History of Rap Music

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Rap music is an important part of hip-hop culture. This music features vocalists, also called MC’s, that recite lyrics over instrumental beats. Although many Americans do not view rap as an art form it was a way for people especially minorities, such as black and latinx youth, to spark conversation about their lives and struggles. Rap was those minority groups way of responding to racism, poverty, urban renewal, deindustrialization, and the inner-city violence. Also, rap was able to start conversations about national issues like politics, gender, sexuality, crime and policing, and mass incarceration. Usually rappers represent the poor and underprivileged because they were usually misrepresented or even ignored in mainstream music. Rap gave those disadvantaged minorities a chance to make art from their own struggles and experiences. Part of what rap music evolved from was an African oral tradition known as nommo, this tradition gave power to rappers and their music in many African-American communities.

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Rap music and hip-hop culture was influenced by many different types of music. One being the nommo from Africa, this was known as a way of speaking truth and power of words to generate and create reality, giving rappers the power to rap of their reality and their truth. Jamaican music also influenced the start of rap music, in their music they had something called toasting, this was when the DJ would talk over the music playing. Similarly, to rappers talking with rhythm over an instrumental beat. Both styles rely of prerecorded sounds, a strong beat, the lines were spoken in time with the beat of the music, and they had similar content. The content included boast raps, insult raps, party raps and raps that made no sense. Rap also has roots with other predominantly African-American music like soul, jazz, blues, and reggae. DJs would introduce reggae songs with rhymes.

Rap music originated almost 50 years ago, in the 1970’s in the Bronx, the area of many housing projects in New York City, after political and economic transformations in New York City. They started it as a response to their issues with racism and violence. In the 1970’s New York had a hip-hop scene that was dominated by turntablists and DJs. The earliest DJ and rapper was Kool Herc because he spoke rhymes over the music he played. As rap began to spread artists would rap over songs meant for break dancing and calling themselves MCs. In 1979 the first rap song was recorded, You’re My Candy Sweet by The Fatback Band and then also in 1979 the song Rapper’s Delight by Sugarhill Gang was recorded. Rapper’s Delight was the first rap hit and introduced rap music to a much larger audience, they were trying to reach a white population, so they would buy records but those from the area where rap started did not like it as much. Although Rapper’s Delight was a hit song, rap music did not start doing well until 1983. Run- D.M.C. released first their album in 1983 and were the first to reach a large white audience with their album. Most of the rap music from this early time for rap was positive and they used it to tell about their lives in the ghettos.

What is referred to as raps classical era (1979-1993) brought on female rappers, this was important because rap was a male dominated art form and the women brought on a new perspective and took away from much of the misogynistic viewpoints. Popular female rappers were Queen Latifah and Salt-n-Pepa. This is also when rap started to spread outside of New York to other places like the west coast. This included popular artists like Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Dr. Dre who were a part of N.W.A. These rappers along with Snoop Dogg and east coast rapper Schoolly D brought on the gangsta rap. West coast rappers began growing in predominance in the 1990’s. After the start of rap, in the 1990’s artists started making gangsta rap. This sub-genre of rap music made the public view rap as bad. The artists used exaggerated ideas of gang violence and bravado in their music. This was when there were rap artists on the east coast already and rappers has emerged in the west coast. The Los Angeles record company Death Row Records worked with Tupac and began to rival New York City’s Bad Boy Records. This is believed to have caused the famous murders of Tupac Shakar and The Notorious B.I.G. giving rap a bad image of violence. Despite the many controversies associated with rap music throughout its start and even continuing now, rap is one of the most popular genres of music in the world. It struggled with popularity at the turn of the century as well as other genres, but rap suffered the most. Many people did not like the lyrics because some rapper’s music was offensive.

Pepsi even ended a partnership with Ludacris in 2003 due to people questioning his lyrics. In the 2000’s different variations of rap music were popularized such as crunk music which came from southern hip-hip and alternative hip-hop. In 2007 the first rap group was put into the rock and roll hall of fame, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Throughout the 21st century rap music has continued to evolve, rappers are now able to start off on SoundCloud and get their voice and name out and eventually some get popular. There is always controversy in rap music and with rapper’s, but the genre is still very popular, and people continue to listen to them despite the controversial lyrics or the controversial things they have done or have been said that they have done. Rap music sounds a lot different than a lot of the music from hundreds of years ago and even from the music that was popular when it started and the music that is popular now. Some aspects of rap music differ from song to song such as the mood, tone color, instruments, rhythm, texture, and dynamics. The typical structure of a rap song is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Another structure used is before chorus, chorus, verse, before chorus, chorus, after chorus, verse, before chorus, chorus, after chorus, bridge, before chorus, chorus, after chorus. This one is more popular in pop rap. The verse is where a lot of the rapping is done and then the chorus is to sum up the main idea of the song and provides the listener with something catchy to listen to. The before and after chorus are to reinforce the catchiness of the chorus. The bridge is typically near the end and it something different from everything else in the song. Typical instruments used in rap music are usually electronic. Turn tables are probably the most popular especially at the start of rap music, that was what rap music started out on with DJ’s.

Keyboards, drum machines, samplers, and computers are also very popular in rap music. A lot of rap music has a lot of artificial sounds made from technology. Sometimes rap music will feature more traditional instruments to try and create a different sound than typical rap music. Typically, there is only one voice in a rap song unless an artist features another artist in their song or it is a group. Like Salt-n-Pepa is 3 women and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had 6 artists in their group. The texture in rap music is typically homophonic with a main melody being the rapper and is accompanied by the music in the background. Also rap music can sometimes have a polyphonic texture because there will sometimes be either a second person either rapping different lyrics in the background or there will sometimes be imitation in the songs. The first rap hit, Rappers Delight by The Sugarhill Gang is very different from the rap music that is popular now. Unlike most rap songs especially now this song is almost 15 minutes long. This song has 3 different rappers, but the texture is still homophonic as they switch between who is rapping so they are all doing their parts at separate times. There is not many dynamics in the song and it has a moderately fast tempo but not too fast that it is not understandable. They rap over a very repetitive and consistent beat. I think that the background music has a very jazzy feel and the mood of the song is very happy and upbeat.

Also, unlike later rap music it is much more positive, little cussing, and no talk of killing, drugs, or gangs but there is misogyny but that is common among rap music. One of the first songs by Salt-n-Pepa, Push It brought more women into rap music. This song featured 3 women as well as a male background voice. I do not notice very much in the way of dynamics and it has a moderately fast tempo but still understandable. I also think that although there are many voices it still has a homophonic texture. Like Rappers Delight the music behind the rapping is a repetitive beat. It also has a very upbeat mood and does not talk about violence. The first rap group to be put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, The Message. This group has 6 artists but like the other rap song the artists rap at different times so the texture is homophonic. Also, like the other rap songs the tempo is moderately fast has little to no dynamics. Similarly, to the other early rap it was very upbeat while talking about things that are not great like peoples living conditions. Lastly a song from the gangsta rap era, Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. Still similarly to other rap songs there are little dynamics. This song has more of a polyphonic texture because there the main rapper, imitation, and the background music. The song has 6 different artists that mostly all rap at different times from each other. The tempo is a little faster than the other songs but still understandable. In this song they rap a lot about their lives and give people of perspective of living Compton. This is an example of music with a lot of violence, they talk about shooting and gangs.

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History of Rap Music. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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