Hip-Hop vs Rap

"Rap is something you do, Hip-Hop is something you live." 

It's 2013. Hip-hop has been around for 40 years and something that started out as an underground movement is now a mainstream phenomenon; some would even call it played out. Though the term “hip-hop” is synonymous with rap music, the first thing to understand is that hip-hop is much more than music. It was a movement meant to encourage artistic pursuits and steer youth away from crime and gang violence.

Elements of Hip-Hop 

five elements of hiphop- dj, mc, graffiti, bboy, knowledge
Pic: www.shivafive.com

DJing: Hip-hop music has its origins in the block parties of the Bronx, New York where DJs like DJ Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore innovated turntable techniques that evolved into the distinct hip-hop sound we know today. DJs at the time included Jamaican immigrants and therefore, early hip-hop music had elements borrowed from Jamaican dub music. New technology like samplers and the vast collection of funk, soul and R&B records gave birth to a fresh sound.

MCing: Mic Controller, Move a Crowd, Master of Ceremonies or simply Emcee- it’s his job to keep the crowd alive and grooving. The term “MC” slowly lost its relevance and became synonymous with “rapper”. 

B-boying: The physical form of hip-hop is “Breaking”- a street dance form centered around the break-beat DJing technique. Over the decades, b-boying has become one of the most popular global dance forms. 

Graffiti: According to KRS-One, “The first graffiti artists in the world were the Egyptians.” The tools of the modern graffiti artist are spray cans, stencils and a knack for vandalism. It is the visual form of hip-hop culture. In an ideal world, a graffiti artist will leave a wall looking better than when he found it.

Knowledge: An often forgotten, or perhaps ignored element of hip-hop. It refers to “street knowledge”; the kind of lessons you can’t learn in school. Without it, all the other elements fall apart.

So What’s The Difference Between Hip-Hop and Rap Music?

nas hiphop is dead album cover

The MC came into existence to hype up the DJ and his music, not himself. It was his job to keep the crowd involved and on their feet (“Throw your hands in the air/ Wave ‘em like you just don’t care”). As hip-hop music was still restricted to underground parties, the style worked well for the time.

Eventually, the emcee started hyping up his own microphone skills, shifting the focus away from the DJ. Early hip-hop music was dominated by rap groups and rapper-DJ duos. Rap started becoming competitive, with emcess trying out new vocal and lyrical styles to outdo each other. Along with more technical vocals, rappers also started exploring deeper themes. Early “conscious rap” centered on poverty, racism and upliftment and gave black youth an outlet to vent their frustrations.

In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, gangsta rap gained popularity with themes like drug-dealing, weapon violence, materialistic displays and uncensored use of expletives. The music moved to the studio and the term “MC” lost its relevance, becoming synonymous with “rapper”. It was also around this time that the rapper became a solo star with tracks produced by various DJs. By the late ‘90s, rap had become increasingly materialistic and intentionally foul, evident by the birth of sub-genres like “mafioso rap” and “horrorcore”. Through the 2000s, rap music and hip-hop culture moved further and further away, prompting some, like Nas, to say “Hip-Hop is Dead”.

While the roots of modern rap are clearly in hip-hop, the lyrical content has strayed so far away from the original message that it could be considered a separate form of music closer to pop. Some see a garage full of Ferraris and vacations in Paris as a sign of empowerment, while some argue that it is obscene and out-of-touch with a society that is still largely struggling with socio-economic issues.

Every rapper is not an MC.
Every rap song is not hip-hop.

“Rappers spit rhymes that are mostly illegal. Emcees spit rhymes to uplift their people.”


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  5. Nice Article!
    Thanks for Sharing such a great Article.
    Keep sharing :)

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