Rap and Hip-Hop Vocabulary

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When music rap was invented, the English lexicon significantly changed. Understanding the world of rap and hip-hop music can be a challenge without the proper terminology. This guide aims to familiarize you with the important vocabulary associated with this rich and varied music genre.  
When Was Rap Music Invented

Music Production Terms

As much as the lyrics, the beats in rap and hip-hop are essential. Let's understand some key music production terms.

  • Beat: The rhythmic foundation of a track.
  • Sample: A portion of sound taken from a recording and reused in another song.
  • 808s: Refers to Roland TR-808, a drum machine known for its booming bass sound.
  • Loop: A repeating section of sound material.
  • Mixing: The process of adjusting levels and panning of recorded sounds.
  • Mastering: The final step in music production to balance the sonic elements of a mix.
  • Break: A portion of a song where certain instruments are soloed.
  • Hook: The catchy part of a song, often the chorus.
  • Verse: A set of lines in a song, usually carrying the main story.
  • Bar: A measure of time in music, typically containing four beats.
  • Hi-hat: A key part of a drum set. It consists of two cymbals played with a foot pedal. It can create short, crisp sounds when closed and sustained, shimmering sounds when opened. 
  • Synth: Short for synthesizer. It is an electronic musical instrument that generates and manipulates sounds. It uses electronic circuitry or computer software to produce a wide range of tones and textures. 

As you listen to beats and samples, you'll have a newfound appreciation for the subtle nuances and production elements that make each track truly special.

Vocabulary for Wordplay Devices

Here is a common terminology of some devices that rappers use to deliver their clever, thought-provoking, and catchy verses.

  • Rhyme: The similarity of sounds between words or syllables.
  • Metaphor: Comparing two different things without using "like" or "as."
  • Simile: A comparison using "like" or "as."
  • Alliteration: Repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
  • Punchline: A surprising or humorous phrase that concludes a rap bar.
  • Freestyle: Improvised or spontaneous rapping without prewritten lyrics.
  • Double Entendre: A phrase with two meanings, often used to clever effect.
  • Flow: The rhythm and rhyme scheme a rapper employs.
  • Diss Track: A song intended to disrespect or insult another artist.

By learning the vocabulary of the creative devices rappers use, you'll have an even greater admiration for the skill and imagination that go into crafting their verses.


Understanding Lyrics and Themes

Rap lyrics are like windows into the artist's world, touching on a wide array of themes and experiences.

  • Street Life: Chronicles the struggles and triumphs of life in urban areas.
  • Bravado: Expresses confidence, pride, and dominance.
  • Social Criticism: Questions societal norms and political injustices.
  • Wealth: Discusses the pursuit, acquisition, and display of wealth.
  • Love and Relationships: Explores romantic and platonic relationships.
  • Party and Leisure: Celebrates fun, partying, and enjoyment of life.
  • Mental Health: Raises awareness about mental health struggles.
  • Autobiographical: Shares personal stories and life experiences.
  • Empowerment: Promotes self-confidence, ambition, and individuality.
  • Spirituality: Discusses faith, religion, and spiritual growth.

As you connect with the lyrics and the messages they convey, your appreciation for the depth and breadth of rap and hip-hop will only grow.

Genres and Subgenres Vocabulary

When it comes to rap and hip-hop, there's a world of diverse sounds and vibes to explore.

  • Boom Bap: A style originating from the East Coast in the '80s and '90s, Boom Bap is known for its hard-hitting beats and complex lyricism. It typically features a strong focus on battle rhymes and wordplay.
  • Trap: Originating from the Southern United States, particularly Atlanta, in the '90s, Trap is characterized by its heavy, resonant 808 bass and rapid-fire hi-hats. It usually centers on lyrics about life in the "trap" or struggling urban neighborhoods.
  • Gangsta Rap: Emerging in the late '80s, Gangsta Rap presents lyrics that depict the gritty and often violent lifestyle of street gangs. The narrative content frequently includes themes of crime, violence, and survival in urban environments.
  • Mumble Rap: This style, which gained popularity in the 2010s, features unclear vocal delivery that often downplays lyric clarity in favor of catchiness and melody. Mumble Rap emphasizes vibe and rhythm over lyrical depth, using vocals almost like an additional instrument.
  • East Coast Rap: Originating from the Eastern United States, particularly New York, this style is known for its complex lyricism, intricate rhymes, and jazzy instrumentals. East Coast Rap often has a raw, gritty sound, influenced by the urban environments of cities like New York.
  • West Coast Rap: Originating from California, West Coast Rap is famed for its laid-back vibe and use of funk samples. It's associated with a more stylized, polished sound and often includes lyrics about lifestyle, gang culture, and social issues in the Western United States.
  • Dirty South: A style emerging from the Southern United States in the '90s, Dirty South is energetic and bouncy, often utilizing Southern dialects and regional slang in the lyrics. It's known for its vibrant party anthems and use of 808s and synths.
  • Conscious Rap: Conscious Rap actively promotes social awareness and critiques societal issues. It's characterized by its thoughtful, often politically charged lyrics that address themes like inequality, racism, and social justice.
  • Crunk: Originating from the Southern United States in the '90s, Crunk is a subgenre that incorporates shouting vocals and energetic, dance-friendly beats. It's often associated with party anthems and lyrics about letting loose and having a good time.
  • G-Funk: A subgenre that emerged in the early '90s from the West Coast, G-Funk combines the narrative themes of gangsta rap with funky soundscapes. It's known for its laid-back vibe, melodic synths, and heavy use of '70s funk samples.

You've taken a journey through the world of rap and hip-hop subgenres. Now, when you press play on a song, you'll have a keen understanding of its style and the cultural narratives it carries. 

Names of Elements of Hip-Hop Culture

Hip-hop is more than just music; it's a vibrant cultural movement with many defining elements. Explore the terms of things that make up this dynamic and influential phenomenon.

  • MCing: The act of rapping, which is the core element of hip-hop.
  • DJing: The art of mixing and scratching records.
  • B-boying: Also known as breakdancing, a style of street dance.
  • Graffiti: Street art, often used for self-expression or social commentary.
  • Beatboxing: Vocal percussion mimicking drum machines.
  • Street Fashion: A style influenced by hip-hop artists and fans.
  • Street Knowledge: Awareness and understanding of the street lifestyle.
  • Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship: Business activities of hip-hop artists beyond music.
  • Slang: Unique words and phrases used within the hip-hop community.
  • Cyphers: Freestyle rap gatherings promoting improvisation and competition.

By immersing yourself in the vocabulary of various elements of hip-hop culture, you've gained a broader understanding of its multifaceted nature. 

Definitions of Some Regional Slang and Dialects

In the world of rap and hip-hop, regional slang and dialects add a burst of color and flavor to the vocabulary. 

  • Hella (West Coast): A slang term meaning "very" or "a lot of."
  • Deadass (New York): Sincerely, truthfully.
  • Fye (South): Slang for "fire," used to describe something excellent.
  • Jawn (Philadelphia): A term for a thing or person.
  • Wavy (New York): Describes something cool or impressive.
  • Bando (Atlanta): An abandoned house, often associated with illicit activities.
  • On God (Midwest): A phrase meaning "I swear."
  • Cap/No Cap (South): To lie or to tell the truth, respectively.
  • Litty (Philadelphia): A term meaning "exciting" or "fun."
  • Thot (Chicago): A derogatory term for a promiscuous person.

By familiarizing yourself with these regional slang terms, you'll feel more connected to the roots of the music and truly understand the unique perspectives and experiences they represent in the songs.

Top 5 Notable Rap and Hip-Hop Artists

Going through the language-learning path, you will always discover cultural changes and personalities. Going further, you’ll learn a spotlight on five legendary figures who have left an indelible impact on the genre and explore their remarkable contributions.

  • Tupac Shakur: Hailing from the West Coast, Tupac Shakur is a legendary rapper whose powerful and poetic lyrics captivate listeners. Known for his insightful social commentary, his music carries a profound message that resonates even today, solidifying his status as an influential figure in the rap world. Some people 
  • The Notorious B.I.G.: Emerging from the East Coast, The Notorious B.I.G. is a revered artist celebrated for his impeccable storytelling abilities and smooth flow. With his distinctive style, he effortlessly paints vivid pictures with his words, taking listeners on captivating journeys through his music.
  • Jay-Z: Beyond being a rap icon, Jay-Z has established himself as a successful entrepreneur and visionary. Renowned for his exceptional lyricism, he effortlessly weaves intricate wordplay into his songs, leaving fans in awe of his skills. His illustrious career and impactful contributions have solidified his place among the greats.
  • Eminem: Hailing from Detroit, Eminem is a rap phenomenon renowned for his unparalleled wordplay and intricate rhymes. His music pushes boundaries, often delving into controversial themes with unapologetic honesty. He has left an indelible mark on the rap landscape with his raw emotion and technical prowess.
  • Kendrick Lamar: A modern-day icon, Kendrick Lamar has captivated audiences with his thematic albums and thought-provoking lyrics. His music is a blend of introspection and social commentary, addressing profound issues with a unique perspective. Kendrick's poetic brilliance and artistic vision have earned him widespread acclaim and adoration.

These five exceptional artists have reshaped the rap and hip-hop scene, leaving an enduring legacy for future generations. Through their innovative lyrics, powerful themes, and far-reaching influence, they've enriched English vocabulary.

7 Popular Idioms or Phrases in Rap and Hip-Hop Music

Rap and hip-hop have gifted us with more than just great beats and catchy lyrics. They've also introduced popular idioms and phrases into mainstream language.

  • "Drop a verse": To perform or create a song section.
  • "Spit bars": To deliver lyrics, particularly in an impressive manner.
  • "On the mic": Refers to performing or being ready to perform.
  • "Break it down": To explain something, or in music, to showcase a dance move or a beat.
  • "Straight fire": Describes something impressive or excellent.
  • "Feeling the vibe": To enjoy or resonate with the music or situation.
  • "In the cut": In the background or out of sight, often observing.

With this arsenal of idioms in your vocabulary, you can easily impress your friends! By recognizing and understanding such phrases, you'll not only appreciate song lyrics on a deeper level but also find yourself seamlessly blending in with the lively vocabulary of this genre.


Rap and hip-hop hold a rich tapestry of words and expressions that paint vivid pictures of life experiences, societal issues, and emotions. By understanding this vocabulary, you'll not only appreciate the music more but also gain insights into a culture that has been a transformative force globally.

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Kane SimOct 31st, 2023
I like how you explain different slang expressions and their usage in songs. It has made learning this vocabulary truly exciting!