AskDefine | Define rapper

Dictionary Definition



1 someone who performs rap music
2 a device (usually metal and ornamental) attached by a hinge to a door [syn: knocker, doorknocker]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. One who, or that which, raps or knocks; specifically, the knocker of a door.
  2. A performer of Rap music
  3. A forcible oath or lie.
  4. obsolete: Scottish English word for "sword."
  5. A flexible strip of metal, 45-60cm long, with handles at each end, used for Northumbrian rapper sword dancing.
  6. A mechanical, or later electric, signalling device formerly used in the mines of north-eastern England to signal to the engineman that the cages carrying men or coals up and down the shaft were ready to be raised or lowered.


one who knocks
Hip hop performer
fake sword
signal device

Extensive Definition

Rapping (also known as emceeing, MCing, spitting, or just rhyming) is the rhythmic spoken delivery of rhymes and wordplay, one of the elements of hip hop music and culture.


The use of the word to describe quick speech or repartee long predates the musical form, meaning originally "to hit". The word had been used in British English since the 16th century, and specifically meaning "to say" since the 18th. It was part of the African American dialect of English in the 1960s meaning "to converse", and very soon after that in its present usage as a term denoting the musical style.
Rapping can be delivered over a beat or without accompaniment. Stylistically, rap occupies a gray area among speech, prose, poetry, and song. Rap is derived from the griots (folk poets) of West Africa, and Jamaican-style toasting. It also has precedents in traditional Celtic music. Modern rap battles, for instance, bear a striking resemblance to the Limerick Game, a traditional Gaelic drinking game in which people compete for notoriety by making up insulting limericks about each other, the loser having to buy the next round of drinks. Likewise, puirt a beul, a form of Scottish mouth music was incorporated into Appalachian music and is an early ancestor of modern mouth percussion, or beatboxing. The influence of Scottish and Irish music on hip hop is not direct, since virtually all of the originators of hip hop culture were African American, but were transferred indirectly by way of American roots music. Roots music was created out of the fusion of African and Celtic music in the American South and is typified by the combination of African rhythms, Gaelic melodies, and (occasionally) vocal improvisation. It forms the basis of virtually all American musical styles from bluegrass to the blues, jazz, rock, funk, and country. Hip hop grew out of this same tradition; stripping down the melody, emphasizing the rhythm, and incorporating mouth music, battling, and vocal improvisation.
Rapping developed both inside and outside of hip hop culture, and began with the street parties thrown in the Bronx neighborhood of New York in the 70s by Jamaican expatriate Kool Herc and others. The parties introduced dancehall and the practice of having a "Master of Ceremonies," or MC, get up on stage with the DJ and shout encouragements to the crowd in a practice known as 'toasting'. Over time, those shouts of encouragement became more longer and more complex and cross-pollinated with the spoken-word poetry scene to evolve into rap. From the beginning hip hop culture has been syncretic, incorporating sounds and elements from radically divergent sources. While Funk breaks formed the backbone of early hip hop, Kraftwerk and other early techno artists were widely sampled as well.



sample box start the roots of rapping Rapping hip hop music can be traced back in many ways to its African roots. Centuries before the United States existed, the griots of West Africa were delivering stories rhythmically, over drums and sparse instrumentation. Because of the time that has passed since the griots of old, the connections between rap and the African griots are widely established, but not clear-cut. However, such connections have been acknowledged by rappers, modern day "griots", spoken word artists, mainstream news sources, and academics.
Blues music, rooted in the work songs and spirituals of slavery and influenced greatly by West African musical traditions, was first played by blacks (and some whites) in the Mississippi Delta region of the United States around the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Grammy-winning blues musician/historian Elijah Wald and others have argued that the blues were being rapped as early as the 1920s. Wald went so far as to call hip hop "the living blues."
During the mid-20th century, the musical culture of the Caribbean was constantly influenced by the concurrent changes in American music. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the descendants of Caribbean slaves in Jamaica were mixing their traditional folk music styles of mento music with the jazz, soul, rock and blues of America. In Jamaica, this influenced the creation of reggae music (and later dancehall). As early as 1956, deejays were toasting (an African tradition of "rapped out" tales of heroism) over dubbed Jamaican beats. It was called "rap", expanding the word's earlier meaning in the African-American community—"to discuss or debate informally."



The dubbed dancehall toasts of Jamaica, as well as the disco-rapping and jazz-based spoken word beat poetry of the United States was a predecessor for the rapping in hip hop music. Gil Scott-Heron, a jazz poet/musician who wrote and released such seminal songs as The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, H2OGate Blues Part 2: We Beg Your Pardon America and Johannesberg, has been cited as an influence on many rappers. He released his first album in 1970. Similar in style, the Last Poets who formed in 1969 recited political poetry over drum beats and other instrumentation were another predecessor for rap music. They released their debut album in 1970 reaching the top ten on the Billboard charts. One of the first rappers in the beginning of the Hip Hop period, in the end of '70s, was also hip hop's first DJ; Kool Herc. Herc, a Jamaican immigrant, started delivering simple raps at his parties. As Herc would explain in a 1989 interview, Although rapping in hip hop began with the DJs, most rappers today don't DJ or produce on a regular basis; Coke La Rock is cited by Kool Herc as the first example of such a rapper. By the end of the 1979, hip hop had spread throughout New York, and was getting some radio play. Rappers were increasingly writing songs that fit pop music structures and featured continuous rhymes. Melle Mel (of The Furious Five) stands out as one of the earliest rap innovators. Two raps songs recorded in 1979 by separate artists were perhaps the first raps recorded at the beginning of the period where the Hip Hop movement began. The first was recoded by the funk group Fatback Band (later simply "Fatback"). The song is called King Tim III A week later Hip Hop/Funk group the Sugarhill Gang released Rapper's Delight which charted #36 on the U.S. pop chart.
Some music during this period also contained fragmented spoken-word sections on top of standard group instrumentation. Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets were part of a poetry-influenced genre, however R&B singers like Oscar Brown simply weaved rap-style speaking into their studio albums and live routines.


From the 1970s to the early 1980s, Melle Mel set the way for future rappers through his sociopolitical content and creative wordplay. Hip hop lyricism saw its biggest change with the popularity of Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell in the mid-1980s, known especially for the rap/rock collaboration with rock band Aerosmith in the song "Walk This Way". This album helped set the tone of toughness and lyrical prowess in hip hop; Run-D.M.C. were almost yelling their aggressive lyrics.
The 1980s saw a huge wave of commercialized rap music, that with it brought success and international popularity. Rap music transcended its original demographic and passed on to the suburbs. The first rap hit of the 80s was Blondie's "Rapture", following on from "Rapper's Delight" in 1979 from The Sugarhill Gang. Rap music in this time kept its original fan base in the "ghetto" while attracting interest from mainstream consumers. This decade also saw the emergence of what we now know as old school hip hop, artists such as Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the white group Beastie Boys. This decade is also referred to as the golden age of hip hop by modern music historians. Rap in the early 1980s centered mostly around self promotion e.g., the amount of gold one wears or one's prowess with females. However, in 1987 Public Enemy introduced a more sociopolitical edge, with their debut album Yo! Bum Rush the Show. Other artists such as the Jungle Brothers looked to Africa for inspiration. In 1987 the rap group N.W.A released their first album entitled N.W.A and the Posse, and included rap stars Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and MC Ren. This release marked the first shift from the golden age to the ensuing ages of gangsta rap and G-funk.


Rap in the 1990s saw a substantial change in direction of the style of rapping. While the 1980s were characterized by verses mostly constrained to straightforward structures and rhyme schemes, rappers in the 1990s explored deviations from those basic forms, freeing up the lyrical flow and switching up the patterns to create a much more fluid and complex style. The style on the East Coast became more aggressive, pioneered by artists like the Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G., while West Coast hip hop became more laid-back and smooth, as made popular by Dr. Dre and 2Pac.
In terms of subject matter, the 1990s saw a shift from personal promotion and glorification to narratives of street experience and darker social observation, although this shift was more pronounced on the East Coast than the West.
The 1990s were also marked by a tense rivalry between MCs of the East and West Coast, including a feud between Sean "Puffy" Combs' (Bad Boy Records) in the East, including the Notorious B.I.G., and Dr. Dre and Suge Knight's Death Row Records (including 2pac and Snoop Dogg). Freestyling became a skill that demonstrates an MC's versatility and creativity, but also as a verbal duel or spar. The mid 1990s were marked by the violent deaths of Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Freaky Tah, and Big L, among others. By the end of the 1990s, hip hop became widely accepted in mainstream music.
The stereotypical image of male rappers in the 1990s often depicted someone wearing the Rastafari colors (red, yellow, and green), oversize jeans worn below the waist that commonly exposed the underwear, and oversize shirts and jackets. These fashions were then imitated by youngsters and created a separation beyond the rappers' circle by dividing economic classes in the public eye, meaning that lower-class youth dressing in this manner stuck out among the middle to upper-class youth. This image, idealized by urban youth, was further supported by the lyrics of rap underground. The lyrics often reflect the culture and lifestyles of urban and gang violence, drugs, corruption, and sexuality. The expansion of rap across cultures and borders allowed for expansion and transformation of the music and the image of what rap was.


Hip hop in its modern iteration has been increasingly influenced by other musical forms. Notably, remixes of existing hits with current notable rappers has become an increasing trend. The influence of rap has increased internationally with independent styles, such as grime, trip hop, and hyphy. Southern, Northern, and Midwestern, and even Native American rap have also gained increasing popularity, and penetrated the coastal markets on a large scale for the first time
Alongside the increasing commercialization of rap and hip hop culture, some artists such as Nas have claimed that "hip hop is dead".

Vocal Techniques and Lyrics

sample box start rapping

Rhyme styles

seealso Rhyme scheme Aside from "flow" (the voice and tone of a particular MC), and rhythmic delivery, the only other central element of rapping is rhyme. In classical 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 valued. Rap can contain any and all forms of rhyme found in classical poetry such as consonance, assonance, half rhyme, or internal rhyme. Rappers are known for their style of rhyming. Juelz Santana often avoids full rhymes in favor of assonance, consonance, half rhymes, and internal rhymes. Eminem, on the other hand, often focuses on complex and lengthy multisyllabic rhyme schemes, while "flowas" like Rakim use metaphorical, emotional, rhyming, and story telling to communicate a message.

Literary technique

Rappers use double entendres, alliteration, and other forms of wordplay that are also found in classical poetry. Similes and metaphors are used extensively in rap lyrics; rappers such as Fabolous and Lloyd Banks have written entire songs in which every line contains similes, whereas MCs like Rakim, GZA, and Jay-Z are known for the metaphorical content of their raps. Lil Wayne is also known for his frequent use of smilies and metaphors.
Hip hop lyrics often make passing references to popular culture and other topics. An example is the song "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta Fuck Wit" by the Wu-Tang Clan, in which RZA rhymes,
I be tossin', enforcin', my style is awesome I'm causin more Family Feuds than Richard Dawson And the survey said - you're dead Fatal flying guillotine chops off your fuckin' head
Such allusions serve to illustrate or exaggerate a statement, or are simply used for humor. Some of these references are overtly political, while others simply acknowledge, credit, or show dismay about aspects of the rapper's culture and life.

Diction and dialect

Many hip hop listeners believe that a rapper's lyrics are enhanced by a complex vocabulary. Kool Moe Dee claims that he appealed to older audiences by using a complex vocabulary in his raps. Rap is famous, however, for having its own vocabulary—from international hip hop slang to regional slang. Some artists, like the Wu-Tang Clan, develop an entire lexicon among their clique. African American Vernacular English has always had a significant effect on hip hop slang and vice versa. Certain regions have introduced their unique regional slang to hip hop culture, such as the Bay Area (Mac Dre, E-40), Houston (Chamillionaire, Paul Wall), Atlanta (Ludacris, Lil Jon, T.I.), and Kentucky (Nappy Roots). The Nation of Gods and Earths, a religious/spiritual group spun off from the Nation of Islam, has influenced mainstream hip hop slang with the introduction of phrases such as "word is bond" that have since lost much of their original spiritual meaning.


Further reading

  • The Vibe History of Hip Hop
  • Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
  • Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists
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