The Origins of Rap Music

There’s no doubt that rap is one of the most popular music genres today. It’s widely believed that rap as we know it originated in the 1970s in New York. However, the roots of rap music date back way further.

The Roots of Rap Music

Unlike what many people think, rap music didn’t appear in the 70s out of the blue. Modern rap music was inspired by “griots” from West Africa. Griots were storytellers that told stories while music was being played, which is regarded as the earlier form of rap.

The Beginning of a New Culture

DJ Kool Herc, known as the founding father of hip-hop, started it all on August 11th, 1973, in the Bronx, New York.

He hosted gatherings in his building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. Such gatherings are credited for sparking the beginning of hip-hop music.

Herc used looping, also known as a repetitive beat. By combining two record turntables and playing the same beat more than once, a loop is formed. This has also led to the extension of the instrumental aspect of music pieces.

All of this has led rap music to grow to a new culture that includes art, dance, philosophy, and even fashion. The building is open to visitors who want to take a look at the birthplace of modern hip-hop music.

The Golden Era

Around the mid-80s, a new wave of rappers began to emerge as the genre became accessible to the mainstream. 

During that period, rap has matured into a genre of innovation, diversity, and influence. It was no longer a mere music genre but a cultural movement that encouraged experimentation. It was impossible for rap music to bethe same from city to city.

And since the new generation of hip hop producers had resources like advanced samplers and drum machines, the development of rap music was accelerated even further.

Because of this boom, independent record labels like Prism Records, Tommy Boy, and more, started to recognize the demand for the genre, especially from club DJs and local radio stations.

Run-D.M.C, Eric B. & Rakim, Public Enemy, and The Beastie Boys were among the most prominent names in the golden era of rap music.

The golden age of hip-hip also encompassed a heavy reliance on sampled music. Since there weren’t any copyright laws that protected pieces from being sampled, any artist was able to integrate samples from various songs without facing legal claims. 

And it wasn’t just limited to hip-hop; lots of rappers sampled music from many other genres like rock, jazz, and blues. What was truly unique about these sampling techniques is that they also included sound clips from films, not just songs.

The 1990s

The growth of hip-hop music has continued well into the 90s, with the battle of the coasts being one of its most remarkable feuds of the late 20th century. 

It was a rivalry between east coast and west coast rappers, but it went out of control when rappers 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G were killed in an apparent drive-by shooting. The rivalry also extended to the fans of east coast and west coast hip-hop music.

Although the feud that lasted from 1991 to 1997 had terrible consequences, it was a central focal point of the rap scene that forged a significant portion of the hip-hop music that we listen to today.

The 1990s also witnessed women stepping into the rap scene to stand against the content that antagonized females. Among the most influential women MCs that reshaped the tone of rap music in the 1990s include Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa,Yo Yo, and MC Lyte. 

Other notable names that managed to live up to mainstream hip-hop standards include Lauryn Hill and Da Brat.

The Pioneers Who Transcended the Genre

Just like any other music genre, there are a few notable rappers that had the biggest influence on the hip-hop/rap scene. Here are the most prominent names:


N.W.A. was a hip-hop music group that constituted the following rappers:

  • Dr. Dre
  • Arabian Prince
  • MC Ren
  • Ice Cube
  • DJ Yella
  • Eazy-E

The group was formed in 1987, only becoming active (as a group) in the periods from 1987 to 1991 and 1999 to 2002. The group also had a couple of recent unions in 2015 and 2016.

N.W.As biggest contributions to rap music comprise the use of exaggerated lyrics and funky, bass-driven beats. The group is also credited for fusing white and black American musical lines. 

The team’s greatest hits include “Straight Outta Compton”, “F— Tha Police”, “Express Yourself”, and “Gangsta Gangsta”. 


2Pac is considered one of the most influential rappers in the industry. His music often discussed controversial social issues widespread in the late 80s and early 90s. 

Many people regard 2Pac as a fighter in the face of inequality. Some of 2Pac’s greatest hits include “How Do U Want It/California Love”, “Dear Mama/Old School”, “Keep Ya Head Up”, and “Thugz Mansion”.

Notorious B.I.G.

Notorious B.I.G was yet another rapper whose work had a massive impact on the modern rap scene. The most significant chunk of his music was semi-autobiographical and often had mixed themes that combined criminality and hardship with celebration. 

Notorious B.I.G was also known for incorporating grim content in his lyrics, but his laidback lyrical delivery played a big role in offsetting it.

Rap and Hip-Hop Today

Today, hip-hop music is different from what it once was. The vast majority of hip-hop record labels and artists only focus on money and fame rather than the music itself. Nevertheless, there are still some artists that are true to the form.

Modern technology has allowed for the continuous development of the genre. From streaming to sampling and beat development, a whole new world of possibilities has opened up for young rappers. Distribution methods have come a long way, too. 

The 2000s also witnessed the breakthrough of a trend where rappers collaborate in the same hit, and this trend has continued up till now.


Hip-hop has come a long way throughout the history of music. From simple beat-synced storytelling in West Africa to the rise of independent record labels in the 90s and the tech-enhanced beats we listen to today. 

There’s still room for development, though, with rappers introducing new styles and techniques into the mix at a very fast pace. 

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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