The terms "rap" and "hip-hop" are often used interchangeably in the music industry and on our favorite streaming apps, and that's mostly a fault.
While both of these musical styles share some key similarities and overlap a lot, there are some instances where the differences are clear.
Rapper legends from the 80s and Ebony Magazine writers agree that all hip-hop artists can be rappers, but not all rappers can be hip-hop artists.
To start simply, they both came from the same origin when the era of hip-hop was birthed in the 1970s and 1980s in The Bronx, NY. The late ’80s and early ’90s are referred to by modern music enthusiasts as hip-hop’s “golden era.”
What's confusing is that the biggest legends from the creation of hip-hop just so happened to be rappers.
Some music fans, theorists, and even rappers like Flava Flav think that there are distinctions in tempo and beat elements, but I, along with others who study and perform music, can see instances where rap and hip-hop can be fast or slow with the same types of instruments.
So let's break down three key distinctions between the two.
Most people pick up on this first distinction when they start to really get deep into the world of hip-hop.
While the term can be used to describe a genre of music, hip-hop is also a movement and an era, while rap is a byproduct of it. The art of hip-hop includes rap, graffiti, breakdancing, and MCing.
This is why it can get confusing when you think about all the self-proclaimed rappers that were key people in the movement of hip-hop because they were both rap and hip-hop artists.
The element or genre of rap actually has some substyles itself, including grime, trap, cloud rap, gangsta rap, and mumble rap. As hip-hop's mark on the music industry grew, so did the subgenres of rap music.
Rap would not be the big deal that it is today if it weren't for the birth of hip-hop music and the hip-hop movement!
Not only did the subgenres of rap grow as the popularity of hip-hop spread after the 80s and into the modern era, but collaborations with rappers became rampant as well.
This is where rap started to become even more of a separate thing from hip-hop.
As an example, rapper Nicki Minaj has had a lot of inspiration from hip-hop legends, but many of her pop releases, like "Superbass" are more in the realm of rap and not hip-hop.
But in the same vein, Nicki Minaj can technically come out with a hip-hop release and even had more of a hip-hop feel in her earlier songs, as many rappers tend to.
Many rap and hip-hop fans would say that a rapper like Drake represents the rap world and not the hip-hop world because of how he genre-hops, but his early releases were often rich with hip-hop energy and over boom-bap beats.
The style of authentic hip-hop can rarely be blended with other genres like country, rock, or dance music, but many releases in these genres have rap influence or feature rap artists on them.
Although rapping is used more with other genres, the influence of hip-hop's culture, again, is the start of it all.
"House, rap, R&B, disco rock, they are all influenced by hip-hop culture. Why you ain't playing Kraftwerk along with Jay-Z? That's hip-hop." - Afrika Bambaataa
Many singers in other genres like to even have sections in their songs where they rap (or do a spoken-word flow), but they wouldn't dare refer to themselves as hip-hop artists.
An example is Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" in the song's bridge section.
Hip-hop's roots give the genre and its artists a sense of depth and authenticity that some general rappers lack due to the generic lyrics and style that can come along with pop music and other genre crossovers.
Rapping is something that anyone can pick up and have fun with, but hip-hop artists have something like a greater resolve when it comes to their artistry.
This is mostly due to the roots of the genre of music and culture. The world of hip-hop built roots among African American and Hispanic youth and was primarily a response to poverty, urban crime, and cultural displacement.
While pop-like rap can be a bit shallow, even a fun and light hip-hop song release can still give off a sense of real rap because of how an artist presents themselves as well as their cultural background.
One of the early innovators of hip hop, KRS-ONE wrote lyrics that said, "Rap is something you do. Hip-Hop is something you live."
Going back to modern rappers like Drake and Nicki Minaj, while they mostly fall into the category of rap and not hip-hop, some will argue that they do have the talent and capability to be hip-hop artists at times, as we've seen in some of their earlier releases.
Others would say that type of depth and authenticity has never been present in a rapper like Drake, who grew up privileged and had an early acting career, so he can't relate to that hip-hop culture of the street lifestyle.
With this argument, again, a hip-hop artist can be a rapper, but a rapper cannot be a hip-hop artist.
But in a time where adding pop flavor to a track is guaranteed to get way more streams and sales than a strictly hip-hop release would, most artists these days are putting out rap hits, not hip-hop hits.
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