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Hip hop music

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Hip hop music (Rap)
Stylistic origins: Jamaican Dancehall toasting alongside the rhythms of R&B, disco and funk
Cultural origins: late 1960s/early 1970s: Kingston, Jamaica - early 1970s South Bronx, New York City
Typical instruments: Turntable, rapping, drum machine, Sampler, synthesizer, human beatboxing
Mainstream popularity: Since late 1980s in the United States, worldwide beginning in early 1990s, among best-selling genres of music by early 2000s.
Derivative forms: Trip hop, Grime
Abstract - Alternative - Chopped and screwed - Christian - Conscious - Crunk - Gangsta - G-funk - Hardcore - Horrorcore - Hyphy - Instrumental - Jazz rap - Latin rap - Mobb - Nerdcore - Old school - Pop rap - Snap
Fusion genres
Country rap - Electro hop - Freestyle - Hip house - Hip life - Ghettotech - Hip hop soul - Miami bass - Neo soul - New jack swing - Ragga - Rapcore - Reggaeton - Urban Pasifika
Regional scenes
World - African - American: (East - West - South - Midwest) - French - Japanese
Other topics
DJing (Turntablism) - History - Rapping - Roots - Timeline

Hip hop music (also referred to as rap or rap music) is a style of popular music. It is made up of two main components: rapping (MCing) and DJing (audio mixing and scratching). Along with breakdancing and graffiti (tagging), these compose the four elements of hip hop, a cultural movement that was initiated by inner-city youth (mostly minorities such as African Americans and Latinos) in New York City in the early 1970s.

Typically, hip hop music consists of one or more rappers who tell semi-autobiographic tales, often relating to a fictionalized counterpart, in an intensely rhythmic lyrical form making abundant use of techniques like assonance, alliteration, and rhyme. The rapper is accompanied by an instrumental track, usually referred to as a "beat", performed by a DJ, created by a producer, or one or more instrumentalists. This beat is often created using a sample of the percussion break of another song, usually a funk, rock, or soul recording. In addition to the beat other sounds are often sampled, synthesized, or performed. Sometimes a track can be instrumental, as a showcase of the skills of the DJ or producer.

Hip hop began in New York City when DJs began isolating the percussion break from funk and disco songs. The early role of the MC was to introduce the DJ and the music and to keep the audience excited. MCs began by speaking between songs, giving exhortations to dance, greetings to audience members, jokes and anecdotes. Eventually this practice became more stylized and became known as rapping. By 1979 hip hop had become a commercially popular music genre and began to enter the American mainstream. In the 1990s, a form of hip hop called gangsta rap became a major part of American music, causing significant controversy over lyrics which were perceived as promoting violence, promiscuity, drug use and misogyny. Nevertheless, by the beginning of the 2000s, hip hop was a staple of popular music charts and was being performed in many styles across the world.


Term usage

The terms rap and rap music are often used to describe hip hop music; the terms rap music and hip hop music are generally synonymous, although rap music is sometimes used to describe hip hop songs without vocals. Hip hop music is also erroneously used at times to describe related genres of music, such as contemporary R&B, which are primarily sung; while singing is commonly present in hip hop songs, the main vocal (if there are vocals) is always rapped.


Hip hop is a cultural movement, of which music is a part (as are graffiti and breakdancing). The music is itself composed of two parts, rapping, the delivery of swift, highly rhythmic and lyrical vocals, and DJing, the production of instrumentation either through sampling, instrumentation, turntablism or beatboxing. Another important factor of hip hop music is the fashion that originated along with the music. The fashion was a representation of the music.

Rhythmic structure

Beats (though not necessarily raps) in hip hop are almost always in 4/4 time. At its rhythmic core, hip hop swings: instead of a straight 4/4 count (pop music; rock 'n' roll; etc.), hip hop is based on an anticipated feel somewhat similar to the "swing" emphasis found in jazz percussion. Like the triplet emphasis in swing, hip hop's rhythm is subtle, rarely written as it sounds (4/4 basic; the drummer adds the hip hop interpretation) and is often played in an almost "late" or laid back way.

This style was innovated predominantly in soul and funk music, where beats and thematic music were repeated for the duration of tracks. In the 1960s and 1970s, James Brown (known as The Godfather of Soul) talked, sang, and screamed much as MCs do today. This musical style provides the perfect platform for MCs to rhyme. Hip hop music generally caters to the MC for this reason, amplifying the importance of lyrical and delivering prowess.

Instrumental hip hop is perhaps the lone exception to this rule. In this hip hop subgenre, DJs and producers are free to experiment with creating instrumental tracks. While they may mix in sampled rap vocals, they are not bound by traditional hip hop format.

Instrumentation & production

DJ Premier, a popular and influential hip hop producer and DJ from New York. DJ Premier, a popular and influential hip hop producer and DJ from New York.

The instrumentation of hip hop derives from disco, funk, and R&B, both in the sound systems and records sampled and session musicians and their instrumentation used. Disco and club DJs' use of mixing originated from the need to have continuous music and thus smooth transitions between tracks. Hip hop Kool DJ Herc, in contrast, originated the practice of isolating and extending only the break—a short percussion solo interlude—by mixing between two copies of the same record. 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) James Brown, Bob James, and Parliament—among many others—have long been popular sources for breaks. 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, or rock: vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and percussion.

Although original hip hop music consisted solely of the DJ's breakbeats and other vinyl record pieces, the advent of the drum machine allowed hip hop musicians to develop partially original scores. Drum set sounds could be played either over the music from vinyl records or by themselves. The importance of quality drum sequences became the most important focus of hip hop musicians because these rhythms (beats) were the most danceable part. Consequently, drum machines were equipped to produce strong kick sounds. This helped emulate the very well-engineered drum solos on old funk, soul and rock albums from the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s. Drum machines had a limited array of predetermined sounds, including hi-hats, snares, toms, and kick drums.

The introduction of the sampler changed the way hip hop was produced. A sampler can reproduce small sound clips from any input device, such as a turntable. Producers were able to sample familiar drum patterns. More importantly, they could sample a variety of instruments to play along with their drums. Hip hop had finally gathered its complete band.

Many producers and listeners pride certain records for being hip hop lore and thus a good source of samples and breaks. To this day, producers use arcane equipment to replicate the same rough sound used in older records. This lends credibility to the records and serves as a historical reminder to the listeners of hip hop's origins.


For more details on this topic, see History of hip hop music.

The two main historical eras of hip hop are the old school hip hop era (1970 to 1985), which spanned from the beginning of hip hop until its emergence into the mainstream, and the golden age of hip hop (1985 to 1993), which consolidated the sounds of the East Coast and the West Coast and transitioned into the modern era with the rise of gangsta rap and G-funk. The years after 1993 are considered the modern era of hip hop.


Main article: Roots of hip hop music

The roots of hip hop music are in West African and African American music. Discussion of the roots of hip hop (and rap) must mention the contributions of griots The Last Poets and Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, whose jazzy and poetic "spiels" commented on 1960's culture. Hip hop arose during the 1970s when block parties became common in New York City, especially in the Bronx. Block parties were usually accompanied by music, especially funk and soul music. The early DJs at block parties began isolating the percussion breaks to hit songs, realizing that these were the most danceable and entertaining parts; this technique was then common in Jamaica (see dub music) and had spread via the substantial Jamaican immigrant community in New York City, especially the godfather of hip hop, DJ Kool Herc. Dub had arisen in Jamaica due to the influence of American sailors and radio stations playing R&B. Large sound systems were set up to accommodate poor Jamaicans, who couldn't afford to buy records, and dub developed at the sound systems (refers to both the system and the parties that evolved around them).

Old school hip hop (1970–1986)

Main article: Old school hip hop

Hip hop music began in the early 1970s in New York with the advent of breakbeat DJing. Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash and other DJs extended the breaks (short percussion interludes) of funk records, creating a more "danceable" sound. This use of extended percussion breaks led to the development of mixing and scratching techniques, and later to the popularization of remixes.

As hip hop's popularity grew, performers began speaking while the music played, and became known as MCs or emcees. Performers often emceed for hours at a time, with some improvisation and a simple four-count beat and basic chorus. Teams of emcees (many of whom were former gang members) sprang up throughout the country, led by the first emcee team, Kool Herc & the Herculoids. The MCs grew more varied in their vocal and rhythmic approach, incorporating brief rhymes, often with a sexual or scatological theme. These early raps incorporated rhyming lyrics from African American culture (see roots of hip hop music), such as the dozens.

The first steps towards the commercialization of hip hop came with the release of what are usually called the first two commercially issued hip hop recordings: "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" by the Fatback Band, and "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang. Though neither the Fatback Band nor the Sugarhill Gang had significant roots in the DJ culture, "Rapper's Delight" became a Top 40 hit on the U.S. Billboard pop singles chart. After the releases of follow ups by acts such as Kurtis Blow ("The Breaks"), The Sequence ("Funk You Up"), and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five ("Freedom"), hip hop was pegged as a successful, yet temporary, trend in music.

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five were one of the earliest hip hop recording acts, best known for their seminal 1982 single "The Message". Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five were one of the earliest hip hop recording acts, best known for their seminal 1982 single "The Message".

During the 1980s, hip hop began to diversify and develop into a more complex form. The simple tales of 1970s emcees were replaced by highly metaphoric raps over complex, multi-layered beats. Some rappers even became mainstream pop performers, including Kurtis Blow, whose appearance in a Sprite commercial made him the first hip hop musician to be considered mainstream enough to represent a major product, but also the first to be accused by the hip hop audience of selling out.

The techniques used in hip hop changed during the 1980s as well. Most important were the DJ records such as Grandmaster Flash's "Adventures on the Wheels of Steel." This record was known for pioneering use of scratching, which was invented by Grandwizard Theodore in 1977. Also important were electronic recordings such as "Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa and Run DMC's "Sucker MC's" and "Peter Piper," the latter of which contains genuine cutting by Run DMC member Jam Master Jay. In 1982, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five released a "message rap", called "The Message"; this was one of the earliest examples of recorded hip hop with a socially aware tone. In 1984, Marley Marl accidentally caught a drum machine snare hit in the sampler; this innovation was vital in the development of electro and other later types of hip hop.

Golden age hip hop (1986–1993)

Main article: The golden age of hip hop
Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell (1986), one of the most important releases from the golden age of hip hop. Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell (1986), one of the most important releases from the golden age of hip hop.

A number of new hip hop styles and subgenres began appearing as the genre gained popularity. Run-D.M.C.'s collaboration with hard rock band Aerosmith on "Walk This Way" was an early example of rock and hip hop fusions. Also, the mid-1980s saw the rise of the first major black female group, Salt-N-Pepa, who hit the charts with singles like "The Show Stoppa" in 1985. Ice-T's seminal "6n' Da Mornin'" (1986) was one of the first nationally successful West Coast hip hop singles, and is often said to be the beginning of gangsta rap. In 1988 and 1989, artists from the Native Tongues Posse released the first conscious hip hop albums, with jazz-based samples and diverse, quirky and often political lyrics covering a diverse range of topics (see jazz rap) and strongly influenced by the Afrocentric messages of Bambaataa's Zulu Nation.

In 1987, Public Enemy brought out their debut album (Yo! Bum Rush the Show), and Boogie Down Productions followed up in 1988 with By All Means Necessary. Both records pioneered a wave of hard-edged politicized performers. Meanwhile, Public Enemy's Bomb Squad production team, and those of other artists, pioneered new techniques in sampling that resulted in dense, multi-layered sonic collages.

Modern era of hip hop (1993–present)

Nas's debut album, Illmatic, had a profound impact on East Coast hip hop during the mid-1990s Nas's debut album, Illmatic, had a profound impact on East Coast hip hop during the mid-1990s

In the 1990s, gangsta rap became mainstream, beginning in 1992, with the release of Dr. Dre's The Chronic. This album established a style called G Funk, which soon came to dominate West Coast hip hop. Though G Funk was the most popular variety of hip hop in the early 1990s, New York's hip hop scene did not disappear, and remained an integral part of the industry, producing such well-regarded acts as The Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, AZ, Mobb Deep, and Busta Rhymes. The reemergence of New York as a growing entity in mainstream hip hop soon spawned an inevitable confrontation between the East Coast and West Coast and their respective major labels. This sales rivalry eventually turned into a personal rivalry, provoked in part by famous West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur's 1994 shooting, which he blamed on The Notorious B.I.G. and his Bad Boy Entertainment label. Artists from both labels traded disses (most notably Tupac's "Hit 'Em Up,") and the feud's escalation resulted in the still unsolved deaths of both rappers.

Dr. Dre's The Chronic (1992), a seminal album that redefined West Coast hip hop Dr. Dre's The Chronic (1992), a seminal album that redefined West Coast hip hop

Later in the 1990s, record labels based out of Atlanta, St. Louis and New Orleans gained fame for their local scenes. In 1996, Cleveland-based rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony tied The Beatles' 32-year-old record for fastest-rising single with "Tha Crossroads," and by the end of the decade, hip hop was an integral part of popular music. In 2000, Caucasian rapper Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP sold over nine million copies and won a Grammy Award.

In the 1990s and into the following decade, elements of hip hop continued to be assimilated into other genres of popular music; neo soul, for example, combined hip hop and soul music and produced some major stars in the middle of the decade.

Musical impact

Aside from hip hop's great popularity, the genre has had an impact on most varieties of popular music. There are performers that combine either hip hop beats or rapping with rock and roll, heavy metal, punk rock, merengue, salsa, cumbia, funk, jazz, house, taarab, reggae, highlife, mbalax and soul. Teen pop singers and boy bands like the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Britney Spears utilize hip hop beats in many of their most popular singles.

Hip hop has had an especially close relationship with soul music since the early 1990s. Indeed, today there is little recorded soul that does not feature some element of hip hop. This fusion, called nu soul, can be traced back to the late 1980s New Jack Swing groups, though it did not reach its modern form until the rise of performers like Mary J. Blige. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the hip hop influence grew more prominent in singers like D'Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and Alicia Keys.

During the 80's, popular acts like Run-D.M.C. used both hard rock and hip hop, especially in their genre-crossing, unprecedented smash hit "Walk This Way", performed with Aerosmith. Other performers, like Ice-T and his band Body Count used hip hop, punk rock and metal, though the first band to combine metal with rap vocal techniques is said to be Anthrax (others early adopters include Biohazard, Faith No More, Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers). By the end of the 1990s, rap-metal grew both more popular and more derided by fans of both genres, with the rise of bands like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and KoЯn, who were called nu metal.

Odaymara Cuesta, member of Krudas. Odaymara Cuesta, member of Krudas.

In Latin America, rapping was already known in the 1980s, in the form of toasting, a part of Jamaican ragga music. Rapped lyrics were already a part of soca music, for example. The growth of hip hop in the area, however, led to more pronounced fusions like reggaeton and timba. Similarly, in Africa, rapping-like vocals (such as Senegalese tassou) were already a part of popular music, and hip hop was easily adapted to popular styles like taarab and mbalax. Hip hop has also grown outstandingly in Cuba, with groups such as Anonimo Consejo, Doble Filo, Papa Umbertico, and the unique feminist lesbian duo Krudas.

One cannot underestimate the influence the genre has had over the numerous styles of electronic music. Hip hop's influence is well noticed in genres such as trip-hop, jungle, UK garage, grime and more.

Social impact

Hip hop music is a part of hip hop, a cultural movement that includes the activities of breakdancing and graffiti art, as well as associated slang, fashion and other elements. The popularity of music has helped to popularize hip hop culture, both in the United States and to a lesser degree abroad.

The late 1990s saw the rise in popularity of the "bling bling" lifestyle in rap music, focusing on symbols of wealth and status like money, jewelry, cars, and clothing. Although references to wealth have existed since the birth of hip hop, the new, intensified "bling bling" culture has its immediate roots in the enormously commercially successful late-to-mid nineties work (specifically, music videos) of Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records as well as Master P's No Limit Records. However, the term was coined in 1999 (see 1999 in music) by Cash Money Records artist B.G. on his single Bling Bling, and the Cash Money roster were perhaps the epitome of the "bling bling" lifestyle and attitude. Though many rappers, mostly gangsta rappers, unapologetically pursue and celebrate bling bling, others, mostly artists outside of the hip hop mainstream, have expressly criticized the idealized pursuit of bling bling as being materialistic.

All Eyez on Me (1996) was the most successful album of West Coast rapper 2Pac's career. All Eyez on Me (1996) was the most successful album of West Coast rapper 2Pac's career.

The widespread success of hip hop - specifically gangsta rap - has also had a significant social impact on the demeanor of modern youth. The sometimes egotistic and degenerate attitudes often portrayed in the lyrics and videos of certain hip hop artists have shown negative effects on some of their idolizing fans. While the attitudes of specific artists certainly do not represent the rest of the hip hop community, and the effect of lyrical content on youths who are part of the hip hop culture is debatable, very often such youths adopt the much glamourized "gangsta" persona while not being members of any gang. Often these personas incite anti-social behavior such as peer harassment, neglect towards education, rejection of authority, and petty crimes such as vandalism. While the majority of listeners are able to distinguish entertainment from lessons in social conduct, an evident pseudo-gangsta sub-culture has risen amongst North American youth.

Because hip hop music almost always puts an emphasis on hyper-masculinity, its lyrics often reflect a homophobic mindset. There has been little to no room in hip hop music for openly gay or lesbian artists. It is often suspected that there are a great number of gay or lesbian hip hop musicians who do not come out of the closet for fear of the decline of their career. Rumors of such have involved hip hop artists such as Queen Latifah, Da Brat, and several others. In 2003 the first openly gay hip hop and rap artist, Caushun, was signed to a major label; his record and career were not successful.

As with most insular musical-cultural movements such as jazz and the hippie counterculture of the 1960s, hip hop has a distinctive slang, that includes words like yo, flow and phat. Due to hip hop's extraordinary commercial success in the late nineties and early 21st century, many of these words have been assimilated into many different dialects across America and the world and even to non-hip hop fans (the word dis for example is remarkably prolific). There are also words like homie which predate hip hop but are often associated with it because of the close connection between recorded hip hop and the dialect used by many performers, African American Vernacular English. Sometimes, terms like what the dilly, yo are popularized by a single song (in this case, "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" by Busta Rhymes) and are only used briefly. Of special importance is the rule-based slang of Snoop Dogg and E-40, who add -izz to the middle of words so that shit becomes shizznit (the addition of the n occurs occasionally as well). This practice, with origins in Frankie Smith's non-sensical language from his 1982 single "Double Dutch Bus," has spread to even non-hip hop fans, who may be unaware of its derivation.

Censorship issues

Hip hop has probably encountered more problems with censorship than any other form of popular music in recent years, due to the use of sexually and violently explicit lyrics. The pervasive use of curse words in many songs has created challenges in the broadcast of such material both on television stations such as MTV, in music video form, and on radio. As a result, many hip hop recordings are broadcast in censored form, with offending language blanked out of the soundtrack (though usually leaving the backing music intact). The result – which quite often renders the remaining lyrics unintelligible – has become almost as widely identified with the genre as any other aspect of the music, and has been parodied in films such as Austin Powers in Goldmember, in which a character – performing in a parody of a hip hop music video – performs an entire verse that is blanked out.

World hip hop

Although hip hop music originated in the United States, it has spread throughout the world. Hip hop was almost entirely unknown outside of the United States prior to the 1980s. During that decade, it began its spread to every inhabited continent and became a part of the music scene in dozens of countries.


Hip hop has major American magazines devoted to it, including The Source, XXL and Vibe. For a long time, BET was the only television channel likely to play much hip hop, but in recent years the mainstream channels VH1 and MTV have played hip hop more than any other genre. Many individual cities have produced their own local hip hop newsletters, while hip hop magazines with national distribution are found in a few other countries. The 21st century also ushered in the rise of online media, and hip hop fan sites now offer comprehensive hip hop coverage on a daily basis.

Music samples

  • MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This"
    • From the 1990 pop-rap album Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, which sold 10 million copies, and, despite poor response from music critics, is still the top-selling rap album of all time.
  • Mos Def's "Mathematics"
    • From Black on Both Sides, one of the most influential late 1990s alternative hip hop releases.
  • DMX's "Dogs for Life"
    • from 1999's Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, an album that helped re-establish hardcore East Coast hip hop.


  • The Vibe History of hip hop. 1999. Vibe magazine. ISBN 0609805037
  • hip hop America. Nelson, George. Penguin Book. 2000. ISBN 0140280227
  • David Toop (1984/1991). Rap Attack II: African Rap To Global hip hop. New York. New York: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 1852422432.
  • McLeod, Kembrew. Interview with Chuck D and Hank Shocklee. 2002. Stay Free Magazine.
  • Yes Yes Y'All: Oral History of hip hop's First Decade. Fricke, Jim and Charlie Ahearn (eds). Experience Music Project. Perseus Books Group. ISBN 0306811847
  • Corvino, Daniel and Shawn Livernoche. A Brief History of Rhyme and Bass: Growing Up With hip hop. Lightning Source Inc. ISBN 1401028519

External links

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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