Facts on hip hop & rap music culture

Updated April 17, 2017

Hip-hop culture, and the rap music of which it is a part, are a driving force in popular culture and the music industry. Beginning as a small, cultural movement in New York City, hip-hop and rap music now rule the pop music charts. Hip hop and rap have seen many stylistic changes while remaining the subject of controversy due to violent, sexist lyrics.


Hip-hop culture and rapping emerged in the South Bronx in New York City during the 1970s as a reaction against gang violence that was plaguing inner-city youth. DJ Kool Herc started isolating drum beats in funk and soul records into what are called "breaks" and started leading partygoers in a call-and-response. Rapping emerged out of this tradition, as MCs started announcing upcoming parties over these breaks.


Hip hop and rap are not interchangeable terms. Rap is hip hop, but hip hop is not necessarily rap. Hip hop is the larger cultural umbrella under which rap lives. Rapping is just another element of hip hop, along with graffiti, break dancing and beat boxing. According to hip-hop artist KRS-One in his song "Hip Hop vs. Rap," "Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live."


As a massive cultural movement, hip hop has spawned a variety of different breeds of music since its inception. Old-school hip hop included artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa and The Sugarhill Gang. In the 1990s, gangsta rap artists like N.W.A. and Ice-T rapped graphically about police brutality and urban violence, while political hip-hop groups like Public Enemy spoke about change. Other hip-hop/rap genres include crunk, G-funk, horrorcore and alternative hip hop.


Hip hop and rap music have been the subject of controversy, especially since the rise of gangsta rap as a popular genre. Some people, like John H. McWhorter in a 2003 article for City Journal, believe that hip-hop and rap music glorify violence, drug use and misogyny and influence listeners to commit crimes. Others, like rapper Xzibit, believe that hip-hop and rap music are merely a result of a tough, urban lifestyle and that artists are merely reflecting on the lifestyle they are forced to grow up in.

Pop Music

Rap music has become a dominant force on the music industry in the last few decades. "Rapper's Delight," by The Sugarhill Gang was the first hugely commercially successful hip-hop song. Acts like Run DMC and LL Cool J rose to popularity during the 1980s, but it wasn't until the 1990s, with the rise of artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and Dr. Dre, that hip-hop music became a major pop music phenomenon. Artists like Jay-Z, Eminem and Kanye West ruled the pop charts in the first decade of the 21st century.

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About the Author

James Gilmore has written professionally since 2005. Since then, he has written and proofread obituaries for "The Press & Sun-Bulletin" in Binghamton, N.Y., press releases for "Goals, Seminars and Consultants" and articles for Made Man and various other websites. He writes a good deal of music-related content and holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ithaca College.