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Musical Characteristcs Of Rap Essay, Research Paper


Musical Characteristics of Rap

Paper 1

Jesse Lipscombe

Morehouse College

Musical Characteristics of Rap

Hip-hop culture, once confined to the streets has broken into the commercial realm with force. Hip hop records top the charts week after week, rap videos have taken control of MTV, BET and the BOX, and there are dozens of hip hop magazines on the newsstands. A stroll on any city street in the United States reveals the proliferation of hip-hop styled apparel. The culture itself had much humbler beginnings, however. On the street corners and in the parks, young men and women battled through freestyle rhymes and dance moves. Whatever the time period, and whoever he MC may have been, Rap has incorporated, and included several of the “classical” musical characteristics present in most western music today. These characteristics have influenced the popularity of this genre from coast to coast; as well as, giving the music a chance to penetrate into the homes of a vast array of people (White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.). When one is referring to certain musical characteristics, pitch, dynamics, timbre, rhythm, melody, harmony, key, texture, form, and various others are usually mentioned. It is fascinating to see how many of these characteristics are present in the hip-hop culture, more specifically in rap music.

One of the most moving characteristics of rap music is rhythm. Rhythm deals with sound in time, long and short sounds combined to create a well-balanced rhythmical effect (Stewart, 1998). Rhythm includes aspects such as beat, which is simply a division of a measure marked by a beat; meter, which is a grouping of beats; accent, which is a stress on a beat; and tempo, which determines how fast or slow the selection moves. An artist that really accentuates his usage of accents is Busta Rhymes, he tends to put a stress at the beginning of each stanza which adds to the impact of his lyrics. Tempo is used to quite abundantly, and is used by most artists in this industry. For, there are several artists that rap fast on a slow beat, while other rap slow on a fast beat. In addition, all of these components are to provide the listener with variety. Large portions of mainstream artists use this feature of rhythm as their root to success. In a world where sampling previous beats and vocals have become an everyday occurrence, finding an appealing, original rhythm may prove to be the ice breaker between a hit song and a “flop.” Timberland and the Neptunes are very popular when it comes to making a hit song due to their original and sense provoking “beats” (beats, are the most common, misused, term for what rhythm actually encompasses). They have managed to move away from the repetitive sounds that the hip-hop audience has longed to have a release from. Moreover, this is most likely why their rhythms have become as popular as they are today.

Sound refers to aspects such as pitch, tone, timbre, dynamics, and several others. This aspect is utilized in rap music profusely. The usage of pitch is prevalent in a number of rap artists from men to women. There are several male rappers that present their lyrics in a higher pitch; Suga Free is a west coast (genre of rap) rapper with a high pitch. Rap artists such as U.G.K and Busta Rhymes have a lower pitch than some other artists. Timbre is the characteristic quality of a specific sound; just as, Stevie Wonder, and Pavorotti are both tenors, Busta Rhymes and U.G.K both rap in the same pitch. However, their timbre differs, which provides the listener with a distinct sound. Dynamics relate to a loudness or softness of a given sound. In rap music the contemporary progression of piano, mezzo, and forte apply (along with all the sub-components for louder of softer). There are several selections where the lyricist will exhibit their lyrics in a soft, quite manner, then dynamically increase the volume with certain accents on different beats. Still, others will remain to deliver in a forte manner throughout the entire song, all-applicable, but subject to the listener’s preferences.

Harmony is a musical combination of tones or chords (Stewart, 1998). This style is not found in a lot of rap music; however, Bone Thugs in Harmony have mastered the art of combining harmony and spoken words. This group uses techniques of blending or concordance of specific element; mainly, the different member of the quintet. There songs range from being monophonic to polyphonic with different variation in each (Baker,1995).

Another aspect of music heavily observed in rap music is form. Form includes components such as repetition, contrast, variation, and some others. When artists want to make a certain line more heavily weighted, they tend to repeat it (usage of repeat ion). Or as a use of variation, they will repeat words to add a different color to the piece. At times there will be groups consisting of men and women, where they have contrasting pitches, tones, timbre, and many other elements. This contrast adds to many selections in the rap genre.

All types of music from all different genres around the world use some of the most basic elements adapted by western music. It is evident in Negro spirituals, Gospel, Broadway Musicals, Rhythm and Blues, and Rap. These elements provide for certain congeniality between music in the world. It shows that no matter how different a certain selection of music may sound, there are many characteristics that can be found in the opposing selection of music. Rap is a brilliant form of art that has been, and will continue to express the minds of men and women through various elements of music.



Earl L. Stewart. (1998). African American Music, An Introduction. Schirmer Books.

Theodore Baker. (1995). Pocket Manuel Of Musical Terms 5th Edition. Schirimer Books.

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