For decades, the debate has ensued about what precisely the real difference is between rap music and hip-hop music. The main root of the divergence centres on the type of culture that each type of music personifies. Other areas, though, are also considered, such as: music production techniques, the elements associated in creating the sound of the music, and what each genre tries to encompass in its fundamental message.
This is a rather contentious issue, with some maintaining that rap is a kind of music, whereas hip-hop is a way of life — one that includes rap, break dancing, beat boxing, DJing, and graffiti art. Rap pioneer and ambassador KRS-One simply stated, “Rap is something you do, but hip-hop is something you live.” And that, my friends, is a simple yet beautiful way of separating the two. However, with that being said, others insist that hip-hop is a musical style distinct from rap, for very specific reasons. They argue that hip-hop has a particular beat, often introducing scratching and “breaks” (samples) into the equation. Some claim rapping over a soul or heavy metal track could never be classified as true hip-hop.
Nonetheless, us label-hungry knowledge junkies will probably never arrive at a definitive answer. Labels such as “rap” and “hip-hop” are never solidly set in stone, but are free to flow and develop, rather like the songs themselves. Evidently, some hip-hop lovers simply enjoy the moment and leave it at that. As the ever-eloquent Biggie Smalls confessed, “Birthdays was the worst days. Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay.”
Personally, I do believe that there are three fundamental differences between rap and hip-hop: musical features, culture and the message to society. These features are critical in establishing some sort of distinction between rap and hip-hop. The influence of rap and hip-hop on modern culture has exceeded the highest of expectations and continues to manipulate everyone from politicians to cab drivers. The musical characteristics of rap and hip-hop are quite dissimilar. A combination of rhyming and poetry to a musical beat is what rapping is all about. The subject matter of the rap can range from broken relationships to international politics. In the 70s and 80s, rappers provided social commentary on issues that were being overlooked by mainstream media. In the years that followed, popular rap became more focused on the monster that is consumer commercialism.
Hip-hop culture is heavily influenced by the beat-box style of yesteryears. Artists like Sugarhill Gang, Fab 5 Freddy, and Kurtis Blow, and so many more just like them, sang in upbeat, assured tones that told people to get on up and dance to their music. The messages were largely positive, ballads with a happy, optimistic ending.
On the other hand, rap was and still is more concerned with what is going on in popular culture. Renowned rap stars like Eminem, and Kanye regularly rap about the prevalence of crime, political issues that they disagree with, or general elements of irregularity among the professed leaders of this nation.
Hip-hop aims to encourage its listeners to look forward to a brighter tomorrow, whereas rap music involves a group or individual striving to “tell it like it is”. One of the greatest rap groups of all-time, Public Enemy, painted the most artistic of pictures, stories involving their hardcore lifestyles captivated listeners around the globe. Often ostracized in popular music circles, Public Enemy were simply rapping about current day conditions, very real problems posed to society.
On the other hand, a great song like “Rapper’s Delight” from The Sugarhill Gang promoted the concept of fun and release from all personal anguish.
Quite often rap music tends to have a more depressing, realistic outlook than hip-hop music. Sadly, the two terms have suffered from interchange so much in modern times that it becomes difficult to decode the real difference. While it is rather difficult to pinpoint one particular difference that unequivocally differentiates rap and hip-hop, our perceived notions of what distinguishes one from the other will continue for the unforeseeable future.