Even though rap is indisputably considered the contemporary genre of music, it is deeply rooted in the earlier forms of African American musical narratives. Gospel, blues, and jazz are closely linked to the modern narratives of hip-hop and rap music. All of these manifestations of black music derived from the low status of African Americans, their desire to change the social order, and take a revenge for the inequality. If one compares these styles, it would be rather evident that the musical rhythms, the social message, and the methods of performance of rap, gospel, blues, and jazz indeed intermingle.
Referring to the domain of gospel, it can be described as the modernized version of so-called “spirituals” which were the religious songs of African American people. Gospel was a style that marked the “urbanization of traditional African American music” (Conyers Jr n.p.), and it became the prehistory of rap. Gospel music links the songs of people to the social context and message. For instance, gospel involves the “potential for redemption” appealing to the “Old Testament wrath” and the stories of defiance and vengeance (Patrin n.p). Gospel has always been a music that wanted to express a call or a response. Likewise, rap presupposes that the performers want to involve a strong social message, manifesting their protest against something or support the particular issues. In fact, both gospel and rap root in the same desire to express the suffering of African American people, translating their pain into words of a protest against the existing conditions and order.
Aligning rap to jazz, it is possible to witness a lot of shared features as well. It is a fact that originally, jazz had a bigger focus on entertainment, providing the listeners to relax after their hard work and forget about their problems. Yet, with its rise and development, jazz became a more profound and deep genre, discussing personal, social, and political problems, like rap does today. For instance, jazz wanted to convey the desire of “freedom that was lost due to slavery” (Conyers Jr 77). Both jazz and rap were born on the streets, being the music of simple people that did not involve exquisite motives and played cyclically reproducible samples. These styles presented the voice of real people who were not afraid to speak out their concerns. Also, it is clear that both jazz and rap are built on the improvisations which marked the professionalism and skills of musicians. Like jazz performers, rappers can produce their own narratives using the changing rhythmic patterns and even come up with the lyrics in the spot during the rap battles or freestyling. This characteristic connects rap to jazz since the latter was a musical style that had some folk roots, and therefore, it had no original form, and as a result, the melodies were changed in accordance with the personality of a singer, the theme of a concert, or the different audience. The broken rhythms is another feature that links jazz and rap. Jazz uses rhythmic patterns that can shift in pace or an accent, and the same happens in rap when the performers can slow up or down their verses, or highlight the particular parts of rapping. The combination of these stylistic elements, along with the message and the way of performing jazz and rap makes these genres interlinked.
At the same time, the manner of performing rap is also tied to the way of speaking blues. Originally, blues was a “folk art of urban African Americans” (Conyers Jr 164), the same as rap, having initiated its existence on the streets of New York. Blues could be characterized by the rhythmic reading of the verses with the accompaniment of guitar music. Its rhymed folk elements are indeed similar to rap and the manner of reading of its musical narratives by the performers.
All things considered, rap cannot be considered a completely self-standing musical tradition. This genre roots deep in gospel, blues, and jazz, marking the modern development of the combination of these styles that were performed by African Americans. Featuring easy motives, rhythmical elements, and simple beats, rap is indeed alike its predecessors. Rap is closely tied to gospel with regards to the social message, being also close to blues due to the manner of performance and instruments, as well as having the strongest connections with jazz, sharing the same style of broken rhythmic patterns and improvisations that are performed by both jazz musicians and rappers during freestyling.
- Conyers Jr, James L., ed. African American jazz and rap: social and philosophical examinations of Black expressive behavior. McFarland, 2015.
- Patrin, Nate. “Rap reckonings: How gospel is reborn in hip-hop’s search for the spiritual.” The Vinyl Factory, November 14, 2017. Available at: https://thevinylfactory.com/features/gospel-hip-hop-10-records/. Accessed November 28, 2018.