Rap vs. Hip Hop; What’s the Difference?

People use the term rap and hip-hop interchangeably most of time, notwithstanding the notable difference between the two terms. Even iTunes has the term hip-hop and rap mashed together into one convenient label. That said, what exactly makes the two terms different?


For a starter, hip-hop itself started in the Bronx, with all credence concerning the name being given to the late Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins—a member of the Furious Five and Grandmaster Flash. He’s been credited for coining the name, which happens to be a portmanteau of two words: hip and hop.



While the term “hip” is linked with a Wolof (a Senegalese language) verb “Hippie,” which in actuality means to open up one’s eyes: enlighten, “hop” is an English word for a movement. Now when the two definitions are unified, hip-hop becomes an intelligence movement–the definition supported by well-nigh all hip-hop pioneers including African Bambaata, Dj Cool Herc, and KRS One among others.

Rap, on the other end, can be traced centuries before hip-hop existed. It has its roots in Africa, in the deep–seated culture of West African’s griots. The griots are known for telling stories rhythmically, using sparse instrumentation and drums, in a way that’s somehow very similar to modern day rap. Many spoken word artists and modern day griots, have been quick to acknowledge the connection between modern day rap and storytelling culture of the griots in ancient West Africa.


Rap can still be traced in blue music, Jazz, raga muffin, and other genres of music, most of which embraced Rap way before the existence of hip-hop. A good example is the Memphis Jug band–a blues group whose style of music included predated rapping. The list of evidences acknowledging the existence of rap way before DJ Cool Herc pioneered hip-hop is endless. Now this leads us to next question, apart from the origin, what else makes the two words different?


According to KRS One in hip-hop vs. rap, “Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live.” In other words, KRS interprets rap as a style of music—nothing more. It doesn’t necessarily have to be performed on a hip-hop beat, so long as someone fuses spoken word rhythmically on any kind of beat—it automatically qualifies as rap.



But hip-hop on the other end is more of a culture… a way of life. It brings together 9 elements that together make up the hip-hop culture. And rap is only but a small fragment fused into one element of hip-hop, emceeing.

To differentiate the rap in hip-hop from the rap in other genres of music, hip-hop scholars went ahead to label the rap in hip-hop as Emceeing. That’s’ to say, rap only applies to other genres of music, but in hip-hop this stylistic device is labeled as Emceeing.


Emcee, another word oft-misaligned with rap, is derived from the term “Master of Ceremonies (MC).” It simply means to move a crowd. But, unlike rap, it focuses more on well-written, concise and crisply-delivered lyrics. It also includes free-styling, a component of emceeing that involves rapping witty but unpremeditated rhymes, intertwined with punchlines and metaphors, straight from the head. Artists like supernatural, MC Juice and most battling Emcees specialize in free-styling. Please note, free-styling is a special skill and only a few artists are gifted in that line. You don’t need to be a free-styler to qualify as an emcee. Neither does being a rapper make one a hip-hoper.

Suffice it to say rap and hip-hop are totally different. With the former being nothing more than a style of music that can still blend in with other music genres; and the latter a conscious movement that goes far beyond music. Peace!


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