Rap music is essentially a style of poetry that sets spoken rhymes to the beat of music. The style of music typically has a driving beat, but the refrain of the song sometimes has a melody. It originated in America, but the style has spread around the world and there are rap music performers in nearly every nation. Rap music evolved from the African America community and is still associated with urban culture. Many of the performers who have gained fame from rapping came from poor inner city neighborhoods and used their experiences to create their music.
The style of music can trace its roots back to West Africa, where tribes would set stories of their ancestors and culture to music. The stories would be spoken in a rhythm with drum beating and foot stamping in the background. These musical stories would often be performed publicly in towns and villages. The tradition spread to the United States through slave culture and many believe this style of music was a predecessor to other African American styles of music including the blues.
It was not until the 1970s that rap music as we know it today began to take shape. The first rap group to hit the billboard charts was the Last Poets
with their song “Wake Up, Niggers,” from the movie “Right On!” The group had formed on May 19, 1968, which incidentally, was Malcolm X’s birthday.
Social commentary has long been a part of rap music. Mainstream culture often associated rap music with African American and inner city stereotypes, such as gang violence and prison culture. However, there have been a number of rap songs to hit the mainstream that lack the driving drum beat and profane lyrics some associate with rap music. In 1979, the Sugarhill Gang released “Rappers Delight,” which hit number 36 on the pop charts.
Rap Hits Mainstream Music
The 1980s and 1990s were the decades in which rap really became a mainstream part of music culture. Gangsta rap artists such as Ice T, Tupac Shukur, and the Notorious B.I.G all hit the scene, and were featured on pop, hip hop, and urban radio stations. There was still a stigma attached to rap as a violent form of performance art, a stereotype that was perpetuated by the artists with releases of songs such as “Cop Killer.” The lyrics in rap songs usually warranted parental warning labels on albums and televised live performances and videos were frequently edited for profanity.
It was during this time that rap spread to other ethnic groups and there were even some non-black rappers who found fame in the genre including Eminem. The style was also embraced by women performers including Lil Kim, Queen Latifah, and female group Salt ‘n’ Pepa. Today, rap is as strong as ever. The style sometimes overlaps the hip hop genre and rap hooks are featured in popular music on the regular basis. Pop musicians frequently collaborate with rap artists, as is the case with Rihanna and Eminem, and more recently, Adam Levine and Wiz Khalifah.