Spotlight on the Hip Hop song genre

The aim of our spotlights on different song genres is to make it easy for Music teachers to bring to life the different contemporary music styles.  In addition, for English teachers to have the knowledge and a great instrumental track for pupils to write song lyrics in a style of music they choose.

Hip Hop developed in the 1970s by African Americans, Latino Americans and Jamaicans in the bronx borough of New York City, but through times it became more than just a music genre. It started mainly with DJs that would mix music with turntables, experimenting with scratches and breaks while singers would Rap. And the use of new technologies like sampling and drum machines allowed the creation of new music by using old records. Nowadays Hip Hop culture include MCing/rapping, DJing, Break dancing, Grafiti writing, Beatmaking, Beatboxing, Autotuning.

We’re looked at some of the key features of instrumentation, rhythm & beat and chords & harmonies in Hip Hop songs.  Plus we’ve selected some Hip Hop songs to have a listen to.  Pupils can use our demonstration instrumental track to write their lyrics & melodies over.

While Hip Hop has evolved since the 1970s, creating many subgenres on its way, it is mainly defined by having strong drum beats that uses electronic sounds and samples from old records. The mix of synthesised sounds and samples of acoustic and even exotic traditional instruments from all over the world is a blending of modern and old times which until today has always been trendy.

Rhythm and Beat
Old school and contemporary Hip Hop have the same essence but different drum grooves. While the old school beats tend to be medium fast for break-dancers, it is very common nowadays to have slow beats that have a lot of drum movements and energy using sub basses and crunchy kicks.

Chords and Harmonies
Hip Hop is all about energy and beat. There are no rules really for chords and harmonies because there are many different sub-genres that uses all kind of combinations. Lofi-Hip Hop has a strong jazz influence while Trap is more defined by having less chords and a moving bass line.

Demonstration instrumental track
You can use our demonstration instrumental track below to have a go at putting your lyrics and melodies over a Hip Hop style instrumental.  The Demo instrumental is typical for nowadays Hip Hop beats. It uses mainly a sample of an instrument that reminds traditional instruments from somewhere in the world.  The song structure of this instrumental track is:

Intro x4
Verse x8
Prechorus x8
Chorus x8
2nd Verse x16
Prechorus (buildup) x8
Chorus x8
Chorus (or bridge) x8
Outro x8


Following song references are here to give you a wide idea of the hiphop sound.

This is a classic for old school hiphop. A strong drum loop, a repetitive piano pattern, some strings in the background and a lot of rapping.

Great production using a lot of traditional instruments and samples in the style of cuban music.

Fun song blending country singing style, traditional instruments like banjo with autotune and hiphop beat.

This production is made of 2 chords, a looped synth and a drum beat. Typical contemporary hiphop beat that feels slow but on which we move and dance double time.

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