The Difference Between Hip Hop and Rap Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


What’s the difference between hip hop and rap music? Most people would say that rap is a type of music that is all about rhyming, while hip hop is a broader cultural movement that includes music, fashion, and art.

Defining Hip Hop

Hip hop is a genre of music that was created by African Americans and Latino Americans in the 1970s. It is a style of music that is characterized by its use ofsample-based music, turntablism, and rapping. Rap is a subgenre of hip hop that is characterized by its use of rhyming lyrics that are chanted or rapped over a backing track.

Origins of Hip Hop

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, a new form of music called hip hop began to develop in the South Bronx area of New York City. This type of music was characterized by rhythmic, syncopated beats and rhyming lyrics. Hip hop quickly spread from its birthplace in New York to other parts of the US, and then to other countries around the world.

People often use the terms “hip hop” and “rap” interchangeably, but there is a difference between hip hop and rap music. Rap is one element of the wider hip hop culture, which also includes breakdancing, graffiti art, and DJing. Hip hop emerged from a combination of African American music genres, including soul, funk, disco, and rock.

Elements of Hip Hop

Hip hop is a culture and art movement that began in the Bronx, New York City, in the late 1970s. The roots of hip hop are found in African-American music and Latino (a.k.a Chicano/a or Puerto Rican) music, particularly that which originated in New York City. Hip hop is characterized by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching with turntables, break dancing, and graffiti writing.

Defining Rap

There is often confusion between the terms rap music and hip hop music. Rap music is actually a subgenre of hip hop music. Rap music is defined as “a style of popular music that originated in African American and Latino communities in the 1980s” (Wikipedia, rap music). Rap music is characterized by its use of rhyming lyrics, rhythmic speech, and often contains samples from other songs.

Origins of Rap

Rap is a vocal style, usually accompanied by backing music, in which the singer speaks or chants along rhythmically with an instrumental track. This musical form developed in the late 1970s in the United States. It has roots in African-American culture and is closely related to other black musical genres such as R&B and jazz.

Rap is typically categorized as a subgenre of hip hop music. Hip hop, on the other hand, is a broader category that includes rap and other related musical styles. Hip hop developed in the 1970s in New York City from genres such as disco, soul, and funk. It consists of four main elements: rapping, DJing, graffiti art, and break dancing.

Elements of Rap

Rap is a vocal style, usually coming together with hip hop, the musical genre off-shoot of the hip hop culture. Rap music features lyrics spoken rhythmically over musical instruments, often with an accompanying beat. HipHopDX defines rap as “a genre built from the lyrical expressiveness, vocal style, drum patterns and rhythmic instrumentation of African-American culture.”

The first rap song is widely considered to be The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” which was released in 1979. But the roots of rap go back much further, to the griots of West Africa who were also known as MCs (masters of ceremony), according to NPR. The griots were “praisers … and keepers of history.” They used their words to preserve the stories and traditions of their cultures.

When rappers tell stories, they are carrying on that griot tradition. And like griots, they often use rhyme to make their stories easier to remember. But there are other elements that make rap unique as a musical form, including spoken word, call and response, sampling and live improv or freestyling.

Differences Between Hip Hop and Rap

Hip hop and rap music are often confused with each other. Although they share some similarities, they are two completely different genres of music. Hip hop is a genre that originated in the 1970s, while rap is a genre that originated in the 1980s. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two genres of music.

Subject Matter

Hip hop and rap are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two genres. Hip hop is a broader cultural movement that includes the style of music, the fashion, the art, the dance, and even the language. Rap is one element of hip hop and is simply the vocal delivery of rhyming lyrics.

The subject matter of hip hop is also generally more positive than rap, with artists often rapping about community, peace, and love instead of violence, drugs, and crime. That said, there is certainly overlap between the two genres and many artists may rap about both positive and negative subjects.


Although they are both music genres that are popular among African Americans, hip hop and rap differ in terms of their sound, style and culture.

Rap is a music genre that is created by rappers who spit rhymes over beats. Hip hop, on the other hand, is a culture that includes not only rap music but also break dancing and graffiti art.

The sound of rap music is typically characterized by aggressive and rhythmic lyrics that are often delivered in a fast-paced, rhyming flow. The instrumentation of rap songs often includes drums, keyboards and turntables. Hip hop songs, on the other hand, often have a laid-back vibe with samples of old R&B or soul records. The instrumentation of hip hop tracks often includes drums, bass guitar and samples.

Lyrical Style

The biggest difference between hip hop and rap is that hip hop uses more complex lyrics that tell a story, while rap is focused on rhyming over a beat. Rap is often considered to be a part of the hip hop genre, but there are significant differences between the two.

Hip hop started in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York, as a way for African American youth to express themselves. The music was characterized by its use of samples from other songs, often with a heavy bass line and drum beat. Lyrics were often about issues facing the African American community, such as poverty and violence.

Rap developed in the 1980s as a subgenre of hip hop. It was characterized by its fast-paced lyrics that were often delivered in a rhyming style. The music was typically more focused on the beat than the lyrics, and it often contained profanity and drug references.

Today, hip hop and rap are both popular genres of music. Many artists combine elements of both genres in their music.

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