My mind was blown earlier this year when I discovered that rappers don’t want to be considered singers. Let me rephrase that. I don’t know any rappers (well any that are good at it any how), however avid listeners of rap music actually get upset if you claim that a rapper is singing. I can’t wrap my mind around that. I would have certainly guessed that the opposite would be true. Well I hate to be the barer of bad news to anyone who believes that rapping isn’t a form of singing, but I’m going to prove it to you. I welcome the debate, but you can’t win. I’ve got Noah Webster on my side.
Is Rapping Singing By The Definition Of Sing?
Let’s start by taking a look at the full definition of sing according to Webster’s Dictionary. We can play dictionary tag if this comes to a debate in the comments, but I’d like to assume we are all intelligent enough to understand the definitions of the words we will find within the definition of sing. Words such as beat, musical, tone, rhythm, etc. If you can’t define these words you have no business debating this with anybody. The full definition has many parts and not all apply to this conversation. We will take a look at the relevant pieces.
- To produce musical tones by means of the voice.
- To utter words in musical tones and with musical inflections and modulations.
A tone is a sound of definite pitch. We speak in tones. In fact, one may even tell their spouse or child not to, “use that tone with me mister.” Regardless of the words we are using, every syllable that leaves our lips has a definite pitch that can be measured. It is a tone, and we are producing it with our voice. Therefore, when a rapper spits out syllables at the speed of light he or she is producing tones at specific pitches (which just so happen to be the same pitch every time the song is performed). An opera singer or pop singer does the same thing. The syllables just happen to be drawn out in their chosen style.
Let’s take for example Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio. The opening line is full of inflections and modulations. These words and tones are repeated the same each time this piece is performed. If the tones or inflections were different, the song may not be recognizable. In fact, I challenge those who believe that Coolio is rapping and not singing (remember in my mind they are the same) to listen to the parody by Weird “Al” Yankovic titled Amish Paradise. Tell me… is he rapping or singing? If your answer isn’t the same for both songs, your argument is already falling apart.
- To relate or celebrate something in verse.
- To create in or through words a feeling or sense of song.
Do rappers not do both of these things. I would certainly say that rappers are trying to relate their feelings in verse. I don’t know that many of them celebrate anything all that positive, although this trend has changed a little bit as of late, but that is beside the point. Mackelmore creates a pretty powerful feeling in his pro-gay anthem Same Love. Eminem has created a diverse range of feelings about his mother alone over the years. N.W.A. certainly made police a little uncomfortable with Fuck the Police. I would bet that you can name any rap song worth airplay, and if I listen to it just once I can tell you what feeling they were trying to invoke.
Is Rapping Singing By The Definition Of Rap?
Let’s forget the fact that if you take any college level History of Music class they will likely teach you that the first form of singing was a form of rapping done by tribes of indigenous people. Let’s also forget that the definition of sing already swayed the jury. Let’s take a look at the definition of rap (in terms of musical performance), also from Webster’s Dictionary.
- A rhythmic chanting often in unison of usually rhymed couplets to a musical accompaniment.
I said I didn’t want to play dictionary tag but apparently I lied. They say rapping is a form of chanting. Go look up chant.
- To make melodic sounds with the voice; especially : to sing a chant.
- To recite something in a monotonous repetitive tone.
Are we noticing anything here? This is taking us full circle back to the definition of singing. I mean, if the word sing in the first half of the definition isn’t blatant enough, how about a repetitive tone in the second half. You can’t argue this. Well you can. One can argue anything. However you’ll begin to look a little uneducated. Like you don’t understand English.
What About The Gray Area Groups?
I’m also curious what people think about groups like Red Hot Chili Peppers, who though they are a rock band have quite a few chanted lyrics that sound very rappy (if that’s a word) to me. What about groups like Linkin Park who have a rock singer and a rap singer (that’s right I said it)? Is that singing? What about when they collaborate with Jay-Z?
The bottom line is any type of music made with the voice is singing. That is no disrespect to rappers at all. In fact I think it’s paying them a greater respect than saying they can’t sing. Opera, rock, pop, country, and yes rap are all very different and unique styles of singing, and just because somebody is good at one doesn’t mean they are good at another (unless their name is Kid Rock who just happens to be the jack of all singing trades). We’ve all heard Eminem try to sing to his daughter. It’s a touching song, but he’s not getting a record deal if he tries to do that on every song. Darius Rucker made the jump from pop to country but if he tried to rap he would be laughed off stage.
Listen, I know my argument isn’t a popular one. Most people disagree with me. If you do a search for “is rapping singing,” you will find articles like, 15 People Who Merged Rapping With Singing or 9 Reasons Rappers Start Singing. But these are all based on opinion and feeling. But as I stated at the beginning of this article. Noah Webster, the man behind the dictionary, supports what I’m saying.
Do you agree or disagree? Let’s get this debate going. And I hope to see arguments based on facts not opinions.
Photo Credit: NRK P3