The Power of Street Knowledge: The Origin of the word ‘Rap’.

Rap has become the prominent mainstream music genre over the course of the 21st century. From its DIY beginnings in the late 70s to its world-dominating success today, its rise has been truly meteoric. Proving a real cultural force in contemporary society, now is the perfect time to take a few minutes and look back at the strangely long history of the world, ‘rap’.

Jump back around 700 years and we have the word ‘rap’ begin to appear in old English. Probably borrowed, or originating from Scandinavia, ‘rap’ or ‘rapp’ first meant, as it still does, “light blow”. By the mid 14th century this had evolved to include “strike, smite, knock,” and by association, the verbs ‘rapped’ and ‘rapping’ (more ing words). Hop into a time machine once more and we find ourselves in the early twentieth century, 1929 being the year that ‘rapping’ became a term for “talking informally” or to simply “chat”, rather than solely a physical act.

By 1965 this had become popularized in African-American vernacular and became married with the music scenes of the time. Through the act of ‘toasting’ as found in reggae, funk and dub music, a mixture of rhythmic talking and music soon gained a more political slant, led by the likes of The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. Before long MC’s (from “Master of Ceremonies”) began improvising rhymes over electronic beats created by dancehall and club DJ’s all over New York City.

Come 1979 the first true hip hop song released on a major label was dropped, 1979’s “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” by the Fatback Band. Later that same year The Sugarhill Gang released the classic “Rapper’s Delight” (based on Chic’s “Good Times”) which became a huge hit and opened the floodgates for every rap artist since. From Scandinavia to New Jersey, the origin of ‘rap’ is quite a ride.