A: This is one of the trickier questions we’ve tried to answer. It seems every time we’re about to arrive at an easy explanation someone throws in a different opinion. Some maintain that rap is a kind of music, whereas hip-hop is a lifestyle — one that includes rap, break dancing, DJing, and graffiti art. Rap pioneer and sage KRS-One says simply, “Rap is something you do, but hip-hop is something you live.”
Others, however, insist that hip-hop is a musical style distinct from rap, for very specific reasons: mainly hip-hop has a particular beat and uses scratching and “breaks” (samples). They claim rapping over a soul or heavy metal track could never be hip-hop. In other words, these folks say all hip-hop is rap, but not all rap is hip-hop.
Unfortunately for us label-hungry knowledge junkies looking for a quick fix, we’ll never arrive at a firm answer. Designations such as “rap” and “hip-hop” are never set in stone, but are free to flow and evolve, kind of like the songs themselves. Of course, some hip-hoppers just enjoy the scene and leave it at that. In the words of the ever-eloquent Biggie Smalls: “Birthdays was the worst days. Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay.”