Through this mini series I plan on expressing my love for Hip Hop Culture – movies, music, the artistic movement it has given us and breaking it down to its purest form.
But first there’s one thing we need to clarify; what is the difference between rap and hip hop? While used simultaneously to describe music, they are two separate things . Hip hop itself began as an urban subculture that had four main elements: MCing, DJing, graffiti and breakdancing. Rap is the combination of rhyme and poetry to a musical beat, that found itself being tied into the lifestyle that is hip hop. Rapper Ice-T said it best when saying: “rap is vocal delivery, hip-hop is a culture. the culture of hip hop was a movement.” Although, there is strong difference in what hip hop music sounds like and what rap music sounds like, but that is all up for your interpretation.
Personally, I do believe that there are three differences between rap and hip-hop: musical features, culture and the message to society. These three points are critical in establishing some sort of distinction between rap and hip-hop. The influence of rap and hip-hop on today’s culture has exceeded the highest of expectations and continues to change the lives of everyone from politicians to cab drivers. The musical characteristics of rap and hip-hop are quite different. 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 beginning, 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 commercialism. Hip-hop culture is heavily influenced by the beat-box style of the 80s and 90s. Artists like Fab 5 Freddy, and Kurtis Blow, and so many more just like them, sang in upbeat, positive tones that told people to get up and dance to their music. The messages were largely positive, with a happy, pleasant ending. Hip hop music today is what I would say is politically correct, wanting to be played on the radio and concerned with their chart numbers hip hop artists tend to keep their content happy or light on topic.
On the other hand, rap was and still is more concerned with what is going on in popular culture. Renowned rap stars like J Cole , and Kendrick Lamar regularly rap about crime, political issues that they disagree with, or general elements of the society we live in today.
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”. The beauty in rap music has always been the thought put into it, the artists craft their rhymes and their message so well that you end up with songs you reflect on time and time again. One of the greatest rap groups of all-time, Public Enemy, gave us the most artistic vivid images and stories of their society through their raps. Often being portrayed like the negative, upsetting group in hip hop, Public Enemy were simply rapping about current day conditions, and very real problems important to them in today’s society. Quite often rap music tends to have a more depressing, realistic outlook than hip-hop music.
So you ask, what really seems to be the difference then?
The major difference between the two is that one is the part while the other is the whole. Hip-Hop essentially refers to not just the music, but the whole culture that follows it. We have to remember that with the infusion of various genres into Hip-Hop, these new styles eventually branched out to form individual sub-genres. So if you look at it from that very perspective, Rap is a sub-genre of the vast world of Hip-Hop. If we dig deeper, some people have suggested that when it comes to the themes that are discussed in each of the two forms, Hip-Hop talks about materialism, sexuality, and the good times too, whereas Rap is more socio-political, used to insult, mock, or call out fellow rappers, negative aspects of today’s society and in general, has a more serious tone as compared to Hip-Hop. It is also said that the tone of Hip-Hop can range from slow, to peppy, to fast paced, but that is arguable because with the evolution of Rap, people have experimented with the rhyme structure, and you can have the fast “spitters” to the ones who have changed the traditional 4/4 beat.
As KRS-One crisply put it in his track named ‘Hip-Hop Vs. Rap’, “Rap is something you do Hip Hop is something you live.”