Hip hop came first, rap after. “I don’t really understand when somebody says what does hip-hop means to me. It’s a way to express myself, I guess, so to say. So it doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just a way to express myself through music. If the genre of music that I make is even considered to be hip-hop, because I know people get real technical about what hip-hop is and isn’t” Kevin Gates made this statement at a rather peculiar interview. It’s interesting that he made those statements because when you hear the words hip hop, rap lyrics from artists like Da Baby and Cardi B more than likely begin to pour into your psyche. It’s exceptionally true if you were born in the late 90s and on into the 2000s because back then, hip hop was all about a hot 16 and a dope hook to bop to; similar to how it is today. It’s a total no-brainer for 90s babies. Rap and hip hop just go together. What’s interesting about this though, is that if you were born Gen X or even a boomer you hold a very different perspective. To these generations, the two cannot be categorized as one and the same. Although hip hop and rap are usually used synonymously, they are two very different categorial themes to old school emcees; and while the two forms of expression materialized around the same time, rap is considered a by-product of hip hop and not the commencement of a culture. Hip hop is the society that created the platform for rap to emerge. This is a sentiment carried by many old-school artists like Ice Cube, Biz Markie, and Rob Base. In fact, during the era of hip hop’s emergence, most rappers were extremely passionate about the movement. So much so that their lyrics reflected everything that the underground culture stood for. Rap groups like Public Enemy and the Ruff Ryders used their lyrics to spread messages about politics, love, and societal hardships. Any 80s born rapper you listen to will tell you that hip hop equipped them with a way out of marginalized struggles and into the same meetings that white folks told them they’d never see, let alone touch. Take 90’s rapper Warren G for example, he is the founder of 213 (two one three) with a current net worth of six million dollars. Known for his first hit single as a solo artist titled “Regulate” in 1994, Warren became one of the first black men to become known as a legend in his hood. It was through him and many others like him that hip hop began to inspire other minority youth to pick up a mic. It should come as no surprise that when Warren was asked what hip hop meant to him, the west coast rapper responded with “a way to express yourself where rhythm is life and life is rhythm.”, and he isn’t the only lyrical mastermind that sees it this way.
Early 2000s rapper Twista was asked the same question, and he described it as meaning “Freedom. Creativity. Youth. Those main three things right there.” Similar in their responses, these emcees separate the hip-hop movement from rap and acknowledge it as a culture that transitioned their lifestyles into greatness. The thing that these two rappers have in common is that they grew up in a world where hip-hop claimed its origin, and they could see the fundamental values that hip hop as a culture was built on. It’s like KRS-1 said, “rap is something you do, and hip hop is something you live.” Today, most artists see hip hop and rap as equals. Referring to hip hop as more of a genre, artists like Meek Mill use it interchangeably with rap, and since I’m from today’s world, I can see how rap and hip-hop get grouped as one big genre. After all, society groups it together so, why not? Right? However, it’s a little deeper than that. Amongst the rappers in the interview asking about what hip hop meant to them was Vince Staples. When they asked him, he made an excellent point. He said “I think people take it a little too serious with the whole culture shit… I don’t really separate music. Hip-hop ain’t really better than jazz or rock and roll. It’s all music.” G-Eazy made an even more attractive point in the same interview describing hip-hop as a “vehicle… to make something out of nothing” and “making a living doing something” he loves. As you may have guessed, these lyricists are a part of the faction of rappers who use hip-hop and rap interchangeably as well. They don’t see hip hop or rap as this grandiose culture like the “ole heads” do but they definitely describe it with the same fervor. Meek Mill is a classic example of this, as he honors hip-hop for changing his life by dedicating his life to it. He cites it as having changed not just his life but his entire family tree. The biggest argument surrounding why hip hop and rap are considered two separate elements is based on categories. In order for any piece of music to technically be considered hip hop, it is crucial that the music contains four main elements. Those elements are beatboxing, turntablism, break dancing, and graffiti artistry. Rap was eventually added to the collection as a fifth element, but a lot of throwback emcees feel that without hip hop, rap wouldn’t have been established. To them, hip-hop is all about mixing turntables and dropping the breakbeat at the appropriate time. The rhythmic flow (spoke word or rapping) over the beat was initially an accessory to the vibe, but not necessarily required to get the party started. Speaking of party, from the 80s up until about the late 90s, Hip hop was all about encompassing that house party vibe. Yes, rap was heavily included, but the difference between full-on rap music and hip-hop comprising rap was that the hip hop aspect included more up-tempo beats and more breakdowns. With rap, the tempo is often a tad slower than old-school hip-hop’s needle drops. The genre also has a sector of subcategories, one of which focuses on conscious subjects and being “straight up” with their lyrics, and it is in this sector of rap that the tempo drop that I previously discussed can be observed. Another fundamental difference is that today’s hip-hop is more about profit than it is about spreading any real messages. Of course, there are exceptions, but outside of conscious rap, there isn’t much guidance in what we hear on the radio these days. Hip-hop was all about spreading hope, light, and love to the minority communities. They were experiencing hard times due to societal inequities, but they weren’t going to let that stop them from having a good time. Old school hip hop did intend to spread a message, but their one true and simple main goal was to convince the populace to go crazy on the dance floor. You can hear it in songs like Word Up by Cameo and It Takes Two by Rob Base. Let’s not forget La Di Da Di by Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick. These classics were a different type of lit, and they probably put a smile on your face whenever you hear them. Looking at both sides of the spectrum, I can honestly say that I fall somewhere along the lines of neutral in my stance on sides. I mean, I may personally agree that hip hop and rap are two separate entities, but I wouldn’t quite say that hip hop and rap aren’t parallels. The main reason being that 80s emcees and those of today’s time credit both entities with opening doors that would have otherwise been shut to them without these platforms. I also believe that rap evolved to be much bigger than a sub-category underneath the wing of hip-hop, especially since it too became just as widespread as hip-hop when it was meant to only be an accessory. Hip hop may have been the step the led rap to popularity, but it isn’t the structure for which it is still standing. Rap did that own it’s own, as hip hop no longer needed to carry it anymore. In a way, I see combining the two as a means of paying homage to the culture. They began together but were never considered a duo until this day in age. I can appreciate the combination as an update to the culture. Like everything else in this world, hip-hop to can evolve, and even though it probably wasn’t intended, rap kept up right along with it. Rap is a culture just as much as hip-hop is, and having a seat together in this age is rightfully reaped for the rap genre.