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What Is Rap Music?

Rap music, in which lyrics are usually spoken rather than sung, was born out of the inner-city street culture.
Ludacris is an American rapper.
Lupe Fiasco is an American rapper.
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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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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.

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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.

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Discuss this Article

anon350734
Post 6

What is rap music usually about?

MrMoody
Post 3

@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.

David09
Post 2

@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.

Mammmood
Post 1

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.

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