip hop music includes rhythm and blues and beat boxing. Rhythm and blues or R&B music is a combination of soul and pop music. Singers combine their lyrics to fast-paced music that is often used as the background to complex dance routines. This type of music lead the cross over into popular music with soulful singing and lyrics focused on common relationship issues.

Lupe Fiasco is an American rapper.
Lupe Fiasco is an American rapper.

The culture of rap music is focused on poetry and quality of lyrics. Rap music has a strong background in improvisational poetry. The artists or rappers are expected to create poetry that discusses the main issues of the community, politics, or media events. The artists in this area of music are predominately men, while hip hop music is a mixture of men and woman. Rap groups are also fairly rare, with most rappers being solo artists.

Gun culture may be a focus of rap songs.
Gun culture may be a focus of rap songs.

The difference between rap and hip hop from a community message angle is the role of the music in the popular media. Rap is a tool used to express current events and to tell the stories of people within the local community. Hip hop music is used to express hope for the future and to remember the successes of the past.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the fundamental difference between rap and hip hop?

The Latino community was among the first to embrace the hip hop subculture in the United States.
The Latino community was among the first to embrace the hip hop subculture in the United States.

Rap is a musical technique that involves rhythmically speaking lyrics in a dynamic and rhyming manner, often over a beat. It is one of the elements of hip hop culture. Hip hop, on the other hand, is a broader cultural movement that encompasses not only rap music but also other elements such as DJing, breakdancing, graffiti art, and knowledge. Essentially, rap is an ingredient of hip hop, which is the larger cultural pie.

Can a song be hip hop without rap?

Yes, a song can be considered hip hop without featuring rap. Hip hop music is characterized by its rhythmic beats and sometimes incorporates elements like DJing and turntablism, which may not necessarily include rap vocals. Instrumental tracks produced by hip hop producers or songs that focus on the melodic and rhythmic aspects of hip hop without vocal rapping are still part of the genre.

How has the public perception of rap and hip hop changed over time?

Since its inception in the 1970s, the public perception of rap and hip hop has evolved significantly. Initially viewed as a form of street art and expression for marginalized communities, it has since gained mainstream acceptance and commercial success. According to Nielsen Music, hip hop/R&B became the most dominant genre in the U.S. in 2017, surpassing rock music in terms of overall consumption. This shift reflects the genres' influence on popular culture and their widespread appeal across diverse audiences.

What role do social and political themes play in rap and hip hop?

Social and political themes have been integral to rap and hip hop since their origins. Artists often use the platform to address issues such as poverty, racism, police brutality, and inequality. The narrative and storytelling nature of rap, in particular, provides a powerful means to convey messages and critique society. This has led to the genres being recognized as voices for social change and consciousness within the music industry and beyond.

Are there different subgenres within rap and hip hop?

Yes, there are numerous subgenres within rap and hip hop, each with its own distinct characteristics and cultural influences. These include East Coast and West Coast hip hop, which differ in style and sound; gangsta rap, known for its gritty narratives; conscious rap, which focuses on social issues; trap, which originated in the South and features distinct hi-hat patterns; and many others. The diversity within these subgenres showcases the versatility and creative depth of rap and hip hop music.

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Discussion Comments


I feel the author is still at an entry level of discourse on this subject.

anon52831 is the closest to the truth in this piece. The problem is over the years (for different reasons), the two terms have become intermingled and newer/later listeners have been unable to distinguish between them, partly because of commercial definitions dictated by establishment labels seeking to package and market it to new audiences without understanding or deliberately misrepresenting the aesthetics of either, and partly because in earlier days and still to a lesser degree, the use of the term 'Rap' or 'Rap music' to legitimate proponents of the culture and music to describe it, creating confusion.

As others have stated, KRS One and others such as Rakim, Chuck D, Guru, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, et al, have defined it thus: “Rap is something you do, Hip Hop is something you live.”

This is a basic explanation, but will be lost on people who do not understand or do not participate in the culture. The Five Elements, Emceeing (Rapping when inculcated with the other elements), BBoying (and the cultures within that), DJing (and producing) and Graffiti (not stencilling such as made popular by artists such as Banksy) are all embellished by the Fifth Element: Knowledge of the culture, which subsumes the history, politics, aesthetics and conventions of the rest of the whole. While culture is subject to flux and change, there is and has always been, a requirement to adherence to each element in context with the Fifth Element, so as to inform and establish authenticity.

It is not enough to say Rap (music) is one element, or that Hip Hop is merely a cultural term, because fast forwarding decades on, you now have a sub-genre which follows and ascribes to different aesthetics, politics and conventions than that which is practiced by the rest of the culture. Even though this is mistakenly often described as Hip Hop and vice versa, Rap (music) exhibits multiple aesthetics, often at odds with its core elements, enough to make it appear unrecognizable from Hip Hop forms still being practiced. For example, the conventions which artists such as De La Soul, producers like Pete Rock or BBoys like Crazy Legs follow are vastly different from those practiced by commercial examples. This is not to dismiss commercial output. It has its place.

But, I like to use the analogy of the difference between a banana and a plantain. Both come from the same family, and look similar, but are two completely different types of food crops and taste different even when prepared the same way. The banana is Rap, a sweet fruit used for desserts and snacks, while Hip Hop is the plantain, used for main meals and can be converted into a wider range of food options.

Hip Hop is both a culture and a genre of music. Rap, however, is a sub-genre of Hip Hop and an element of it, especially when practiced without the conventions and aesthetics of the parent genre. The scion is not the source.


This guy doesn't know what is talking about. Rap is one element of the hip-hop culture. The other three are breakin', graffiti, and DJin'. Hip-hop is not a music at all, it's a culture that contains within it other elements or pillars.


I agree with anon52831. I don't like the argument. In a strange way, it reminds me of discourse like hoes vs queens/real women, or even worse. The famous Chris Rock with the "N" word vs black people. It's just idealising, categorising.

You take hip-hop/rap music and then say O.K. we don't like this aspect of it, e.g., commercialism, lack of substance or political message, focus on materialism, and because we don't like that part, we say O.K. That's category A and this is category C.

What is referred to as hip hop music in this article can be called rap, hip hop, R&B, or most likely pop music! Just because some dude is rapping doesn't make it hip-hop, or just because someone's singing doesn't make it not hip-hop. I see rap as a way of singing that could be done potentially with all genres of music. Peace.


Like KRS One said, rapping is something done, and hip-hop is something lived.


I totally agree with the article; it's on point. No cracks to be filled thank you very much for this one!


While I do agree that the author should have explained more about hip-hop being a sub-culture movement and that rap is a genre of music created by the movement, I also agree with what he/she was saying as a whole because over time, the phrase hip-hop has become associated with a "pop" version of rap. As much as lovers of original hip-hop do not want to admit this, it cannot be denied. So much if what people listen to today is just auto-synthesized, witless nonsense pasted on a catchy beat. This doesn't mean there aren't any great artists out there or songs worth blasting in your car. You just have to be careful what you listen to.


I'm a big hip-hop nerd, and this isn't really right. It's probably been posted before but it's generally accepted that rap is the music, a part of the wider culture of hip-hop. This also includes DJ-ing, graffiti and B-boying (breaking).


This article has no reference or sources? Maybe he is the source. He can be a rapper who's disgusted with continual inter-mixture between rap and hip-hop by those who only know wayne or beiber. How sad realist rappers would be watching this crap from the above. R.I.P. Tupac, Biggie, Eazy-e, Khadafi.


The difference is rap music is harder than hip hop. If you want to look like a rap star or hip hop star, buy grills.


I asked what people like more online and it was surprisingly pretty close. But I'd go with Rap. Awesome article!


I agree with anon52831. This article has no references or substance.


Hip Hop was started in the West Bronx.


I agree with anon52831


I don't agree with anything stated in this article except for the last part of the first paragraph. Yes, hip-hop is a cultural movement started in the South Bronx in the 1970s.

There are five cultural pillars of hip-hop: Rapping (or MCing) is one of them, along with bboying, graffiti art, DJing, and knowledge. Rapping is a part of hip-hop culture. That's the difference. One is a genre of music, the other is a cultural term.

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    • A rapper uses musical beats and rhymes to tell a story.
      By: Kzenon
      A rapper uses musical beats and rhymes to tell a story.
    • Ludacris is an American rapper.
      By: Eva Rinaldi
      Ludacris is an American rapper.
    • Lupe Fiasco is an American rapper.
      By: Eva Rinaldi
      Lupe Fiasco is an American rapper.
    • Gun culture may be a focus of rap songs.
      By: Nomad_Soul
      Gun culture may be a focus of rap songs.
    • The Latino community was among the first to embrace the hip hop subculture in the United States.
      By: Monart Design
      The Latino community was among the first to embrace the hip hop subculture in the United States.