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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. 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 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 disco track "Good Times". The first rap hit by a non-black artist was Blondie's "Rapture".

Politics and rap

In the mid-1980s, rap became increasingly politicised, through the works of Public Enemy 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.

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 but cannot be called rap music or hip hop - especially rapcore, also known as rap/rock or rap/metal. Some alternative rap has musically very little to do with hip hop and rap music.

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.


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) 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, salsa, and other musics, such as metal and early techno such as oft cited Kraftwerk, usually highly popular or obscure, at the time: Voice, guitar, bass, drums and percussion.

A DJ needs turntables, microphones for MCs, a good sound system, and samples, originally in the form of vinyl records in 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.


Originally rap records were 12 inch singles, but they quickly began to be released as albums. (Toop, 1991)

See also

Hip hop
Breakdancing - DJinging - Graffiti art - Hip hop music - Rapping (List of rappers)
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