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Is Rap And Hip Hop The Same? Key Differences Explained

One question that a lot of people have when it comes to music is about hip hop and rap. Specifically, people want to know: is rap and hip hop the same? We’re going to tell you all about the key differences below and explain them in a way that’ll help you understand what sets rap and hip hop apart from one another!

The Main Difference Between Rap And Hip Hop 

The biggest difference between rap and hip hop is that rap is a subgenre of hip hop. Rap fits under the umbrella of hip hop instead of it being its own thing, and it’s primarily a type of music. 

May 27, 2009 – Hip hop battle. Image source: JARIKU les Ateliers © alias Sébastien Charles Amar Hamideche, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hip hop is all-encompassing, and it’s the main umbrella since it’s an entire culture beyond the music, such as using other forms of expression like dance or graffiti. The culture itself is hip hop while rap is just a part of that culture. 

Rap and Hip Hop Have Different Origins 

One of the key differences between rap and hip hop is that they have different origins, meaning that they did not originate from the same place even though there are similarities between the two.

When it comes to hip hop, it originated in New York, and specifically, it was in the Bronx where hip hop first became a thing. A lot of Latinos and African Americans were responsible for creating this genre of music, and it began in the early part of the 80s. 

April 25, 2014 – Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy at New Orleans Jazz Fest. Image source: kowarski, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rap on the other hand came more from the Midwest and was more of a genre of music originating out of the ghettos and slums. It also happened a little later and was taking shape in the late 80s and happened to take off in the 90s. 

The Elements Involved Aren’t The Same In Rap And Hip Hop 

April 22, 2010 – Graffiti hip hop. Back 2 Business, Mucho Rap, Demasiado. Image source: Chico Iwana from Madrid, Spain, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are several elements involved in hip hop and several different types of people are a part of this community. It’s important to note that not all hip hop artists are musicians and sing. In hip hop, you have several different elements that come together to create it such as breakdancers, beatboxers, graffiti artists, fashion designers, DJs, MCs, and more. 

The common elements in hip hop in a more detailed explanation are as follows: 

  • MC – The MC is one of the main elements of hip hop, and it means master of ceremony. This is the person who is responsible for rapping, and the MC is just as important as the DJ. 
  • DJ – A DJ is needed in hip hop because they are the one who creates the entire atmosphere for the public. They will create the mixes, and they have to be rhythmic and know what they are doing to successfully perform this job. 
  • Graffiti In the hip hop community, graffiti is the visual aspect of the culture, and this part of the culture began years ago. One of the most famous graffiti artists in the history of hip hop was TAKI 183, who was based out of New York. This is one of the most important visual characteristics of hip hop even today. 
  • Break Boys/Break Girls – The break boys and girls are the breakdancers who are dancing during the music. Hip hop doesn’t use the term breakdancer often, and this was a term that the media came up with on their own. Within the community, B-girls or B-boys are a common shorthand for the break girls and boys. 
September 3, 2014 – B-boy doing a freeze. Image source: Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In contrast, the elements of rap basically just include someone using poetry and rhymes to rap to a specific beat. Rappers usually have themselves and the beat, and it’s up to them to create their lyrics based on the poetry and rhymes. 

We’re going to get into a little more detail about those elements found in rap below: 

  • MC The rapper or master of ceremony is the one who is rapping. 
  • Flow They want their rap to flow, so they create the words, phrases, or syllables in a rhythmic manner to deliver the raps. 
  • Content The message of rap is often darker or more violent, and it’s the main point or message that the rapper wants to convey to the public. 
  • Delivery The delivery in rap is talking about inflection and cadence. 
  • Beat – The beat can be performed by either the beatboxer or the DJ, and this is the rhythmic aspect of rap. Instruments such as percussion may also be used to give the beat.
Eminem - Rap God (Explicit)

Rap And Hip Hop Are Musically Different

Rap and hip hop aren’t the same musically either since rap is often recited quickly using various wordplay, with most of it being rhymes. There is assonance in there too, and oftentimes, serious issues are discussed in rap music. It also often includes disses towards other artists, personal boasts, personal experiences, political points, and other more focused topics. 

Hip hop does use assonance, poetry, and rhymes too, but it’s generally a laid-back approach and not as quite in your face as rap. Sometimes, hip hop will generalize a topic or subject or make it fun for the listener even if there is a serious message within the song. 

The Tone Isn’t The Same Between Hip Hop And Rap 

July 22, 2010 – Snoop Dogg in Hollywood California by Glenn Francis. Image source: Toglenn, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When you look at the tone, it’s different between hip hop and rap, and this is a difference that a lot of people don’t think about. 

Rap is often more serious in tone since it’s more in your face and deals with serious topics, with a somber or angry tone. The lyrics often are more offensive, using a lot of curse words to get the message across. It also focuses on the darker sides of life such as murder, gang violence, police brutality, and life on the streets or in gangs. 

1999 – MC Hammer. Image source: John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hip hop does talk about similar topics, but the tone is more casual and upbeat than that of rap. It can have any tone from fast-paced and energetic to slow and methodical, and it’s often less serious than rap. There are also plenty of hip hop tracks that don’t have a social message whereas rap tends to always have some underlying societal message. 

Rap And Hip Hop Use Different Instruments 

Rap and hip hop do share some of the same instruments, but not all of the same instruments are used between the two of them. 

February 1, 2023 – Dynamic-XLR Microphone. Image source: BRONSKIARCHIVE, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rap utilizes a microphone, bass, drums, and voice whereas hip hop also includes other instruments beyond rap such as turntables, a drum machine, and a synthesizer. 

Hip Hop And Rap Derivatives 

Rap music derivatives include disco, grime, jazz, and funk and can be found in a lot of other music genres, such as dance music from Japan. 

Hip hop may include club rhythm & blues, electro, funk, abstract, hardcore, and breakbeat

Rappers Often Lack Depth Compared To Artists In Hip Hop

April 23, 2012 – Dr. Dre at Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival. Image source: Jason Persse, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One difference between rappers and hip hop artists is that rappers don’t have the same depth as those in the hip hop genre. What we mean by this is that rappers often have a more generic style and can cross over into multiple genres such as country or pop.

In contrast, hip hop musicians have authenticity within their lyrics because hip hop is a culture and way of life. Those within this genre speak more about their upbringing and hardships and have more artistic skills and talents than rappers since they can be fashion designers, dancers, and other things beyond being rap artists. 

Which Artists Are Rappers? 

To give you an idea of who would be considered a rapper, we thought we’d give you some examples. Some of the biggest names that are considered rappers include: 

June 30, 2001 – LL Cool J. Image source: Mikamote, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • LL Cool J
  • Eminem
  • NWA
  • Vanilla Ice
  • Grandmaster Flash 
  • Ice-T
  • Snoop Dogg
  • Tupac
  • Drake
  • Nicki Minaj 
  • Lady B
  • Dr. Dre 
  • DMX
  • NAS
  • 50 Cent
  • Busta Rhymes 
Touch It (Remix) (Official Music Video)

Which Artists Are Hip Hop?

Remember, not all hip hop artists are rappers, and most of the time, rappers are individuals and not groups. There are multiple artists and groups who fall under the category of hip hop such as: 

July 23, 2016 – The Sugarhill Gang. Image source: AndyCollegian, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • The Sugarhill Gang
  • Watch The Throne 
  • Chris Brown
  • Kayne West 
  • Lupe Fiasco 
  • DJ Kool Herc
  • MC Hammer
  • Outkast
  • The Roots
  • Rock Steady Crew
  • Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan - C.R.E.A.M. (Official HD Video)

How Are Rap And Hip Hop Similar?

If the differences between rap and hip hop seem minor to you, then you’d be partially correct. While hip hop is a way of life and culture and rap is just something you can do, they do share a lot of similarities. Rap is a subcategory or subgenre of hip hop, which is why so many people wrongly think they are the same thing. 

Some of the common aspects that hip hop and rap share include: 

  • They both originate from inner cities and urban areas within the United States.
  • Both were sexist in the beginning and weren’t populated by women since it was hard for women to break through rap and hip hop in the early days.
  • Soul, R&B, and funk were influences of rap and hip hop.
  • Both hip hop and rap fall under the umbrella of Urban.
  • They both utilize the same lingo, similar styles, and similar dances or moves. 
  • They are both influences in other genres of music including electro, country, and R&B.
  • In the early days, both of these types of music were outcasts and thought of negatively by society and other genres. 
  • Both talk about struggles within the African-American community, poverty, politics, social issues, drugs, partying, and other topics. 
  • They often sample each other musically and sample material from the same sources.

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