Old school. New school. Golden age. Altenative. Avant-garde. Breakbeat. Boom bap. Crunk. Dirty South. Hardcore. Freestyle. G-Funk. Gangsta rap. Ghetto house. Grime. Nerdcore. Pop-rap. Psychedelic. Soul.
They all started in the Bronx during the 1970s, when block parties in New York began to grow in popularity. DJs started isolating the percussive breaks of popular songs, particularly from Jamaican dance hall music, that they would play over and over on a turntable. When a second turntable was added DJs could extend the breaks, and a competitive art was born, calling for DJs to innovate and hone the dexterity of their craft.
Alongside the DJs, a Master of Ceremonies (or MC) would manage the mic, presenting performers and entertaining the audience. This evolved into rapping, the speaking or chanting of rhyming lyrics that would accompany the beats laid down by the DJ.
Artists and performers like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five pioneered the genre of music known today as Hip-hop. New school hip-hop followed in the early 1980s with artists like LL Cool J and Run D.M.C. Golden age hip hop came later that decade in an innovative period of the genre’s development, with artists like KRS-One, Slick Rick, and A Tribe Called Quest.
In the 1990s, the genre had already started to diverge down two separate paths of evolution- one focused on the more commercial aspects of rap as a genre of performance art, the other as a continuation of a medium for socially conscious dialogue. These two paths continue to cross and overlap, notably in the subgenre of gangsta rap, but they have created two distinctly dichotomous classifications that I would label (albeit somewhat controversially) as Rap and Hip-hop.
For the sake this discussion, let us assume that my argument moving forward concerns only music and not the larger definition of Hip-hop culture.
In broad terms, the difference basically boils down to the music you are likely to hear on the radio, and the stuff you won’t.
While the Internet has largely negated the need for a record deal for artists to widely distribute their music, the radio still largely determines the overall success of a musician’s work. Unfortunately record companies still hold an excessive amount of sway over public radio stations that consequently seek to reach the largest demographic by playing to the lowest common denominator. Hence, the songs most likely to earn radio playtime, and thereby success, focus on the most basic of human desires – sex and money.
For the uninitiated this defines the corpus of rap music, and the preoccupation with lasciviousness and wealth prematurely alienates potential listeners.
However, those who scratch beneath the grimy surface of radio land and explore the less commercial areas of the genre are rewarded with the hopeful, progressive soul of hip-hop and the culture that surrounds it.
Instead of the angry, nihilistic radicalism offered by punk rock, hip-hop encourages progress through education and enlightenment.
Rather than pursuing the destruction or blind embrace of establishments, hip-hop asks questions in search of the best way forward.
Artists like Classified, Antix, and E-dubble encourage individuals to search for their own truth and happiness, as well as avoiding all manner of falsity and douchebaggery, which is something everyone should value and embrace.
In a dialectic nutshell-
Rap is the ugly public artifice of a much deeper genre, much like the pop successors of classic rock. Rap focuses on the pursuit of wealth and physical pleasure, using superficial lyricism in a bid to reach the widest possible demographic at the expense of artistic depth. Rap is an inflexible ideology and the very definition of kitsch.
Hip-hop, on the other hand, is the soul of a progressive culture, determined to inspire hope, encourage education, and ignite political action for social reform. It is a medium for the dissemination of radical ideas and a philosophy of innovation and human connection. Hip-hop is about evolution. Hip-hop is art.
Like any discussion on the artistic merits of a musical genre, my argument is oversimplified. It’s my subjective opinion based on my own personal experience and taste.
My only goal in writing this – aside from forcing myself to write something – is to encourage anyone who might presume to dislike, or even hate, rap music to give it a second glance. Hip-hop is an inspiring genre of music whose exploration down the rhythmic rabbit hole is well-rewarded.