Rap music, or today known as Hip-Hop, is one of the most popular forms of music. But how did it begin and why was the music known as rap? Who were the pioneers of rap music?
The meaning of Rap
The word rap came about as early as the 15th and 16th centuries in Britain. Initially, the word means to hit or to strike. A few hundred years later, a slight variation of this definition emerged and came to mean to speak or to talk. In the 1960s, the word rap popped up in American black communities and was used as slang to mean that someone was talking or having a conversation.
The birth of Rap
The genre began when block parties were taking place in New York City in the early 1970s. DJs at this time began to isolate percussion breaks of funk, soul, and disco songs and instead extend them. DJ Kool Herc, now regarded as the first DJ and founding father of hip hop, was hosting back-to-school parties in the Bronx with his sister, Cindy.
In one of these sets he played, he tried something new called “merry go round” where he used two turntables to play the same breakbeat section of the James Brown record “Clap your hands”. When one turntable finished playing the section, he would switch to the next turntable and play the same section again.
In this way, he extended the section of the song for as long as he wanted. This technique is known as looping and is used by record producers in almost every beat.
This was also the time when DJing was born. DJ Grand Wizard Theodore was said to have accidentally invented the method of “scratching” where the DJ pushes the record back and forth as it’s played to produce a scratching noise as it brushes against the needle.
The first Rapper
DJ Kool Herc continued playing sets at his parties and he realised that speaking was just as important as keeping the party alive as DJing. He invited his friend Coke La Rock to be the first dedicated MC of these parties.
Coke La Rock, in one of these parties, spat his very first bar, “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.” This made Coke La Rock the very first rapper in Hip-Hop and gave birth to the Rap music we know today.
Most record labels found rap to be a fad and were not interested in investing in it despite DJs and Rappers popping up in every block party to display their talents.
Rap music finally found recognition in 1979 and the first commercially released rap song was “King Tim III (Personality Jack)” by the Fatback Band. This song was, however, pushed to the b-side of the tape but after a huge favorable response from clubs that it was released on the a-side and became a top 30 hit on the R&B charts.
Rap music’s beginnings were humble but since its inception, it has changed and evolved. Rapping and DJing evolved together leading to the mid-80s known as the golden age of hip-hop where artists like Run DMC and Rakim pushed the boundaries of the art form and made rap music the mainstream entity it is today.