How to rap

  • Find out about rap and its history, including hip-hop, MCs, sound systems and grime.
  • Explore rap by artists like C Cane, Stormzy, Kate Tempest and Slowthai.
  • Get ideas for making your own rap.
Grime artist C Cane explains some simple steps for how you can get started with rap.

Rap is a popular form of music.

It can fit over many different types of music.

It usually takes the form of couplets, which are pairs of rhymed words.

Hip-hop is the style most associated with rap. There are many different styles popular in different parts of the world, for example grime and drill in the UK and Afro Trap in France.

In the 1970s and 80s, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were one of the biggest rap groups.

The history of rap

Rap, as it is known today, began in New York. When Jamaican sound system culture arrived there in the late 1970s, it had a history of MCs toasting - speaking over tracks played by the DJ - to entertain the crowd and keep them engaged. From this, a new style of music emerged, known as hip-hop.

Hip-hop gave the world some of the first popular rappers, along with beats made by DJs scratching and cutting together parts of records.

A whole culture was created around hip-hop, with graffiti art and B-boys dancing to the music.

Rappers combined rhymes with beats to make entertaining music for parties. These lyrics would often brag about being the best MC, and rap battles became a way for two MCs to decide who was the crowd’s favourite.

As rap progressed, rappers moved from simple rhymes to more complex lyrical patterns, including poetic techniques like internal rhyming or assonance. Rakim and Big Daddy Kane were some of the first artists to use this more lyrical style, which paved the way for global superstars like Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Nas and Jay-Z.

Rap broke through into the UK in the 1970s and 80s. The London Posse and the Cookie Crew were two successful early British rap groups.

The Cookie Crew were one of the first big British rap acts in the 1980s.

Listen to these examples of rap music

Listen to Big for Your Boots by Stormzy. This is a Live Lounge version of his popular grime track.
Listen to Lionmouth Door Knocker by Kate Tempest. She paints a picture of London by describing a housing estate in great detail.
Listen to Doorman by Slowthai. In the UK, home grown styles like grime combine rap with higher tempos, new rhyme patterns and an energetic delivery.

Get started in rap

Choose a theme - it could be about anything, for example where you live, your family, school. Write down lots of words that you associate with your theme, they don't need to rhyme at first.

When you have the words, try to build some rhymes. Rap is often written with couplets that go at the very end of each line. Find some pairs of rhyming words that work well together as you're writing, and aim to keep the lines all the same length.

Project self-confidence – often rappers will write about being the best at what they do.

Work on performing and writing lyrics that get the crowd excited.

Listen to more

Try setting your rap to this remix of The Sound Of Us.

Listen to the electronic mix of The Sound of Us.
Listen to the bass drum track of The Sound of Us.

Keywords

KeywordDefinition
rappingReciting words to a beat.
MCsMasters of Ceremonies - another term for people who rap.
coupletA pair of rhyming words.
internal rhyme / assonanceMatching the sounds of words within lines as well as at the ends of each line.
grimeA type of rap from the UK with high energy, electronic sounds, and new flows and rhyme patterns.
sound systemLarge outdoor speaker systems which originated in Jamaica and were often run by a group of DJs and MCs.
B-boysBreakdancers - this originated with people who danced to the DJs playing breaks in hip-hop music. (Breaks are the repeated drum breakdowns from existing tracks.)

Next steps

How to write a song
Electronic music
Writing lyrics