n. 1. A criminal charge. “There ain’t no way for a city ghee (fellow) to beat (to be acquitted of) a rap in them jerkwater (small town) courts.” 2. A prison sentence. “A tenner (ten-year prison sentence) is a big rap for a prowl (burglary).” 3. The blame; stigma.

v. 1. To press a criminal charge; to testify against. "The sucker (victim) ain’t gonna rap. We hit him with (we gave him) five C’s (five hundred dollars) to take a powder (to flee the jurisdiction of the court)." 2. To blame; to stigmatize.

- american underworld dictionary - 1950

There has been much written here and elsewhere, about the development of hip-hop culture, in both its positive and negative aspects, from the teeny bopper article with LL Cool J shirtless to the academic article on the metaphorosis of diaspora identity. But there is not much talk on what rap technically is. Many people make far flung dissertations on what a hip-hop identity means, without looking into what the basic technical definition of rap is.

I think one of the reasons that this isn't discussed more is that the actual answer is somewhat overwhelming. Rap is a style of singing that accentuates rhythm, rather than melody. It should be noted that all singing uses some rhythm, just like all singing uses some melody. Rap just uses way more of the first than other types of music. What is interesting about the technical definition of rap is that there is nothing interesting about it. After listening and participating in rap for some ten years, there seems to be nothing to technically link the style with the culture that surrounds it, or that people believe surround it. There is nothing particularly angry, or black, or urban, or rebellious about the fact that singing emphasizes rhythm instead of melody.

What is more interesting about the appearance of rap is that many people responded to it as if it was a radical idea, as if rhythmic singing was something that a subculture of black youths invented out of nowhere during the 1970s. As I said above, all singing has some aspect of rhythm to it, and many forms of popular music, in rock and roll, country, or the Blues, had strong rhythmic aspects to their singing, long before the advent of hip-hop rapping. In fact, if you go back across the entire history and prehistory of music, there is a good chance that melodic singing was the rather late addition. Chanted music was probably shared around ancient campfires for thousands and tens of thousands of years before melody became the dominant force in music.

Which is not to say that the growth of rap technique wasn't gigantic during the Golden Age and Renaissance of Hip-Hop. It is just that it was just that that cultural tool was picked up by that particular culture as a means of expression. The art of rhythmic singing may end up being practiced by a quite different culture or sub-culture in the future.

Rap (?), n. [Etymol. uncertain.]

A lay or skein containing 120 yards of yarn.



© Webster 1913.

Rap, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Rapped (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Rapping.] [Akin to Sw. rappa to strike, rapp stroke, Dan. rap, perhaps of imitative origin.]

To strike with a quick, sharp blow; to knock; as, to rap on the door.


© Webster 1913.

Rap, v. t.


To strike with a quick blow; to knock on.

With one great peal they rap the door. Prior.

2. Founding

To free (a pattern) in a mold by light blows on the pattern, so as to facilitate its removal.


© Webster 1913.

Rap, n.

A quick, smart blow; a knock.


© Webster 1913.

Rap, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Rapped (?), usually written Rapt; p. pr. & vb. n. Rapping.] [OE. rapen; akin to LG. & D. rapen to snatch, G. raffen, Sw. rappa; cf. Dan. rappe sig to make haste, and Icel. hrapa to fall, to rush, hurry. The word has been confused with L. rapere to seize. Cf. Rape robbery, Rapture, Raff, v., Ramp, v.]


To snatch away; to seize and hurry off.

And through the Greeks and Ilians they rapt The whirring chariot. Chapman.

From Oxford I was rapt by my nephew, Sir Edmund Bacon, to Redgrove. Sir H. Wotton.


To hasten.


Piers Plowman.


To seize and bear away, as the mind or thoughts; to transport out of one's self; to affect with ecstasy or rapture; as, rapt into admiration.

I'm rapt with joy to see my Marcia's tears. Addison.

Rapt into future times, the bard begun. Pope.


To exchange; to truck.

[Obs. & Law]

To rap and ren, To rap and rend. [Perhaps fr. Icel. hrapa to hurry and raena plunder, fr. ran plunder, E. ran.] To seize and plunder; to snatch by violence. Dryden. "[Ye] waste all that ye may rape and renne." Chaucer.

All they could rap and rend pilfer. Hudibras.

-- To rap out, to utter with sudden violence, as an oath.

A judge who rapped out a great oath. Addison.

<-- 5. To engage in a discussion, converse; (b) (ca. 1985) to perform a type of rhythmic talking, often with accompanying rhythm instruments. -->


© Webster 1913.

Rap, n. [Perhaps contr. fr. raparee.]

A popular name for any of the tokens that passed current for a half-penny in Ireland in the early part of the eighteenth century; any coin of trifling value.

Many counterfeits passed about under the name of raps. Swift.

Tie it [her money] up so tight that you can't touch a rap,

save with her consent. Mrs. Alexander.

<-- 5. conversation, also rapping; (b) (ca. 1985) a type of rhythmic talking, often with accompanying rhythm instruments; rap music. -->

Not to care a rap, to care nothing. -- Not worth a rap, worth nothing.


© Webster 1913.

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