Whether you are a fan of thumping beats of hip-hop music or the screaming guitars of rock ‘n roll or both, there is little doubt that you can identify one from the other easily. With the exception of some rap/rock intermingling over the years, one type of music sounds completely different that the other. It’s true that these two musical genres have many differences, but taking a closer look will also reveal that there are some similarities in the two that you may not have thought of before.
Simply looking at the historical timeline can identify one difference between hip-hop and rock music. Rock music got its start in the 1950s when the average radio listener tuned in to hear big band music from Lawrence Welk and popular crooners like Frank Sinatra or Perry Como. It wasn’t until Bill Haley and the Comets released “Shake, Rattle and Roll” in 1954 that all of America had heard of rock ‘n roll. Soon it became a musical sensation. It was much later in the late 1970s when hip-hop appeared on the national stage. Throughout the '70s the New York City streets saw the rise of hip- hop. At that time hip-hop was primarily the discovery or looped pre-recorded beats used for “breakdancing” until the Sugar Hill Gang released the first lyrical rap record with 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Within a couple of years, everyone knew what hip-hop was.
Lyrical and Instrumental
One of the primary differences in hip-hop and rock music is what is accentuated in the various songs of the respective genres. Hip-hop music focuses on the beat and is primarily concerned with a sound suited for dancing. In addition, the lyrics of hip-hop music are often the main focus of the song. Rap lyrics are like poetry spoken to a beat, and clever rhymes are among the most important aspects of any hip-hop song. On the other hand the rock musicians, while also concerned with lyrics, are more concerned with voice quality and singing, and the songs tend to focus on the skill of the musician on his instrument. Rock songs are often guitar-heavy and feature solos to accentuate the instrument as much as the voice.
While today’s rock and hip-hop tunes share a wide audience, this was not the case in the early years. Although African-Americans made up some of the most legendary talent in rock, the genre was still considered white people’s music for the most part. Hip-hop music was a genre born on the streets and performed and enjoyed almost exclusively by African-Americans at first. The popularity of hip-hop in the black community still outweighs its popularity in the white community today, but it is much more balanced.
Evolutions and Revolutions
Hip-hop and rock share some significant similarities as well. Both genres were evolutions of existing types of music. Rock ‘n roll evolved from rhythm and blues music, while hip-hop evolved from Jamaican “toasting” as well as disco, jazz and funk music from previous years. Both were also revolutionary musical movements in America. Rock ‘n roll was here to stay, as the song said. But so was hip-hop.
One major similarity in hip-hop and rock music is its place of origin. Both genres are true American art forms. Some people call Memphis, Tennessee the birthplace of rock ‘n roll. There is no doubt as to the origins of hip-hop. The boroughs of New York City were the epicenter of rap when the movement began.
The Same Hall
While people tend to classify hip-hop and rock as completely separate, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame stopped trying to separate the two in 2007. For the first time hip-hop artists were admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, showing that although they were distinctly different styles that they would share the same space in sharing their legacies.
Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.