What Is Hip Hop Music?

Hip-Hop is a very deep and rich topic.

It is not only a style of music, but it defines a culture and lifestyle lived by a whole generation of people.

This culture led to the musical style we know as Hip-Hop and changed the music industry forever.

Delving into the world of hip-hop music leads into the world of hip hop culture and everything that it stands for.

The elements of hip-hop: MCing/Rapping, DJing/Turntablism, Breaking/B-Boying, Visual/Graffiti, we will leave for a whole other article. 

In this post, we’re going to take a look at ‘what is hip hop music?’…the sound of hip-hop.

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What is Hip Hop Music?

Hip-Hop music comes from the culture of hip-hop that developed in New York City in the 1970s among young African-American people.

TL;DR Summary: 

Hip-Hop music was developed by Hip-Hop culture in the ‘70s in New York City. This genre is defined by strong rhythms and nuanced beats, intense and masterful vocals including rapping, and extended breaks. Hip-Hop is now among the most influential musical genres of all musical history.

The genre was born when the culture developed a lifestyle of large parties run by MCs and DJs.

The turntablism style of DJing was developed in this era…

…when songs were broken up and mixed to generate looping sections of drum beats or basslines that could be rapped over.

Rapping became a cornerstone of the hip-hop culture and helped develop the music genre.

Rapping has since defined hip-hop, along with rhythmic beats, deep basslines, stylistic melodies, and the intense nature of the vocals.

Hip-Hop almost always includes rapping, but it can also be a melodic genre.

This has heavily influenced the musical landscape and spread hip-hop culture throughout the world.

The style of hip-hop music is simple yet refined, and everything in it must be authentic and well-crafted.

This music is all about meaning and respect and has produced some of the best-written music.

Typical Characteristics of Hip Hop Music

Hip-Hop music, at its core, is remarkably simple (I said simple, not easy) for such a dynamic, creative, and world-altering genre.

There are only three main defining features of hip-hop music, but these three features can be changed, interpreted, and altered however the artist wants it to be.

Hip-Hop is defined by rhythm and beats, vocal performances, and the break.

#1. Rhythm and Rhythmic Beats

The backbone of hip-hop music.

Beat-making is an essential aspect of the creative process within the genre.

It is a nuanced skill that requires in-depth musical knowledge and technical ability.

#2. Vocal Performance

Rapping is often prominent in hip-hop music.

Simple, yet complex, and very difficult to do, rapping is pretty much essential to the hip-hop sound.

Hip-hop vocals are entirely created around what the artist has to say and structured around how they want to say it.

#3. Breaks

Breaks were developed early in the hip-hop culture.

The break, is an instrumental section within a song that is usually extended during live performances that encourage dancing.

Dance styles developed during the break, and this led to the creation of break-dancing, which further developed the hip-hop culture.

These three elements still define modern hip-hop music.

But, like with any vibrant culture, there are now many more variations on hip-hop that have built upon these three core elements.

Early Influential Hip-Hop Artists

Now one of the most popular genres around the world, hip-hop has an incredible number of artists.

Here are just a few of the early influential hip-hop artists:

DJ Kool Herc: A hip-hop pioneer. Maybe even the founding-father of hip-hop.

Way back in 1973, Clive ‘DJ Kool Herc’ Campbell and his sister were hosting parties in their Bronx apartment building.

Image: iconcollective

These parties, named ‘Back To School Jam’ pretty much laid the first foundations of hip-hop.

Proper legendary stuff!

Coke La Rock:  The first hip-hop MC?

Coke La Rock began to control the mic at the parties being thrown by DJ Kool Herc and his sister.

At one of these parties, Coke La Rock rapped “There’s not a man that can’t be thrown, not a horse that can’t be rode, a bull that can’t be stopped, there’s not a disco that I Coke La Rock can’t rock.”

Quite possibly the first rap lyrics of hip-hop.

Afrika Bambaataa: One of the original founders of hip-hop.

Grandmaster Flash: What more can one man do for music?

Talented, dedicated, innovative…I could go on and on.

I don’t know how many DJ techniques Grandmaster Flash gave the world, but it’s a lot.

Moved DJing and turntablism on twenty-five years in the blink of an eye.   

In 1976 Grandmaster Flash organized a group called ‘Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – Image: HighTimes

In 1982 they released the single ‘The Message’ which itself has a place in music history.

The hit single was seriously socially conscious rap and it laid fresh foundations for future hip hop artists.

The group had a lot of further success and in 2007 they became the first hip-hop act inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Run-DMC: 1980s pioneers of new-school hip-hop.

Their 1983 single ‘It’s Like That’, with ‘Sucker MC’s’ on the flip-side, offered a stripped-back sound that opened the doors to the further progression of the hip-hop sound…new-school hip-hop.

The first hip-hop group to be featured on MTV, and they too have now been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Public Enemy: Political hip-hop group featuring Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

Starting out in1985, Public Enemy very quickly became notorious for their strong political messaging.

Wu-Tang Clan: Well, okay, maybe starting out in 1992 doesn’t really qualify as being early…

…but hey, Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’, is widely considered to be one of the best rap albums of all time.

On top of this, their seventh studio album ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ is the most expensive vinyl record ever sold

…so surely they’re worth a mention!  

Wrapping it Up!

Hip-Hop is so much more than a genre; it is a culture.

In the words of KRS One “Rap is something you do; hip hop is something you live.”

This culture has spread all over the world and brought with it the music that it created.

Hip-Hop is special, and the music that has developed from the culture has defined the modern music industry.

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