Rap music lyrics are also many times called hip
hop lyrics interchangeably. In rap music, it is one of the few
genres (other than perhaps folk) where the lyrics are more important
than the music.
Rap music lyrics feature primarily a storytelling of the black
urban experience, though a few white rappers have arisen to prominence
as well. The lyrics of rap music started out as a boastful response
that an MC (emcee) would have to a DJ (deejay) who was playing music,
scratching records and later sampling and mixing sound as well.
This kind of boastful repartee would develop in lyrical quality
and content to the point of urban poetry and storytelling.
Rap music lyrics have the feel of improvisation but with rhyme
and some have even attributed the spontaneous poetry of boxer Muhammad
Ali in the 1960s as an influence to the lyrics that would develop
in the 1970s. A mixture of poetry and gritty language, rap music
lyrics have caused a wave of censorship seldom seen in any singing
circles this century.
The profanity, violence and sexual nature of some rock and rap
music lyrics were one of the leading causes for the Recording Industry
Association of America (RIAA) to establish the Parental Advisory
on albums in 1985. Explicit lyrics were labeled as such and were
sometimes called Tipper stickers because of Tipper Gore's role in
the labeling, though rap had not really come into its own at this
Later, gansta rap would come on the scene and cause a backlash
among critics that the lyrics were inciting violence and inappropriate
sexual behavior with its younger listeners. Artists like Ice Cube,
Ice T, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur were accused of glorifying urban
gang life and the search for bling bling as the ultimate goal in
In the 1990s to present, rap music lyrics have competed with rock
for being the voice of anti-establishment, rebellion and giving
a voice to the previously voiceless. White rapper Eminem
has repeated stated that his rap music lyrics have given a voice
to young urban kids who would study his phrases under a microscope
since they didn't know the words previously existed to express their
culture, situations and feelings.
While much of the words of rap music can be gritty and violent,
others ironically can feature lyrics
of love and relationship as well. Some of the Akon
lyrics point to this as he can sing about the desire for relationships
as well as booty calls.