The REAL Difference between Rap and Hip Hop

Whenever I go to a music store or website, I always see Hip hop and Rap in the same section, and many times the terms are used interchangeably.

When you bring up this subject to people, there are many different responses. Most of the time people equate Hip hop to being the older of the two, as the real foundation for the genre.  People also say that Hip hop has more of a Jazzy, upbeat feel. Rap, according to most people, is anything made after 1994. Most of what came before is considered Old School Hip Hop.

Some people say Hip hop is Dead. “Rapper” Nas claimed this a while back. I disagree..and I also don’t consider Nas a “Rapper,” though he is commonly referred to as one.

I’m an independent artist myself. I actually happen to be a lyricist that mostly writes hip hop lyrics, but I also do some electronic music and R&B. I would never classify myself as a rapper though, simply because of the bad associations that the word has. I’m talking about the subject matter that is in the songs I classify as rap.

The REAL difference between the two categories is lyrical content. Rap, I classify, as being a genre that focuses on particular concepts over and over again. The subject matter never really changes very much. It is almost like Rap is a mass produced form of music, and the artistic dynamic to the music is often lost.

However Hip hop on the other hand, which is still very much alive (overshadowed, but alive), has a greater value to the listener. It offers poetic and often insightful lyrics that give you a second reason to want to listen again. Take a look at one of my favorite Hip hop lyricists, Emmanuel Jackson in the video below. He’s unknown right now, but look out for him in the next couple years. Hip hop will be making a huge comeback. His style is also the closest to my own that I have ever seen and I have tremendous respect for his art.

I hope this post cleared this issue up for a lot of people. Rap is a mainstream pop genre that goes through fads faster than an elementary school, and Hip Hop is a fundamentally pure art form who’s roots are so deep that it will never really die. In fact, I think Rap may be in danger pretty soon, especially with people like Emmanuel Jackson emerging, who happens to feel the exact same way as me on the subject. The REAL difference is all about the REAL.


It’s been a while since I wrote this so I felt I’d update it. Plus there was a good comment today from cola that brings up a good point:

“sorry, after reading this i still don’t feel educated about what hip hop is vs. rap. it sounds subjective. if you think it’s good, it’s hip hop. if you think it’s commercial and shallow, it’s rap. i need a meatier and more objective answer. thanks, though.”

That’s just the thing about hip hop though. It’s about the lyrical content.

Hip Hop is all about heart. Heart is the essence of Hip Hop. Listen to the name..Hip sounds like a heart beat. Then listen to the name sounds like….crap.

But this is where the subjectiveness is really made apparent. Somebody might be spitting about some nickel bags and some spinners, and some people might not feel it because they can’t relate. Then it’s not Hip Hop to that person. To other people, that same verse might strike them differently, paint a different picture for them, and so to them it might be Hip Hop. It’s really about making a connection from one person’s heart to another person’s. That’s Hip Hop, and if that’s the MC’s aim, usually the music will reflect that as well.

Take this song for example. This is my good friend Dot the One, with The World is not Enough, off his new mixtape Aviators and Bombers. The whole concept for the mixtape is emphasizing how people are so concerned with the shallower things in life, like a pair of sunglasses. To someone who doesn’t know that this is Dot’s intent, it might sound like he’s glorifying this stuff to the extreme, and that might be whack to some people, but if you know what he’s really trying to do, which is inherent in his flow if you listen carefully, then you feel it, and to me it’s pure Hip Hop.

I like to equate it to visual art. Some guy that just throws a bunch of paint splatters on a canvas, with no real technique, and calls it art might actually end up touching some people, and to them, that is art. But I feel like it all comes down to the motive of the “artist.” Are they just trying to make as much money as they can while putting in the least amount of effort possible, or is there actually a deeper method to their madness. I think that’s the definitions of trash and art, respectively.

Unless you really know what the person’s motives are, you may come out with a different definition, which is where the subjectivity of art comes in, since usually people don’t know the motives of an artist when they encounter a work. Art is intrinsically subjective because it has to be a personal thing to be considered has to touch someone..not everyone, but someone. But, on the more objective side, there is, in actuality, 1 true motive behind the work, and that’s where subjectivity doesn’t really matter anymore. It either is, or it isn’t, worthy of the title of Art, based on real motive.

I think that Hip Hop is a similar title to that of Art. To me, and many other people who put a lot of time and effort into their rhymes, if the motives are to touch people in a particular way, for the purpose of communicating something somewhat important, or meaningful, from one person to another person, that’s worthy of the title of Hip Hop. If they’re just rapping about some hypocritical garbage to get attention and to get money, it can’t be hip hop..that’s rap. I would almost consider Tyler the Creator in this category, because he just says shit to create a reaction..but then again he puts a lot of effort into creating those visuals in your head, and I don’t really know him or his motives behind his work so I couldn’t really tell you for sure, only what I think about it, and that’ll be different for each person.

I find though, like almost everything in life, that’s it’s not always just black and white, but instead it’s more of a spectrum, with a million different possible points of variation in between. Hip Hop, and Rap are the two complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but in the end, if it gets through, for some people, the spectrum can seem to bend and even come full circle, and definitions can change..subjectivity = art.

I’m sticking to my belief that Hip Hop is all about heart, because that’s how it’s made me feel, and if it doesn’t have that, it’s not Hip Hop as far as I’m concerned. A lot of respected and proven hip hoppers agree with me. Notice how the title of the song is Phony Rappers, and Qtip makes a reference to the real as MC’s, not rappers. He obviously thinks there’s a difference too. I’m of course partial to Hip Hop..some people are partial to Rap, and that’s great. Then again, it also depends a lot on mood too. Once again, the real difference between Rap and Hip Hop has to be about the real – real motives, real feeling, real love, real hate, real heart, whatever the flavor. That’s the difference.

“Cause once you add the hip to the hop kid, it equals out to love”

– Phife Dawg

Written by: Dante Carmelo Cullari (aka ILL principe) Founder and CEO Beat-Play, LLC

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22 responses to “The REAL Difference between Rap and Hip Hop

  1. Hello, I cant see how to add your site in my rss reader. Can you aid me, please

  2. I love this website, the information is great and I have bookmarked it in my favorites. This is a well organized and informative website. Great Job!

  3. Pingback: The Highs and Lows of Writing Lyrics | The Beat-Play Experiment

  4. YO i couldn’t have agreed more with you . great blog man , really informative . keep it up

  5. Thanks for the clarification man! You could write a whole essay on this subject but, you summed up the gist of it.

    The world needs more education on the differences between the 2 genres. Rap gives Hip Hop a bad name to those who don’t know…

  6. sorry, after reading this i still don’t feel educated about what hip hop is vs. rap. it sounds subjective. if you think it’s good, it’s hip hop. if you think it’s commercial and shallow, it’s rap. i need a meatier and more objective answer. thanks, though.

  7. Yeah i agree with you that hiphop aint dead. And i think singers like “CYNE” are keeping hiphop alive. And this guy Emmanuel is good tho’

  8. No problem hope one day we’ll be listening artist’s like CYNE on top with millions of view and not those creepy thing these days.
    BTW i saw that you are artist too , do you have any song that you made or any beat im really interested on listen what you got, cuz i see that you understand what HipHop is.

    • Hmm..I think there’s one video of me rapping floating around somewhere. It’s one of my older songs, I can’t even remember the words, but I know it was one of my favorites at the time. It’s missing a hook I think too, but I’ll try to find it and I’ll post it..

  9. He’ll na rap is spittin and talking about real life situations (listen to z-ro) one of tha realist rappers who tells it how it is and hip-hop is soulha boy n lil Wayne commercial bullshit

  10. There is absolutely no difference between hip-hop and c-rap, neither are are forms. I agre with your assesment that “It ain’t art if anybody can do it” – Well all of lyrics in these videos I could do after a Taco Bell lunch, there is your “epiphany of feeling” except it is repulsive and nasal. How does one touch the heart with a message written and sung using ebonics, incorporating the maximum number of f words and skulls and f-skulls, and a commonality of purely basal grunting and feigned masturbation to a drum 30 feet away coming from a synthesizer? I’ll take ANY other genre, including Dub.

    • You make my point perfectly. Art is subjective. To each his own. Just because your opinion is actually true to you, doesn’t mean it’s actually true to others. I happen to disagree with almost everything you said, and that doesn’t make you right or wrong. You could find 50 people that agree with you and I could find 50 people that agree with me and it still doesn’t make either side right or wrong. That’s what you need to understand. Art IS subjectivity.

  11. This is well written. I enjoyed reading it. However, who exactly categorizes “rap” as applying only to things after 1994? I’ve never heard this, and having been born in 1970 and living through the first waves of commercially-popular rap, I have to disagree with this assessment thoroughly. Sugar Hill Gang’s breakthrough hit that brought hip-hop to the masses was called… “Rapper’s Delight.” Run DMC were most definitely categorized as rap. LL Cool J was considered rap. Public Enemy was rap. NWA was rap. During rap’s first waves of popularity in the eighties, I would wager most white people who lived outside of a major urban center had never even heard the term “hip-hop.”

    Anyway… I’ve never considered there to be a “difference between” hip-hop and rap. I have always considered rap to be a specific style of music, whereas hip-hop is a general artistic genre. Most (but not all) rap music is a form of hip-hop. Not all hip-hop is rap. Not all hip-hop is even music, for that matter.

  12. Hip Hop is the category of the music. Where as Rap is the content of the music. Hip Hop would be the culture, style of the culture and music, genre, and the classification of the art form. Rap is the type of lyrics, the subject matter, and as well as the message that the artist is attempting to get across. After all RAP is defined as (Rhythm and Poetry) but I myself as a devout unknown locally and nationally have been writing it since I was eleven now im twenty eight. I Define it as (Rhythm and Poetics) because it is the art of writing poetry to a Rhythm. Whether it garbage or not is up to the listener.

  13. Lets break down what the words Hip Hop mean. HIP-as put in the sense of not relating to anatomy or a fruit of a rose, it is an adjective means Trendy, Stylish. HOP- means simply movement or technically to spring foward with both feet or one foot. Also it means make a quick change or short trip or enterance into a vehicle. So if your going look at a specific thing and define it look at the compascity of the word(s). So basically Hip Hop is the culture and the from of the art. Rap is the artwork itself. If you want to get in with me facebook is the best bet. You can find me under the name Mykle Phydeyez.

  14. Say it with me people Hip Hop is the culture of the of the art form. Rap is the artwork itself. RAP as describe in the dictionary is smart, slight blow. Also as far as music itz a style of pop music where the words are recited rather than sung. Lyrics are the expression of the writer emotion. A lyricist writes the words to the song. To be lyrical is too be highly enthusiastic. An Emcee is a master of ceremony. This is according to the dictionary.

  15. You also got to realize that when Hip Hop/Rap was first started it was at a time when it was big to read and study in the Black community. So itz likely that the fore fathers of this knew exactly what they were doing when the concept was developed. There is a group called the Wattz Prophetz that started in 1967 during the time of the Civil Rights and Revolution movements. As a reaction to the riots these group of guy found a way to speak spoken word over jazz and blues. So they knew the compascity of the words. So now today the verse of a rap song is spoken words rhymed to the rhythm of an instrumental. Look all this up if you dont believe me.

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