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Rap Music

Rap music is one of the elements of hip hop; it is a form of rhyming lyrics spoken rhythmically over musical instruments, with a musical backdrop of sampling, scratching and mixing by DJs. Originally rapping was called MCing and was seen as supporting the DJ.


Rapping began as a variation on the toasting found in reggae and dub music, mixed with influences from radio DJs and playing the dozens. Also of influence were the works of The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron and Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues. The original rappers, or MCs (from "Master of Ceremonies") would improvise rhymes over the beats created by the DJs. Early raps were frequently merely a sequence of boasts, or attempts to upstage the other MCs. See roots of rap music for earlier forms that also contributed to rap.

The first rap record was 1979's King Tim III by the Fatback Band (featuring the rapper King Tim III). The Sugarhill Gang followed the same year with Rappers Delight, that became a major hit and is based on Chic's oft-sampled disco track "Good Times". The first rap hit by a non-black artist was Blondie's "Rapture" in 1981.

Politics and rap

In the mid-1980s, rap became increasingly politicized, through the works of Public Enemy, KRS-ONE, and others, and tended to chronicle the black urban experience. Gangsta rap may be seen in this context of subversion, but is also seen by some as the abandonment of a constructive message. The early 90's saw artists such as NWA and Ice-T facing massive controversy for their explosive tales of murder, rebellion, and sex. This style of rap quickly became the most popular, as rappers like Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre became mainstream celebrities.

Descendents and influence

Rapping can be seen as one of the four elements of hip hop: MCing (rapping), DJing (mixing, cutting and scratching), graffiti, and breakdancing. However, in the course of rap's history, new musical styles developed that use rapping - especially rapcore, also known as rap/rock or rap/metal, first introduced by crossover pioneerRun-DMC's collaboration with Aerosmith in 1986. Some alternative rap has musically very little to do with hip hop and rap music. Often consisting of bizarre soundscapes and vivid lyrics, abstract hip-hop has developed, largely in the underground.

Music outside of the United States has taken the rap style and blended it with completely different elements. Japanese dance music, for example, often uses rapping to complement or break up the singing parts, with lyrics containing upbeat themes set to energetic rhythms and clean, warm synths. A new offshoot of garage techno, dubbed "grunge", has emerged in Britian, featuring acts like Dizzee Rascal and The Streets.


The instrumentation of rap is descended from disco, funk, and R&B, both in the sound systems and records sampled, and session musicians and their instrumentation, used. Disco or club DJs use of mixing originated from the need to have continuous music and thus smooth transitions between tracks, while in hip hop Kool DJ Herc originated the practice of isolating and extending only the break, basically short percussion solo interludes, by mixing between two copies of the same record, as this was, according to Afrika Bambaataa the "certain part of the record that everybody waits for -- they just let their inner self go and get wild." (Toop, 1991) James Brown, Bob James, and Parliament -- among many others -- have long been popular sources for breaks. Over this one could and did add instrumental parts from other records, frequently as horn punches (ibid). Thus the instrumentation of early sampled or sound system-based hip hop is the same as funk, disco, or rock: vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and percussion.

A DJ needs turntables, a good sound system, and scratch fodder, which typically comes in the form of vinyl records in milk crates (Toop, 1991). Some early recorded rap music does not contain any sampling or DJing, however, for example, none of the members of the Sugarhill Gang were actually involved in the DJing scene in the Bronx and thus couldn't have, which explains the session player remake of "Good Times". More recently instrumental ability has become more valued as witnessed by multi-instrumentalists such as Outkast and The Roots.