“Hate it or love it, the underdog’s on top…” raps 50 Cent on The Game’s hit Rap song “Hate it or Love it.” Whether you are familiar with either artist or the song, the reality is there are stable grounds for his assertion.
Rap music has been around at least thirty years, and it doesn’t seem to be losing position with consumers or pop culture proponents. Just ask the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, which awarded Three-Six Mafia the Oscar for Best Original Song from the movie “Hustle & Flow” for “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp,” repeating the audacious act of awarding Eminen an Oscar in 2003 for “Lose Yourself” from his semi-autobiographical movie “Eight Mile.”
Recognition sometimes brings about obligatory attention that can cause confusion when discussing the topic at hand. One very confusing, often debated issue is the difference between Rap and Hip-Hop.
The question: Is there a difference; the answer: Yes.
Winning Academy Awards sparks no real discussion about any differentiation between Rap and Hip-Hop. Actually, much of the media, in their coverage of the last two Oscar winners and in general, use the terms interchangeably. Similarly, many “experts” have and continue to use the terms as synonyms, which is confusing to many people, and leads to various (mis)interpretations of what is meant when one term is used alternatively to the other.
Some of these “experts” contend that Rap describes commercially viable music recorded by artists such as 50 Cent, Young Jeezy and groups like Three-Six Mafia, whereas Hip-Hop describes less commercial—even “underground”—music recorded by the likes of Common, Talib Kweli and groups, such as Little Brother.
These same “experts” assert that Rap is music that focuses on catchy, repetitive choruses, or “hooks” and equally addictive beats, but Hip-Hop is music focused less on beats, more on lyrical content and, in many instances, addresses social issues.
There exist many gray areas, however, using these definitions. There are many artists who embody the elements used to describe both Rap and Hip-Hop according to the aforementioned characterizations. Namely, individuals such as Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nas and Missy Elliot, as well as groups like The Fugees and OutKast.
Contrary to many “expert” contentions, an easier, wholly alternate differentiation can be made between Rap and Hip-Hop. Rap is the musical style previously described, regardless of commercial aspirations, musical backdrops or issues addressed that encompasses all of the individuals mentioned and a plethora of others who have been influenced by Hip-Hop.
Hip-Hop is a culture comprised of more than just music, but art, dance, style of dress, language and many other elements. Simply stated, Rap is Hip-Hop; it’s just not all of Hip-Hop.
Additionally, it should be noted that all music associated with Hip-Hop is not Rap. Evidence of this fact is easily seen in the music of The Fugees, Missy Elliot and countless other Hip-Hop influenced R&B, Soul, Jazz, Rock, Pop and even Country artists who may sometimes, don’t necessarily and may never rap. Rap is what some people who are involved in the culture that is Hip-Hop use as a mode of expression.
Even simpler: Rap is music; Hip-Hop is a lifestyle.
Reprinted from the Decatur Herald & Review Newspaper, March 24, 2006.