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Columbia College Chicago
Rap and Hip Hop

Rap and Hip Hop

Definition of Style

Hip hop is a catch-all term that refers more to a black cultural movement than to a specific musical style. Rap, a musical component of hip hop, made its mark on American popular culture with the groundbreaking single "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugar Hill Gang. Released in 1980, "Rapper's Delight" introduced a wide audience to a music that would eventually combine the motions of people on the dance floor and the politics of urban America. Through the 1980s and 1990s, rap absorbed many musical practices and experienced many changes.

Rap began as a "do it yourself" music intended to accompany large parties. Spinning records on a turntable or multiple turntables, the rap DJ of the early 1980s isolated specific parts of songs, creating long grooves from the instrumental sections of 12-inch disco singles. Over this background, a rapper or group of rappers would rhythmically speak about their own prowess as a rapper, a man, or a lover. Taking much of their style from Jamaican "toasting," the early rappers were comparable to "masters of ceremonies" (MCs) rather than musicians or singers. The term "MC" is still used in reference to artists who prefer the party-oriented music of the 1980s over contemporary styles.

In 1982, Grandmaster Flash, a DJ who was instrumental in the development of rap in the 1970s, released a record titled "The Message." This song transcended rap's party roots, addressing poverty, drug addiction, urban decay, and their psychological effects on largely black inner-city populations. Later generations of rappers would use the form to write songs protesting police brutality, politics, and the troubled history of black America. This tendency resulted eventually in the idiom known as "gangsta rap," an aggressive and outspoken music that became a political lightning rod in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the late 1980s, artists such as Terminator X (of Public Enemy) and Eric B. (of Eric B. and Rakim) began to use digital sampling technology along with their turntables and drum machines to create dense, multilayered works of sonic collage, an approach that has not only influenced popular music but has also found a voice in avant-garde and experimental music around the world.

Rap and the related contemporary musics influenced by these styles combine the global history of black musical culture with political and social concerns. Consequently, these styles have become fertile ground for critics and authors. The CBMR possesses numerous reference works, articles, and periodicals on rap, hip hop, and other contemporary black musics and encourages further inquiry into these still-evolving styles.

Introductory Bibliography

George, Nelson. Hip Hop America. New York: Viking, 1998. A fact-filled critique exhibiting the author's usual insight.

McCoy, Judy. Rap Music in the 1980s: A Reference Guide. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1992. A bibliography of articles in magazines and trade publications, including reviews.

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for Wesleyan University Press, 1994. A sociological and political interpretation based on the author's doctoral dissertation.

Toop, David. Rap Attack 3: African Rap to Global Hip Hop. London: Serpent's Tail, 2000. Excellent history.

Selected Discography

The Best of Sugar Hill Records (Rhino 75472)

The Hip Hop Box (Hip-O Records 440 069 588-2)

Hip Hop Essentials (Tommy Boy TB 1634-2 - TB 1645-2)

Kurtis Blow Presents The History of Rap: Vol. 1: The Genesis (Rhino R2 72851)

Kurtis Blow Presents The History of Rap: Vol. 2. The Birth of Rap. (Rhino R2 72852)

Kurtis Blow Presents The History of Rap: Vol. 3: The Golden Age. (Rhino R2 72853) 


Click here for a more expanded list of rap and hip hop resources.