What's the big difference between a rap emcee and a program MC? In a way, it's the same exact thing, but when it comes to hip-hop, it goes a bit deeper than the general acronym.
In general terms, across all types of social events, an MC is known as the master of ceremonies.
The master of ceremonies is the person who announces the order of events on a program, keeps the crowd entertained with jokes and commentary, and hypes up the performers or speakers that will be a part of the event.
The origin of the term master of ceremony dates back thousands of years ago in the Catholic church. Today, the term can be used for parties, clubs, concerts, and similar events.
But when rap music was introduced to the world in the 1970s and 1980s, the term took on a whole new meaning as well.
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When it comes to the world of hip-hop, MCs were actually the first rappers. The term is synonymous in the sense that rappers and MCs are both performers (or wordsmiths) that use rhythmic wordplay to rock the mic in front of a crowd.
Before rap was a thing, DJs were the main ones who ran the clubs and also had a lot of control over the mic. They were called mic controllers, mic checkers, and the person responsible for moving the crowd.
The master of ceremonies for hip-hop events was the one who announced the lineup of music, and the DJs, told jokes, got the crowd hyped, and threw in rhymes while they were on the mic.
The rhymes they spit while rocking the music crowd for a DJ slowly turned into rap bars as the world of hip-hop was born in New York around the 1970s and the 1980s.
Many don't know it, but Jamaican music culture had a big influence on how hip-hop came to be in the 80s and 90s. Hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest made sure to educate people via liner notes on their 1993 album Midnight Marauders.
Lines from the album notes state:
"The use of the term MC when referring to a rhyming wordsmith originates from the dance halls of Jamaica. At each event, there would be a master of ceremonies who would introduce the different musical acts and would say a toast in the style of a rhyme, directed at the audience and to the performers."
"The term MC continued to be used by the children of women who moved to New York City to work as maids in the 1970s. These MCs eventually created a new style of music called hip-hop based on the rhyming they used to do in Jamaica and the breakbeats used in records."
You may have noticed that many old-school rappers have the acronym MC in their name. The big names include MC Hammer, MC Lyte, MC Shan, and Young MC.
To make things even more complex, one of the first and oldest emcees, AKA rappers, was a DJ by the name of DJ Kool Herc. It is also worth noting that he is a Jamaican American and was born in raised in the dancehall music scene.
Many MCs of this era, including DJ Premier and KRS-One, have claimed to get a lot of inspiration from James Brown, who many say is the first official hip-hop MC that started the entire wave.
Melle Mel is also credited as a big influence in the history of rap flows pertaining to the actual rhymic cadence of the phrases performed.
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Rappers don't refer to themselves as emcees that often these days, but there are a few exceptions that I've noticed across the entire globe.
Some artists still pay homage to the rappers from the 80s and 90s, with lyrics boasting about emcee skills. The UK rap scene makes use of the acronym MC for their grime subgenre of rap to describe a very fast rap flow.
Some battle rappers like MC Jin keep the master of ceremonies acronym alive as well, with an emphasis on impressive flow and performance for a crowd.
The energy level from classic hip hop tended to be a bit more hyped, while modern rappers try varying styles and emotional levels for their bars. Not all rappers can get a crowd excited and be as charismatic as the original MCs in hip-hop.
Ultimately, not all rappers are emcees, but all the real emcees out there are rappers.
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