Rapping is one of the elements of hip hop and the distinguishing feature of hip hop music; it is a form of rhyming lyrics spoken rhythmically over musical instruments, with a musical backdrop of sampling, scratching and mixing by DJs. Originally, rapping was called MCing and accompanied DJing.
Rapping began as a variation on the toasting found in reggae, funk and dub music, mixed with influences from radio DJs and playing the dozens. Also of influence were the works of The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron, Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues and Parliament. The original rappers, or MCs (from "Master of Ceremonies") would improvise rhymes over the beats created by the DJs. Early raps were frequently merely a sequence of boasts, or attempts to upstage the other MCs. See roots of rap music for earlier forms that also contributed to rap.
The first rap record was 1979's King Tim III by the Fatback Band (featuring the rapper King Tim III). The Sugarhill Gang followed the same year with Rappers Delight, that became a major hit and is based on Chic's oft-sampled disco track "Good Times". In 1981 Blondie became the first mainstream act to feature a rap in their hit "Rapture". Rap is a way of poetically expressing oneself while rhyming on a beat.
Politics and rap
In the mid-1980s, rap became increasingly politicized, through the works of Public Enemy, KRS One, and others, and tended to chronicle the black urban experience. Later on, many rap artists expanded with anti-war songs, anti-drug songs, women's rights songs, and so on.Gangsta rap may be seen in this context of subversion, but is also seen by some as the abandonment of a constructive message. The early 90's saw artists such as NWA and Ice-T facing massive controversy for their explosive tales of murder, rebellion, and sex. This style of rap quickly became the most popular, as rappers like Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre became mainstream celebrities.
Descendents and influence
Rapping can be seen as one of the four elements of hip hop: MCing (rapping), DJing (mixing, cutting and scratching), graffiti, and breakdancing. However, in the course of rap's history, new musical styles developed that use rapping - especially rapcore, also known as rap/rock or rap/metal, first introduced by crossover pioneer Run-DMC's collaboration with Aerosmith in 1986. Some alternative rap has musically very little to do with hip hop and rap music. Often consisting of bizarre soundscapes and vivid lyrics, abstract hip-hop has developed, largely in the underground.
Music outside of the United States has taken the rap style and blended it with completely different elements. Japanese dance music, for example, often uses rapping to complement or break up the singing parts, with lyrics containing upbeat themes set to energetic rhythms and clean, warm synths. A new offshoot of garage techno, dubbed Grime, has emerged in Britain, featuring acts like Dizzee Rascal and Wiley.
The instrumentation of rap is descended from disco, funk, and R&B, both in the sound systems and records sampled, and session musicians and their instrumentation, used. Disco and club DJs' use of mixing originated from the need to have continuous music and thus smooth transitions between tracks, while in hip hop Kool DJ Herc originated the practice of isolating and extending only the break, basically short percussion solo interludes, by mixing between two copies of the same record, as this was, according to Afrika Bambaataa the "certain part of the record that everybody waits for -- they just let their inner self go and get wild." (Toop, 1991) James Brown, Bob James, and Parliament -- among many others -- have long been popular sources for breaks. Over this one could and did add instrumental parts from other records, frequently as horn punches (ibid). Thus the instrumentation of early sampled or sound system-based hip hop is the same as funk, disco, or rock: vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and percussion.
A DJ needs turntables, a good sound system, and scratch fodder, which typically comes in the form of vinyl records in milk crates (Toop, 1991). Some early recorded rap music does not contain any sampling or DJing, however; for example, none of the members of the Sugarhill Gang were actually involved in the DJing scene in the Bronx and thus couldn't have done any, which explains the session player remake of "Good Times". More recently instrumental ability has become more valued as witnessed by multi-instrumentalists such as Outkast and The Roots.
The importance of rhyme
Undoubtedly, the most important element of rap lyrics is rhyme. In other forms of poetry, rhymes that span many syllables are often considered whimsical but in hip hop, the ability to construct raps with large sets of rhyming syllables is considered a sign of intelligence and achievement. To accomplish rhymes of this sophistication, rappers can use single rhyming words (intellectual/ineffectual) or they can use multiple words whose constituent syllables rhyme (octoroon/Doctor Dooom). Rap lyrics often contain long series of lines each of which rhyme with each other. Occasionally, entire songs are composed in this fashion where all lines rhyme with each other. Of course, the more intricate the rhymes are, the more abstract the song becomes. This is because the more focus given to impressive rhyming, the harder it becomes to write coherently. Battle raps can be written with complex rhyming techniques easier than raps that tell a story or convey a message because a battle rap can employee a vast array of metaphors to conjure images of rapper to rapper combat.
Rhyme is also integral to Freestyle battles. These contests pit two rappers together to lyrically insult and intimidate each other with impromptu lyrics. The ability to construct clever rhymes to insult the opponent "off the top of the dome" (dome being slang for head) is a critical skill to winning these contests
Originally rap records were 12 inch singles, but they quickly began to be released as albums. (Toop, 1991)
In many traditional cultures there exist lyrical forms that could loosely be described as rapping. Examples of these include: