Are Hip Hop and Rap the Same?
Back in the early 80s I'd gone to see the Hip Hop classics, when they came out, Beat Street and Breakin'. Both movies were a condensed exposition of Hip Hop culture. By the time I'd gone to see these movies I'd already seen some breakdancing in the movie Flashdance and featured in rare spots on TV. At any rate, I was entranced by the culture; the sounds, the dancing, the art, the sensibility. It was new to mainstream America at the time, I was a teenager, it was as marginal and unusual as you could get at the time, and I never dreamed it would become just another genre within 15 or 20 years, with middle-class kids from the suburbs bumping beats from the SUVs their daddies bought them.
At any rate, I was a kid back when it all started so I was exposed to the whole culture of Hip Hop which was not just Rap Music. It was the dancing aspect of poppin', lockin', waving, breakdancing; what is now referred to as B-Boying. It was DJing, mixing records, scratching, cutting, backspinning. It was the graffiti art, huge beautiful murals inspired by communities of color expressing their love and frustrations and struggles. It was the sensibility that you can make something out of nothing, that you could be on the bottom rung and struggle to express something incredible. And you could do it your way.
Hip Hop was not just artists like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg or Eminem. It was Crazy Legs, Phase 2, Levert, Boogaloo Shrimp and Shabadoo.
That was Hip Hop. Even in terms of music, it was more than just a DJ and MC. It was more than Rap. There was a whole line of music in the 80s and 90s that was Hip Hop but didn't involve a DJ and MC and did not involve Rap. The important thing was the attitude and the stripped down beat and the bass-line, the minimalist music and the strong voice. That was Hip Hop.
So, with that, let's look and listen to the music that was Hip Hop but not Rap.
Levert - Casanova
Back when I was in college in the late 80s, I remember this crew of girls who would jump up at the club every time the DJ played Levert's Casanova. They had these dope dance moves that were definitely early Hip Hop and Levert's beat was definitely Hip Hop: Strong stripped down beat, bass-line, minimal, strong vocals. This is the essence of Hip Hop. Later on, Levert did songs with Heavy D, a cool new school rapper from Money-Earnin' Mount Vernon, who had that New Jack Swing.
Calloway - I Wanna Be Rich
On the heels of Levert's success, Calloway was another R and B and Hip Hop group from the same era that dropped I Wanna Be Rich in the late 80s. Equally danceable and also emphasizing a solid beat with prominent lyrics, it was a smash hit that fell in line with the dreams of the 80s money-oriented culture but also the dreams of the people who originally inspired Hip Hop.
Club Nouveau - Lean On Me
This was another song that got the people on the dance floor and got the party jumpin'. Again, the beat was hard, the lyrics prominent, it was a Hip Hop remake of an old R and B classic.
Newcleus - Jam On It
Arguably, not a rap song even though it has rap in it. It's just not standard rap in the sense of having a prominent MC. The music of this song is really the crux of it and it seemed specifically designed for breakdancing, with it's strange chipmunk voices chattering in the background and that funky bass throughout, along with a dope 808 drum beat with heavy emphasis on the hi-hat.
Bel Biv Devoe
Decidedly Hip Hop with its drum loops and romantic tension, this group originated in another early Hip Hop and R and B group with Bobby Brown named New Edition, which was one of the first R and B groups that included Rap in their songs. Bel Biv Devoe was definitely more sophisticated than their predecessors with beautiful harmonies and incredible Hip Hop beats.
Tony Toni Tone
These guys went as far as to just include Hip Hop DJs in their sets. They had a cool, danceable, stylish Hip Hop and R and B blend to their sensibility and music.
Defiant, aggressive, unashamedly promiscuous, Bobby Brown was border-line hard-core Hip Hop who had, along with Bel Biv Devoe, been part of the early Hip Hop Soul group New Edition. His dance moves became famous and he was another favorite on the turn tables at the club.
Very obviously Hip Hop, with dope drum beats, DJ cuttin' and scratchin' and Rap, TLC was an all-girl group who were also stylishly Hip Hop in baggy pants and big flannel shirts.
Keith Sweat was among a group of artists in the 90s that were soulful R and B singers with a street edge to them that made them, ultimately, Hip Hop. Their love songs had a darkness to them which was totally in line with a Hip Hop sensibility.
R Kelly has some obvious street undertones to his music and performances. Like Sweat, there is a definite darkness to his soulful love ballads and they are marked by Hip Hop beats and haunting music. His voice is powerful, there is no doubt about that, and his art seems to be that of a Hip Hop Soul, which matches the undercurrent of pain that can be felt in much of Hip Hop music.
Herbie Hancock - Rockit
A Hip Hop classic put out by a Jazz musician, Rockit is a song forever burned into the psyches of Hip Hop heads and breakdancers, with it's funky scatches performed by DJ DXT and that dope beat along with Herbie's skillful keyboard work. This is an 80s classic ahead of its time, yet timely, when it came out at the height of the breakdance craze.
Oran "Juice" Jones - The Rain
Popular among guys who were bitter about their girlfriends cheating on them, The Rain was nonetheless very Hip Hop. Again, beat and bass were up front and center, the sort of Rap part of it was arguably "gangster" in a pre-gangster Rap era. "Juice" was an early gangster of this early Hip Hop era. The subject matter was common in Hip Hop, tension and anger in romantic relationships. Of course, the average rapper would use some less polite words to describe it.
By the time the mid-90s rolled around Hip Hop seemed completely fused with Rhythm and Blues and artists like Montell Jordan was heavily influenced by Gangster Rap and L.A. Funk.
Jodeci was another group heavily influenced by West Coast Rap and Funk and their jams were almost indistinguishable from a G-Funk record from Dr. Dre.
Cool Little Breakdance Ditty Put Out by a Punk Rock Producer
There's a lot of other music that could have been included in this piece, many song mixes with drums and sounds that were unusual back in the old days, but I sort of cherry picked a group of stand-out songs here that were not Rap so much as Hip Hop and Hip Hop inspired music that really was absorbed into the Hip Hop culture and influenced the genre from there on out.