Hip Hop vs Rap: 5 Key Differences Between Hip Hop and Rap

Last Updated on January 23, 2023

There is a widespread confusion around hip hop vs rap. And we ask ourselves the big question: what is the difference between hip-hop and rap?

They are constantly thought to be the same, however, this is not so. In fact, rap is actually a musical genre that is found in hip-hop. While rap is a musical genre, hip-hop goes beyond; it is culture, it is a way and style of life.

To distinguish between the two, we will be seeing some 5 key differences between the two types of music. But first, we will weigh the two musical concepts in the balance, look into their similarities, characteristics, and present the differences in a table.

Hip Hop vs Rap: The Similarities

Surely, many have asked themselves the question about what is the difference between hip-hop and rap. And here we will explain to you to make you understand what their flats are. However, the truth is they are more similar than they are distinct from each other. This is because they exist in the same sphere or genre of music.

When it comes to music, both are the same. They are a musical style. Both represent a musical form that incorporates a lot of rhyme and rhythmic speech on beat bases or accompaniments.

They always have an immersed social component. They always talk about reality and want to deliver a message that goes from the class struggle to the adventures that are experienced day by day, with a lot of flow.

Hip-hop and rap were first made by Jamaican deejay, Kool Herc. He was first inspired by West African folk poets. It wasn't long before both gained popularity and began to be used, especially in the American ghettos.

What is Rap?

The Sugarhill Gang is one of the groups which popularized rap music (Image source)

Rap music is a musical genre characterized by a melodic recitation with recurring rhymes, which are sung or declaimed on a basis called a beat, which can be generated vocally or with instruments.

Although rap was originally associated with African-American culture. Today, it is possible to find expressions of the genre in other demographic groups. Although its origin is essentially linked to American racial minorities.

About the origin of the word rap, there are many versions of story. For some, rap is an acronym for rhythm and poetry. However, other specialists allege that it actually means rage against the police, referring to the police repression against Afro-American and Latino minorities that took place in the 60s and 70s.

On the other hand, it is affirmed that the word rap, more than an acronym, is a term that was used among the Afro-American population as a synonym for “talking”. Later it was adopted to refer to a particular way of recitation that is accompanied by a beat.


Origin of Rap

Although the first expressions of rap as a commercial musical genre originated in the American Midwest in the 1980s, this form of reciting phrases with vocal rhymes comes from West African cultures.

In many of these societies, there was a figure called griot, in charge of transmitting oral tradition through recitation.

With the arrival of Africans to the United States as slaves, the tradition expanded, this time in the form of work songs, although in a very discreet way due to the multiple restrictions they had to express themselves.

Centuries later, and in the throes of civil rights, rap (which had already begun to manifest itself in blues and jazz) evolved in the black and Latino neighborhoods of New York. Two decades later, it would begin to become one of the key elements of African-American culture.

So, originally, rap is born from the griot of Africa where oral historians or praise singers would recount oral or genealogical traditions; of the western tribes of the black continent. Over the years, it was deformed to the musical style that we know today. And it has its first antecedents in the 60s, specifically in the United States.

The neighborhoods of large cities such as the Bronx in New York began to cultivate this trend. There, they recite rhythmically the texts that speak of a message against the reigning power.

The true essence of rap consists of the lyric. It is the form of expression of the MC or the rapper. It is sung on an instrumental commonly called beat. Little by little, different elements were incorporated. These include street graffiti, beatbox, breakdancing, bringing a true culture to life.


Elements of Rap

Rap has several essential elements:

  • MC: MC is the “master of ceremonies”, reciter or rapper. He's the one in charge of creating and reciting rap lyrics.
  • Content: Content is the message that the rapper wants to convey.
  • Beat: This is a rhythmic pattern played by a DJ, a beatboxer (a person who can vocally imitate the sounds of musical instruments), or with percussion instruments.
  • Flow: It is how the rapper or MC adapts to the beat to create rhythmic syllables, words, or phrases.
  • Delivery: The delivery refers to the rapper's cadence.

You can see all these elements in one of the landmark rap songs – “The Message”


Rap artists

Rap had many representatives who, anonymously or quite discreetly, helped this genre to grow and become a popular phenomenon.

The fact that rap has its origins in the streets makes it difficult to trace a pioneering figure of the genre. However, many artists became key figures for the evolution and expansion of rap as a musical genre around the world. These are just some of the most influential representatives of rap, especially in American culture:

  • The Sugarhill Gang
  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
  • Afrika Bambaataa
  • LL Cool J
  • Public Enemy
  • NWA
  • Ice-T
  • Lady B
  • Dr. Dre
  • Snoop Dogg
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Busta Rhymes, among others.


What is Hip Hop?

DJ Kool Herc is believed to be hip-hop's founding father (Image source)

Hip hop is an urban African-American subculture that integrates different artistic expressions, among which rap is. For this reason, for many specialists, hip hop should not be considered as a musical genre, but rather it is a larger movement that includes, yes, rap as its musical expression.

The meeting of different currents that were joining rap gave life to a lifestyle called hip-hop. This incorporates a culture of many aspects such as the way of dressing, dancing, speaking, and, of course, rap music.


Origin of Hip Hop

Also, there are multiple versions of the origin of hip hop. One of them is that it is a socio-cultural movement that began to take shape in the poor neighborhoods of New York during the decade of the seventies. It came as an artistic response to the conditions of poverty and discrimination in which African Americans and Latinos, two population groups traditionally, economically, and socially marginalized in the United States.

As rap became popular as a musical genre, other elements were incorporated that, finally, would give rise to what is now known as hip hop. And although there is no precise source on the origin of the term, it seems to be due to one of the members of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who began to refer to this movement as hip hop.

Hip-hop is a tremendous cultural movement that also has its genesis in the Bronx of New York during the '70s. It gained strength in the suburbs when people were affected by economic measures of the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan in the 80s, which affected them notoriously.

The street gatherings began to turn into real parties where people sang. People danced, painted walls, and began to fight against the powerful through art.

According to Jody Rosen in her report “A Rolling Shout-Out to Hip-Hop History”, published on February 12, 2006, in The New York Times, “Hip-Hop first emerged with contemporary Kool Herc and Disc Jockeys as well as Copycats, all of these experimented with creating rhythmic hits through loop breaks (small portions of songs that emphasize a percussion pattern) on two decks.”

This track by DJ Kool Herc is pretty much emblematic of hip hop:


Elements of Hip Hop

Street graffiti is a key element in hip-hop

Hip hop has five key elements:

  • DJ: He is the person in charge of the musical mixes and therefore, he is responsible for “creating” the environment for the public to enjoy the session. It is the rhythmic element of hip hop.
  • MC: He is the “master of ceremony” or rapper. Initially, his role on the scene was much more discreet, since he was only in charge of making announcements and encouraging the audience. But little by little, he began to take center stage until he became, together with the DJ, two indisputable elements of hip hop culture. It is the lyrical element of the movement.
  • B-boys and B-girls: They are the element that corresponds to movement, in this case, through dance. The term comes from Break Boys or Break Girls. They are those who dance during the break of the musical track. Although the term breakdancer is often used as a synonym, it is actually a word created by the media, so it is not used in hip-hop from inception.
  • Graffiti: It is the visual expression of hip hop. In the United States, the rise of graffiti, began in the 60s with artists such as Cornbread from Philadelphia and Taki 183 in New York, due to their affinity with hip hop in terms of expression of disenchantment and social marginalization. Little by little, it was used in the movement until it became one of its characteristic elements. Today, graffiti are still used in hip hop.


Hip Hop Artists

Hip-hop artists are Dj's, rappers, B-boys, B-girls, and graffiti artists who take this cultural movement as a way of life. In that sense, these would be some of the most representative artists:

  • DJ Kool Herc
  • Rock Steady Crew (B-boy group founded in the seventies)
  • Jay Z.
  • Outkast.
  • The Roots.
  • 50 Cent


Hip Hop vs Rap: 5 Key Differences

OriginsRap was born in the United States. More specifically speaking, it originated in the ghettos of the American Midwest in the late 1980s and early 1990s.Hip-hop, on the other hand, is originally from New York. It was in the early 1980s in the Bronx that minorities such as African Americans and Latinos began to shape this new subculture.
MusicRap music is made up of sharp plays on fast words. It may have some poetry although it is mostly about rhythms and assonances. It usually deals with serious issues, although it has also become quite versatile.Within hip-hop, on the other hand, there are elements such as poetry, rhythms, and assonances within a more casual context. There are from slow to fast tones and any other you can think of.
Social themesTopics such as drug use, sex, and promiscuity, money, luxuries, poverty, politics, and others are touched upon.Hip-hop's social theme is usually the same as that of rap, mainly touching controversial subjects.
Characteristic elementsHip-hop's social theme is usually the same as that of rap, mainly touching controversial subjects.There are DJs, dance such as breakdance (which is basically made up of complicated dance routines), fashion, slang, beatbox graffiti, and R&B.
InstrumentsFirst of all there is the voice, a microphone, turntable, drums, drum machine, bass, among some others.In the same way, microphone, voice, bass, drums, and others.


Over to you

The main hip-hop vs rap difference is that rap is one of the expressions of hip hop. Meanwhile, the former is a whole culture that encompasses other aspects in addition to the musical part. Rap is a musical genre of American origin characterized by the use of vocal rhymes. Hip hop is a culture that includes various artistic expressions such as graffiti, dance, rhymes (rap), and music. Rap is included in a much larger cultural expression called hip hop.

To sum up, musically, both hip-hop and rap have some little differences, albeit very similar. But hip-hop encompasses something much larger. You can call it a lifestyle, a culture where rap is included.

Header image credits: Guardian, ConsequenceOfSound