Waiting for a class to start the other day, a few of us were meandering around the front door talking about music. Now being with being in Mt. Hood’s Integrated Media program with a focus on radio broadcast, I often find myself surrounded by a group of people with impassioned opinions about music, as you might expect.
The topic of discussion this time, however, was one that I have heard since I was a teenager in the early ’90s. Is rap the same as hip-hop? Are they two words that mean the same thing for most people, or are they distinctly different? Do the lines between them blur and fade between one musician to the next, or even between one song and another?
Let me make something abundantly clear: Rap and hip-hop are two completely different beasts. With rap, the focus is (or at least should be) the lyrics. At least in its beginnings, rap was poetry set to music. The topic can change, it can be about anything from a hard childhood, to scraping by through your underpaid life, to saints and sinners, success and virtues, or death and mayhem.
Rap comes from a place of storytelling, a way to convey an emotion or feeling. It lets the listener feel your fear or sense of triumph, by painting a word picture on a canvas of instrumental music.
Hip-hop is something else altogether. Hip-hop is an amalgamation of thumping bass rhythms, melodies, and harmonies, mixed with words and chants to make a collage of sound to try and convey whatever the artist intends.
Both of these styles can be expressed by the same artist, and because they originally came from the same place and cultures in history, can even fit on the same album, side-by-side, without seeming out of place.
The late ’80s and early ’90s are often referred to as the golden age of rap and hip-hop, with a lot of experimentation and envelope-pushing with taboo lyrics, use of the “N-word,” phrases about cop-killing and the description of gangster life as it is truly perceived by the people who live it.
Currently, we have a different breed of music, much more polished, and much more focused. When I hear people like Joey Bada$$, Drake, and Childish Gambino, there are rap elements in their music, but the majority is hip-hop.
It just seems a matter of convenience to call a hip-hop artist a rapper, since the styles are so close, but close is a matter of perspective. The moon is the closest thing to the Earth, and it’s 238,900 miles away.