Who started rap music

theme - music

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee /

his hands can't hit, what his eyes can't see. "

(Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee /

his hands cannot hit what they cannot see)

Is this perhaps the very first documented rap? Might be. There is already a lot in it: it rhymes, it's funny and poetic, it's an abuse. Only - the two-liner from 1974 does not come from a rapper, but from a boxer: Muhammad Ali. He was also a great master of verbal punches - and thus a pioneer of rap. One of many, because the rhythmic, rhyming chant, which has become a trademark in hip-hop, has a fairly extensive family tree.

Some see the roots of rap in West Africa. That's what David Toop does. With “Rap Attack. African Jive to New York Hip Hop “wrote a classic of music journalism in 1984, which was reprinted, updated and supplemented three times over the following 16 years. Toop sees the ancestors of rap in the Griots, a kind of professional singer, consultant and storyteller. This caste of musicians formed a mixture of a living history book and daily newspaper and thus cultivated an oral tradition with musical means, which sometimes went critically or polemically into judgment with the powerful. The Yoruba women in Nigeria also rhyme ridiculous poems, which they sometimes use as a means of public controversy.

Elijah Wald, in turn, blues musician and music historian, has explored another line of rap tradition: that of the Afro-American humiliating poem known as Signifyin ‘or The Dozens. Anyone who has ever wondered where the “Your Mudda” sayings come from will find Wald's book “Talking‘ Bout Your Mama. The Dozens, Snaps, and the Deep Roots of Rap “find some surprising historical answers. With the nasty verses, which also appeared in songs for the first time in 1917, real competitions were held - quasi archetypes of the MC battle - in which the winner is whoever has the best rhyme in store.

Nasty verses, godly declamation: Rap knows many, very different sources

Wald and many others agree that and to what extent hip hop continues the tradition of the blues. It is rooted in the work songs of the slaves abducted from Africa, which they sang in the fields in the southern United States. Even then, sung and spoken parts alternated, and the “call and response” emerged, an interaction between singer and choir, or - later - between singer and audience. How important this was in early hip-hop can currently be seen on Netflix: as a fictional variant in the old-school series "The Get Down" by Baz Luhrmann, the second season of which started in the spring. And in the documentary version “Hip-Hop Evolution”, a four-part series that describes the path of hip-hop from its humble beginnings in the Bronx to its march into the mainstream in the early 1990s.

It is also undisputed that divine assistance played an important role in the development of rap. Because in the Afro-American churches not only singing but also spoken chanting shaped the services, which was also reflected in pop culture: There are many spoken word passages in the soul records of the 1960s and 1970s. James Brown, Millie Jackson and Isaak Hayes in particular made ample use of it.

And also on the radio there has been a lot of rhyming to music since the 1940s. This tradition came from jazz. The voice was used as an instrument in so-called scat singing. Current street slang was incorporated into Jive Scat. In turn, some radio DJs developed this further in order to breathe a little more life into the recorded music they played. This radio jive, in which new words were often invented, was later taken up by the Jamaican sound system culture. Out of this, "toasting" developed, in which - be careful: terminologically confusing! - the so-called disc jockey talks, sings, rhymes about the dub versions of the current records - sometimes improvising and sometimes imitating the singing voice while the selector puts the records on.

Mark Greif, literary scholar and editor of the magazine, emphasizes the lyrical legacy of rap n + 1. In his brilliant essay “Learn to rap”, he writes that hip-hop is not song, but language - and that it is a revival of the metric, rhyme-based poetry that came to an end in the 1920s.

So rap has many sources, which makes it as lively as it is long-lived. One of the most beautiful lines that German rap has produced is probably true: “Anyone who does hip-hop but only listens to hip-hop is engaging in incest.” Jan Delay nuzzles in the song “Fäule” from the beginners. And so it is no wonder that Muhammad Ali's classic rhyme, which he once slammed on the head of his opponent George Foreman, was soon processed further in hip-hop. The CC crew wrote in 1980:

"I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee /

There ain't no motherfucker that can rap like me "

Bonus beats

If you are to believe old-school hip-hop fans, their culture consists of four elements:


Anyone who says "HipHop" thinks primarily of Jay-Z or Nas, Future or Stormzy, i.e. MCs. This can be written out as “Master of Ceremonies” or “Microphone Controller”, depending on the faith, and of course means: rapper - the term is now almost identical to “hip hopper”. The rhythmic chanting is the most famous element of hip-hop, but it is by no means the only one.

For example: Chuck D, MC Lyte, Kanye West


In the past there was no rapper on stage without his DJ, who played the basic pieces live from vinyl records in the background, over which the artist then put his rhymes with the microphone. In between, the DJ received his own 15 minutes of fame as a real turntablist with scratch solos and other tricks. In the meantime it is mostly just a decorative object, the beats come off the tape.

For example: Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff


If you watch an old hip-hop video from the eighties or early nineties today, you will almost certainly see breakdancers. On “Jams”, in which all elements of culture used to come together in contrast to simple live concerts, dance figures such as windmill and styles, for example Electric Boogie by the breaker crews, were among the most expansive contributions. Today they only appear in commercials.

For example: Rock Steady Crew, Second 2 None, Flying Steps


Graffiti is the oldest part of hip-hop culture: subway cars bombed with tags were already driving through New York when rappers were no longer announcing a party. Even today, the - mostly illegal - graffiti tags and larger pieces can be found in cities and in the country, on motorway bridges, house walls or subway cars. Their design has shaped both record covers and hip-hop clothing.

For example: Futura 2000, Zephyr, DAIM

(Florian Sievers)

Cover picture: Naftali Hilger / laif