Rap is music with an insistent beat and accompanying lyrics, which may incorporate digital sampling (extracts from the recordings) and closely related to hip-hop. The lyrics are spoken or chanted rather than sung. They may either rhyme in the conventional manner of verse or derive their rhythm from the beat. Many raps feature both types of lyric. The subject matter can range from traditional poetic themes, such as love and nature, to controversial "gansta raps" that have been condemned for their misogyny and for glamorizing drugs and violence.


The use of repetitive drum beats to punctuate and dramatize spoken narratives is thought to have derived from West Africa, where it has been a common practice since precolonial times. The recitative – a style of singing that resembles (or is) speech – has a long tradition in the West, being used in opera and musicals.


The use in English of the word "rap" as a verb or noun meaning "rap" dates from the 16th century, but its application to a form of music began among African-Americans in the 1960s. One of the earliest exponents was Gil Scott-Heron (1949–2011), a jazz musician who became known as "the godfather of rap". The style came to prominence in 1979 when "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang, a New Jersey trio, became the first rap record to make the Top 40 singles chart. There followed a long line of rap stars, including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys. Later came a second wave ridden by, among others, P-Diddy, Snoop-Dog, Jay-Z, Eminem, and Kanye West.