Rap vs Hip Hop: What is the difference?

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.


John Glynn

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