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Rapping is one of the elements of hip hop as well as the distinguishing feature of most hip hop music. It is a form of rhyming lyrics delivered rhythmically over a musical backdrop of sampling, scratching and mixing by DJs. Originally, rapping was called MCing and accompanied DJing.
Rapping (as a self-conscious artistic school) began as a variation on the toasting found in reggae, funk and dub music, mixed with influences from jazz-related performance poetry (Langston Hughes's album Weary Blues being an important example; the Beats also notable), radio DJ patter, and the tradition of playing the dozens. Among other predecessors were talking blues records and the work of artists such as James Brown and Parliament. The original rappers probably can be said to have been The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron with their recordings in the latter 1960s and earliest 1970s (such as Scott-Heron's famous "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "Whitey on The Moon"), but, slightly later, MCs (from "Master of Ceremonies") would improvise rhymes over the beats created by dancehall and club DJs. Early raps were frequently merely a sequence of boasts, or attempts to upstage the other MCs. See roots of hip hop music for earlier forms that also contributed to rapping.
The first contemporary hip hop song released on a major label was 1979's "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" by the Fatback Band (featuring the rapper King Tim III). The Sugarhill Gang followed the same year with "Rapper's Delight" (based on Chic's "Good Times") which became a major hit and opened the floodgates for the nascent genre. In 1980, Blondie became one of the first acts to feature a rap sequence in a pop song, resulting in the #1 hit "Rapture."
Descendents and influence
Rapping is one of the four elements of hip hop: MCing (rapping), DJing (mixing, cutting and scratching), graffiti (tagging), and breakdancing. However, in the course of rap's history, new musical styles developed that use rapping - especially rapcore, also known as rap/rock or rap/metal, first introduced by crossover pioneer Run-DMC's collaboration with Aerosmith in 1986. Some alternative rap has musically very little to do with mainstream hip hop music. Often consisting of bizarre soundscapes and vivid lyrics, abstract hip-hop has developed, largely in the underground.
Music outside of the United States has taken the rap style and blended it with completely different elements. Japanese dance music, for example, often uses rapping to complement or break up the singing parts, with lyrics containing upbeat themes set to energetic rhythms and clean, warm synths. Rap was instantly popular in the United Kingdom, perhaps building on the great popularity of dub and reggae toasting. MCs also became a fixture at Jungle and UK Garage events, whilst a recent offshoot of garage, dubbed Grime, has focused on rapping, making stars of rappers such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley.
The importance of rhyme
Undoubtedly, the most important element of rap lyrics is rhyme. In other forms of poetry, rhymes that span many syllables are often considered whimsical but in hip hop, the ability to construct raps with large sets of rhyming syllables is considered a sign of intelligence and achievement. For the same reason, rap music is sometimes referred to as "street poetry" or "street rhyme". To accomplish rhymes of this sophistication, rappers can use single rhyming words (intellectual/ineffectual) or they can use multiple words whose constituent syllables rhyme (octoroon/Doctor Dooom). Rap lyrics often contain long series of lines each of which rhyme with each other. Occasionally, entire songs are composed in this fashion where all lines rhyme with each other. Of course, the more intricate the rhymes are, the more abstract the song becomes. This is because the more focus given to impressive rhyming, the harder it becomes to write coherently. Battle raps can be written with complex rhyming techniques easier than raps that tell a story or convey a message because a battle rap can employ a vast array of metaphors to conjure images of rapper to rapper combat.
Rhyme is also integral to Freestyle battles. These contests pit two rappers together to lyrically insult and intimidate each other with impromptu lyrics. The ability to construct clever rhymes to insult the opponent "off the top of the dome" (dome being slang for head) is a critical skill to winning these contests.
Different types of rhymes
Not all rhymes used in rap are clear cut. Often, consonance, assonance, half rhymes, and internal rhyme schemes are employed. Making a distant word with similar sounds at some points sound like a rhyme is sometimes considered a sign of a good rapper. An example of a rapper who makes heavy use of assonance is Eminem.
Importance of various techniques
Although rhyme is the essential required element of all raps, there are other literary techniques that are often employed. To use many of these techniques while still maintaining a meaningful rhyme is considered by most rap listeneres to be signs of a good rhyme.
Cadence is the overall balance of a rhyme in relation to the beat, as far as emphasis and speed (and in some cases, changes in melody). It is also known as "riding the beat". Cadence plays an especially large role in the raps of West coast hip-hop. Many hip-hop listeners find Snoop Dogg to be an example of a rapper with varying -- but always strong -- cadence in his raps. He is seen this way because of his ability to ride slow, fast, melodic, or hardcore beats equally well.
Unlike many other forms of poetry, rappers typically don't think about metre and feet very heavily. Instead, the goal is to unconciously develop a flow. A good flow is a metre that doesn't drag along, but rather, draws the listener into the words. Big Boi of OutKast is considered to have a good flow by many fans. It is important to note that rappers sometimes do use forms such as iambic pentameter.
Speaking clearly is important because rap is said outloud unlike many other forms of poetry. Enunciation in rap is sometimes exaggerated to a cartoonish level, which is actually a sign of skill. Ludacris is considered an example of a good enunciator.
Style, voice, tone, attitude, and soul
These terms are essentially the emotions carried by the rapper in his music and lyrics.
To some, the speed of a rapper's words are an example of skill. A rapper who can rap quickly and coherently is considered skillful. However, rapping slowly doesn't necessarily mean a lack of skill, nor does rapping fast mean quality; some raps become incomprehensible when performed at a high tempo. An example of a fast rapper is Twista, who is considered both fast and skillful in his rhymes.
Wordplay include double entendres, alliteration, and all forms of playing around with your words. Wordplay is subjective -- whether it's done well or poorly is up to the listener.
There are several other techniques used in rapping, such as: enjambment and hyperbole.
Wordplay shows skill, but the message of a rap is more important. A rapper who talks about nothing with excellent wordplay doesn't show as much skill as one who has a message, because his or her creativity has no frame around it. The message can be about one's life, about politics, about philosophy, about bragging, and anything with meaning. It can tell a story or show imagery that occurs in the rappers everyday life. Nonsense or dadaist rappers such as Aesop Rock are often looked down on by the purist HipHop fans for not having a real soulful message, and for "watering down the sound of the ghetto" (Kool Keith).
In many traditional cultures there exist lyrical forms that could loosely be described as rapping. Examples of these include:
Mor lam in Laos
Chastushka in Russia
Tsiattista in Cyprus
Enka Slamta in Ethiopia
Tassou in Senegal
Rhapsody in Ancient Greece
Gstanzl in Bavaria and similar traditions in Austria and Switzerland.
Urdu Rap from Pakistan
Kuai ban in China