Rap music consists of rhyming (or rapping) over a repetitive beat produced by a DJ. The genre is part of a large subculture known as hip hop, a term that’s often used to describe rap music. Since it’s inception in the 1970s, rap music has steadily gained momentum and become synonymous with mainstream popular music. Today, rap artists such as Drake, Eminem, Travis Scott and Chance the Rapper frequently dominate Billboard charts.

Rap Music’s Sound

Rap music originated in the 1970s in the Bronx, but its sound is deeply rooted in the music of the griots of West Africa, whose vocal style is similar to rapping.

In the beginning, the genre was influenced by disco music and was often called disco rap in its early years. As the style evolved, DJs began to isolate percussion breaks from popular songs to create beats for MCs to rap over. The sound became reminiscent of soul, rhythm and blues, funk and Jamaican dub music.

Rap music’s sound has continued to change through the years as it moved toward the mainstream. It became a lifestyle for America’s youth, particularly those in poverty-stricken areas. MCs began to write honest raps about their life experiences, which were often laced with gang violence, drugs and sex. Today, there are many subgenres of rap music, including alternative, gangsta, dirty south and hardcore, each with its own distinctive sound.

The Origins of Rap Music

Although several recordings featured rapping throughout the 1970s, the music didn’t gain popularity until 1979, when The Sugarhill Gang recorded Rapper’s Delight, the first rap song to top the Billboard Top 40 charts. Many regard Rapper’s Delight as the first rap music recording; however, this is the subject of much debate. The song King Tim II (Personality Jock), a rap song by The Fatback Band, was released several weeks earlier.

As the 1980s emerged, rap music’s popularity increased. Run-DMC became one of the most popular rap groups, with songs such as My ADIDAS and It’s Like That. Acts such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five revolutionized the genre with politically aware and socially conscious songs such as The Message, which paved the way for some of the most influential political rap artists of the 1990s, while NWA, a rap group that embodied controversy, set the scene for the emergence of gangsta rap.

Rap Music in the 1990s

In the early 1990s, acts such as Public Enemy and KRS-One followed in the footsteps of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five with songs such as Fight the Power and Sound of the Police. These artists provided an honest reflection of the plight faced by young, black men throughout America during that time. Other notable socially conscious rap acts in the 1990s include Common, Tupac Shakur, Talib Kweli and Mos Def.

Rap Music on the Pop Charts

Throughout the 1990s, rap music became increasingly popular and found its way into the pop music charts. MC Hammer’s 1990 album Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em became the first rap album to sell more than 10 million copies.

The Wu-Tang Clan also topped the charts during the 1990s with songs like C.R.E.A.M., which helped East Coast rap music gain recognition. Alternative rap acts such as The Beastie Boys continued to achieve success throughout the 1990s and released chart-topping songs including Fight for Your Right and Intergalactic.

Gangsta Rap

As rap music continued to grow and evolve, gangsta rap became a more common style. Rap artists such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg (formerly Snoop Doggy Dogg), Ice Cube, Ice T and Easy E were known for songs that featured controversial lyrics, and the rappers themselves were frequently associated with notorious Gangs such as The Crips.

Rap Music in the 2000s

Today, rap remains in the mainstream. You can hear the influence of rap music in all genres, including country, rock and electronic music. Artists like Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, Jay-Z and Kanye have gained international recognition for their talents and become household names.

Rap music is an ever-evolving sound that has continued to transform over the last few decades. Younger artists such as Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, G-Eazy, Lil’ Pump and Post Malone are shaping the sound of today’s rap music and paving the way for the future of the genre.

Rap Music Around the World

In countries around the world, including Brazil, Cuba, England, China, France and Belgium, rap music has gained a lot of traction. Artists such as Emicida (Brazil), Orishas (Cuba), Kaaris (France) and K’naan (Somalia) have brought positive attention to the rap music genre and garnered international attention for rap music in the countries that they’re from.

Collaborations between African rap artists and US mainstream rap artists have become common. Songs such as Scapegoat by Kanye West and African rap artist D’Banj, as well as Beautiful Onyinye, a song by Nigerian artist PSquare featuring Rick Ross, have bridge the gap between North American rap music and artists throughout the world.


Although rap music is a younger style than most, it’s history is certainly rich, and its sound is unique. Drawing inspiration from African and Jamaican music, its original artists created beats and lyrics that became some of the most popular and recognizable sounds for entire generations. While rap music has had its fair share of controversy, it’s a genre that consistently holds its place at the top of the music industry.