Quite often in American tradition, many terms are used interchangeably as meaning the same that in reality are not. One such example is the use of Hip Hop culture being the same as Rap. The reality is that Hip Hop is a much bigger genre than Rap, as Rap is just one element of Hip Hop. To understand this we will need to travel back in time to the genesis of these two terms and learn about the differences.
Origins of Hip Hop
It all started at a birthday party in the Bronx in 1973. The location was 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. The person in charge of the birthday party for a young lady was her brother, Clive Campbell. He is more commonly known a DJ Kool Herc who is now attributed to having been the founder of Hip Hop.
He noticed that people tended to do certain dance moves at times in a song being played on the turntable that coincided with certain drum beats in the song. It was when vocals or music from instruments would stop and create a form of rhythm for several measures. So DJ Kool Herc decided to take two turntables, playing the same song and switch back and forth between the two records playing the exact same song. The result of this would extend the drum break that would inspire the crowd to keep up with their rhythmic dance moves.
This technique created what was known as the Merry-Go-Round or “breakbeat”. [i] It was from this party that the technique was continually refined and eventually termed Hip Hop six years later. Hip Hop actually evolved into a very intricate and complex culture that had four distinct elements.
These elements are
- Turntabling or Deejaying
- Rapping better described as rhyming or “Mcing”
- Graffiti painting shortened to “graf” or “writing”
- B-boying – this includes hip-hop dancing, styles of dancing and attitudes of the culture that are displayed in the body language
As you can see from this short description, Rap or rapping is just one element of the Hip Hop culture. Think of Hip Hop as the all-encompassing term of this genre. Think of Rap as one of the critical elements in Hip Hop.
Origins of Rap
Rap did not have its genesis in America. It actually dates back to West African musicians that used the beats of drums to accompany their stories. It was a rhythm to a beat along with the telling of a story. It was also discovered in the Caribbean Islands that has similar ways of telling stories. This form of storytelling was practiced more than a century before it became popular in America in the 1970’s. It is from this backdrop that we have a foundation for what we call in America “rap music”.
In this form of poetry, it is speaking or chanting lyrics in the form of rhymes set to the beat of a drum. Make no mistake, it is not only a form of poetry, but it is a very complex form with sophisticated styles. In addition, it is not just brainless stuff that the words are discussing. It is typically about very controversial subjects that can provoke. These included sex, violence and many socio-political issues current of the day.
It was a very popular form of music in the 1970’s as a kind of street art, very common among African American young people. This is where it started to be tied into graffiti art and emerging as a part of hip hop.
However, it was in 1979, when the Sugar Hill Gang released their hit known as “Rappers Delight”[ii] that the record industry took notice. They soon released that this was a very popular and emerging style of music. It was this from this that the recording industry opened the doors for rap music and led the way to the various artists to make it into the rap industry.
The result was that it broke open the door from being just an African American sub-culture form of music, to an American form of music that included whites and males and females. It was from this that rapping became part of the Hip Hop culture.
From this, you will now understand that Hip Hop is an entire culture represented by four important and distinct parts working together. Rap is just one of those parts that had its origins in African and the Caribbean and became popular about the same time that “turntabling” as a Hip Hop technique was also making its way into the American scene.
This form of culture and music has stood the test of time as more than one generation now experiences, loves and enjoys Hip Hop with its “Rap”style of music. It is truly a classic.