Rapping can be delivered over a beat or without accompaniment. Stylistically, rap occupies a gray area among speech, prose, poetry, and song.
Rapping developed both inside and outside of hip hop culture, and began with the street parties thrown in the Bronx neighborhood of New York in the 70s by Jamaican expatriate Kool Herc and others. The parties introduced dancehall and the practice of having a "Master of Ceremonies," or MC, get up on stage with the DJ and shout encouragements to the crowd in a practice known as 'toasting'. Over time, those shouts of encouragement became longer and more complex and cross-pollinated with the spoken-word poetry scene to evolve into rap. It's believed that the first rapper to actually call himself an MC was Melle Mel from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. He is also credited as being the first Hip Hop MC to rap in a traditional verse/chorus format. From the beginning hip hop culture has been syncretic, incorporating sounds and elements from radically divergent sources. While Funk breaks formed the backbone of early hip hop, Kraftwerk and other early techno artists were widely sampled as well.
Blues music, rooted in the work songs and spirituals of slavery and influenced greatly by West African musical traditions, was first played by blacks (and some whites) in the Mississippi Delta region of the United States around the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Grammy-winning blues musician/historian Elijah Wald and others have argued that the blues were being rapped as early as the 1920s. Wald went so far as to call hip hop "the living blues." Jazz, which developed from the blues and other African-American and European musical traditions and originated around the beginning of the 20th century, has also influenced Hip hop and has been cited as a precursor of Hip hop. Not just jazz music and lyrics but also Jazz poetry. According to John Sobol, the jazz musician and poet who wrote Digitopia Blues, rap "bears a striking resemblance to the evolution of jazz both stylistically and formally."
During the mid-20th century, the musical culture of the Caribbean was constantly influenced by the concurrent changes in American music. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the descendants of Caribbean slaves in Jamaica were mixing their traditional folk music styles of mento music with the jazz, soul, rock and blues of America. In Jamaica, this influenced the creation of reggae music (and later dancehall). As early as 1956, deejays were toasting (an African tradition of "rapped out" tales of heroism) over dubbed Jamaican beats. It was called "rap", expanding the word's earlier meaning in the African-American community—"to discuss or debate informally."
the whole chemistry came from Jamaica. I was listening to American music in Jamaica, and my favorite artist was James Brown. When I came over here I just had to put it in the American style.Although rapping in hip hop began with the DJs, most rappers today don't DJ or produce on a regular basis; Coke La Rock is cited by Kool Herc as the first example of such a rapper. By the end of the 1979, hip hop had spread throughout New York, and was getting some radio play. Rappers were increasingly writing songs that fit pop music structures and featured continuous rhymes. Melle Mel (of The Furious Five) stands out as one of the earliest rap innovators. Two raps songs recorded in 1979 by separate artists were perhaps the first raps recorded at the beginning of the period where the Hip hop movement began. The first, "King Tim III," was recoded by the funk group Fatback Band (later simply "Fatback"). A week later Hip Hop/Funk group the Sugarhill Gang released Rapper's Delight which charted #36 on the U.S. pop chart.
Some music during this period also contained fragmented spoken-word sections on top of standard group instrumentation. Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets were part of a poetry-influenced genre, however R&B singers like Oscar Brown simply weaved rap-style speaking into their studio albums and live routines.
The 1980s saw a huge wave of commercialized rap music, that with it brought success and international popularity. Rap music transcended its original demographic and passed on to the suburbs. The first rap hit of the 80s was Blondie's "Rapture", following on from "Rapper's Delight" in 1979 from The Sugarhill Gang. Rap music in this time kept its original fan base in the "ghetto" while attracting interest from mainstream consumers. This decade also saw the emergence of what we now know as old school hip hop, artists such as Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys. This decade is also referred to as the golden age of hip hop by modern music historians. Rap in the early 1980s centered mostly around self promotion e.g., the amount of gold one wears or one's prowess with females. However, in 1987 Public Enemy introduced a more sociopolitical edge, with their debut album Yo! Bum Rush the Show. Other artists such as the Jungle Brothers looked to Africa for inspiration. In 1987 the rap group N.W.A released their first album entitled N.W.A and the Posse, and included rap stars Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and MC Ren. This release marked the first shift from the golden age to the ensuing ages of gangsta rap and G-funk.
In terms of subject matter, the 1990s saw a shift from personal promotion and glorification to narratives of street experience and darker social observation, although this shift was more pronounced on the East Coast than the West.
The 1990s were also marked by a tense rivalry between MCs of the East and West Coast, including a feud between Sean "Puffy" Combs' (Bad Boy Records) in the East, including the Notorious B.I.G., and Dr. Dre and Suge Knight's Death Row Records (including 2pac and Snoop Dogg). Freestyling became a skill that demonstrates an MC's versatility and creativity, but also as a verbal duel or spar. The mid 1990s were marked by the violent deaths of Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Freaky Tah, and Big L, among others. By the end of the 1990s, hip hop became widely accepted in mainstream music.
The stereotypical image of male rappers in the 1990s often depicted someone wearing the Rastafari colors (red, yellow, and green), oversize jeans worn below the waist that commonly exposed the underwear, and oversize shirts and jackets. These fashions were then imitated by youngsters and created a separation beyond the rappers' circle by dividing economic classes in the public eye, meaning that lower-class youth dressing in this manner stuck out among the middle to upper-class youth. This image, idealized by urban youth, was further supported by the lyrics of rap underground. The lyrics often reflect the culture and lifestyles of urban and gang violence, drugs, corruption, and sexuality. The expansion of rap across cultures and borders allowed for expansion and transformation of the music and the image of what rap was.
In the early years of hip-hop, now known as "old-school hip-hop" rap was characterized by simple rhyme schemes and standard refrains. The 1979 song "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang, the first recorded rap song, was typical of the style, with Big Bank Hank rapping:
The rapper Rakim, still often regarded as one of the greatest MCs ever, is widely credited with introducing internal rhymes and a more mature sensibility to rapping. The 1986 debut single of Eric B. & Rakim, "Eric B. is President", begins:
By the 1990s, many rappers had adopted more sophisticated rhyme styles. A well-known example of the use of internal rhyme from that time period is found in Big Pun's 1998 song "Twinz", in which he raps:
Modern rappers have different styles of rhyming. Juelz Santana often avoids full rhymes in favor of assonance, consonance, half rhymes, and internal rhymes. Eminem, on the other hand, often focuses on complex and lengthy multisyllabic rhyme schemes, while "flowas" like Rakim use metaphorical, emotional rhyming, and story telling to communicate a message.
Hip hop lyrics often make passing references to popular culture and other topics. An example is the song "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta Fuck Wit" by the Wu-Tang Clan, in which RZA rhymes,
I be tossin', enforcin', my style is awesome
I'm causin more Family Feuds than Richard Dawson
And the survey said - you're dead
Fatal flying guillotine chops off your fuckin' head
Such allusions serve to illustrate or exaggerate a statement, or are simply used for humor. Some of these references are overtly political, while others simply acknowledge, credit, or show dismay about aspects of the rapper's culture and life.
The roots of raps are in the beat poetry of The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. "The Message", written by Melle Mel and performed by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, pioneered the inclusion of political content in hip hop rhymes:
Modern East Coast hip hop artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, Nas, and dead prez are known for their sociopolitical subject matter. Their West Coast counterparts include Emcee Lynx, The Coup, Paris, and Michael Franti.
Other rappers take a less critical approach to urbanity, sometimes even embracing such aspects as crime. Schoolly D was the first notable MC to rap about crime. Early on KRS-One was accused of celebrating crime and a hedonistic lifestyle, but after the death of his DJ, Scott La Rock, KRS-One went on to speak out against violence in hip hop and has spent the majority of his career condemning violence and writing on issues of race and class. Several years later, he would go on to influence Ice T, who had more overtly "gangsta" lyrics. Gangsta rap, made popular largely because of N.W.A, brought rapping about crime and the gangster lifestyle into the musical mainstream.
Materialism has also been a popular topic in hip-hop since at least the early 1990s, with rappers boasting about their own wealth and possessions, and name-dropping specific brands: liquor brands Cristal and Rémy Martin, car manufacturers Bentley and Mercedes-Benz and clothing brands Gucci and Versace have all been popular subjects for rappers. The 1997 Notorious B.I.G. song Hypnotize contains an example of this sort of name-dropping:
Various politicians, journalists, and religious leaders have accused rappers of fostering a culture of violence and hedonism among hip hop listeners through their lyrics. However, there are also rappers whose messages may not be in conflict with these views, for example Christian hip hop.
In contrast to the more hedonistic approach of gangsta rappers, some rappers have a spiritual or religious focus. Christian rap is currently the most commercially successful form of religious rap. Aside from Christianity, the Five Percent Nation, a gnostic religious/spiritual group, has been represented more than any religious group in popular hip hop. Artists such as Rakim, the members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Brand Nubian, X-Clan, Busta Rhymes, and Nas, have had success in spreading the theology of the Five Percenters.
A common way MCs judge how to flow in a verse is by writing a rhyme such that the most stressed words coincide with the beat in a way that makes the rhyming sound more musical (as opposed to spoken word) and that better combines the MC's voice with the musical backdrop. Rakim—whom many credit with changing the way most rappers flow on a song—experimented not only with following the beat, but also with complementing the song's melody with his own voice, making his flow sound like that of an instrument (a saxophone in particular).
The ability to rap quickly and clearly is sometimes regarded as an important sign of skill. In certain hip hop subgenres such as chopped and screwed, slow-paced rapping is often considered optimal. The current record for fastest rapper is held by Chicago native Rebel XD, who rapped 852 syllables in 42 seconds (20.3 syllables per second) on July 27 2007.
To successfully deliver a nicely flowing rap, a rapper must also develop vocal presence, enunciation, and breath control. Vocal presence is the distinctiveness of a rapper's voice on record. Enunciation is essential to a flowing rap; some rappers choose also to exaggerate it for comic and artistic effect. Breath control, taking in air without interrupting one's delivery, is an important skill for a rapper to master, and a must for any MC. An MC with poor breath control cannot deliver difficult verses without making unintentional pauses.
Raps are sometimes delivered with melody. West Coast rapper Egyptian Lover was the first notable MC to deliver "sing-raps." Popular rappers such as 50 Cent and Ja Rule add a slight melody to their otherwise purely percussive raps whereas some rappers such as Cee-Lo are able to harmonize their raps with the beat. The Midwestern group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony was one of the first groups to achieve nationwide recognition for using the fast-paced, melodic and harmonic raps that are also practiced by Do or Die, another Midwestern group. Another rapper to harmonize his rhymes is Nate Dogg, a rapper part of the group 213.
The strongest battle rappers will generally perform their rap fully freestyled. This is the most effective form in a battle as the rapper can comment on the other person, whether it be what they look like, or how they talk, or what they wear. It also allows the rapper to reverse a line used to "diss" him or her if they are the second rapper to battle.
Very few white hip hop artists claim Anglo-Saxon or Caucasian ancestry; virtually all of them are members of other ethnic groups that have faced varying degrees of discrimination only to be later assimilated. For artists like House of Pain, the Beastie Boys, and Beltaine's Fire, hip hop culture provides a way to reject that assimilation and differentiate themselves from the dominant Anglo-American culture by asserting a separate ethnic identity.
While they have been successful, artists such as the Beastie Boys and Vanilla Ice are labeled as sub-categories of rap, alternative and gimmick respectively. White hip hop artists have advanced the genre of rap by bringing in a larger and more diverse audience and recognition for rap as a musical genre, however they have had much less of an effect on the overall musical trajectory of the rap scene than their counterparts.
Wealth and class have always been significant issues in hip hop, a culture which was developed mainly among the lower and lower-middle class blacks of inner-city New York. Any view of money that can be seen in real life can also be seen in the lyrics of rap—just as there are rappers who often brag about their extravagant wealth or more specifically their "rags to riches" stories, there are political militants who decry materialism. Although most of hip hop's famous and influential rappers have come from inner-city ghettos, hip hop has always represented a variety of economic backgrounds. For example, Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Soulja Boy, Rakim, Black Sheep, and Kanye West were middle-class when they began rapping.
Race issues often intersect with class issues. Vanilla Ice, a white pop rapper, went so far as to lie about his place of origin, claiming that he came from the inner-city of Miami, Florida, when he was actually from suburban Texas. According to Vanilla Ice, he was encouraged to lie by his record company to increase their profits. In juxtaposition to Vanilla Ice stand the Beastie Boys, a rap group composed of white Jewish teenagers. The Beastie Boys didn't lie about their middle-class and suburban upbringing, and managed to sell millions of records while maintaining the respect of the hip hop community.
House of Pain, an Irish-American crew with members from Los Angeles and New York, were downright assertive about their ethnicity, including footage of a St. Patrick's Day parade in the music video for their first hit single Jump Around and name-checking prominent Irish Americans in their lyrics. They also incorporated time signatures associated with traditional Irish folk music such as jigs and reels into their songs—a major deviation from mainstream hip hop where virtually every song is done in 4/4 time.
The most recent mainstream exception to the skin color trend in mainstream rap is Eminem, who is of mainly Scottish descent, and who grew up in the primarily black city of Detroit. In his song "White America", Eminem attributes his selling success to his being more easily digestible by a white audience, because he "looks like them."
Other prominent American rappers of primarily European decent include Sage Francis, Paul Wall (who is 1/4 Mexican), Emcee Lynx, Mike Shinoda (who is half Japanese), El-Producto, Aesop Rock, and many others. Race, class, and ethnicity remain prominent themes in hip hop music in general, regardless of race. Emcee Lynx in particular is notable for addressing these issues from an explicitly anti-racist and anti-imperialist perspective in his music, while referencing his Scottish and Irish heritage as a point of pride.
Despite the fact that the majority of American rap artists in the mainstream are black, some statistics indicate that most hip hop record purchasers are white, reflecting demographics and economics. According to musicologist Arthur Kempton, "Today 70 percent of hip-hop is bought by white kids". Boots Riley has criticized these figures, pointing out that they only count SoundScan sales, which exclude the mom-and-pop record stores located in majority black and Latino neighborhoods that major music chains tend to avoid, and thus dramatically underrepresents the number of sales made in such communities.
According to political rapper Zion of Zion I, socially conscious hip hop in particular has a majority white audience: "...so many black people don't want to hear it. They want that thug shit." In addition to Zion, several other underground rappers such as Boots Riley of The Coup, report nearly all white audiences.
The first widely recognized Chicano rap artist was Kid Frost, whose 1990 debut album "Hispanic Causing Panic" driven by the hit single "La Raza" brought new attention to Chicano rappers in hip hop.
Cuban-American artist Mellow Man Ace was the first Latino artist to have a major bilingual single, which was attached to his 1989 debut. Although Mellow Man often used Chicano slang as a result of his East Los Angeles upbringing, Kid Frost receives the credit as the first major Chicano rapper, given that Mellow Man was not of Mexican descent. Mellow Man, referred to as the "Godfather of Latin Rap", brought mainstream attention to Spanglish rhyming with his platinum single "Mentirosa". Cypress Hill, of which Mellow Man Ace was a member before going solo, is sometimes considered to produce Chicano rap due to their use of Spanish and popular Chicano slang, as well as the lead rapper's background of being part Mexican. They were the first Latino rap group to reach platinum status, with Big Pun credited as the first Latino solo artist to reach platinum sales for an LP.
One of the most widely recognized Chicano rappers today is Lil Rob of San Diego, whose single "Summer Nights" was considered a major crossover and received heavy rotation on radio station and video programs not directly related to Chicano rap music.
Many Chicano rappers have been heavily influenced by Mexican history, including many themes relevant to the Mexican and Chicano people living in the United States and Mexico. Chicano rap is mainly enjoyed by hip hop listeners in the United States and has also established a cult fan base following in Japan, although its main audience consists of Hispanics or Latinos living on the West Coast, the Southwest, and the Midwest. Its ability to reach large audiences without mainstream airplay or media promotion is due in part to nationwide lowrider car tours and their accompanying concerts headlined by Chicano rappers. This environment allows ChicanorRap artists to earn significant incomes through independent label releases while promoting directly to a target audience.
Though the majority of rappers are male, there have been a number of female rap stars, including Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, Lil' Kim, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Eve, Trina, Khia, Foxy Brown, and Lisa Lopes from TLC.
Bhangra, a widely popular style of music from Punjab (India) has been mixed numerous times with reggae and hip hop music. The most popular song in this genre in the United States was "Mundian to Bach Ke" or "Beware the Boys" by Panjabi MC and Jay-Z. Although "Mundian To Bach Ke" had been released previously, the mixing with Jay-Z popularized the genre further.
As American hip hop lyrics became more widely violent, so did international hip hop lyrics, and Greece was no exception. Rapping about guns, drugs, violence and sex became the norm. Hardcore Greek rap had swept the genre, and commercial hip hop followed suit. Commercial hip hop in Greece has become hugely successful, with acts like Imiskoumbria, Terror X Crew and Goin' Through blazing the trails. Imiskoumbria and Terror X Crew both were the first to have their records going gold.
Shy crew leave on deep remix roll deep lyrics wen I'm 'ere
Get sticked with wits with the glits wen I'm 'ere
Grime was pioneered by Wiley and his crew Roll Deep are still one of the prominent groups. Other big names in grime are Dizzee Rascal, Lady Sovereign, Skepta, JME, Kano, Ghetto and Shystie. Grime has been brought more attention thanks to Channel U TV.
Outside of grime, there is a prominent UK hiphop scene which is characterized by its lyricism and high standards. Jehst, Tommy Evans, Klashnekoff, Sway and Kyza are known for their complex lyricism. Braintax, Lowkey and Logic are among the most political rappers, while Skinnyman and Akala are very conscious rappers. Roots Manuva is unique, since he fuses dub with hiphop, and is perceptive, humorous and introverted in his lyrics.
Grime music is central to London and part of its 21st century culture while the majority of UK hiphop originates in the capital too. Thus the majority of rappers speak in London accents and London slang (known as Jafaican), which can be difficult for non-Londoners to understand.