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Pet Sins January 2010

The meeting of rap and non-Western musical traditions

There are varying versions of the history of rap, each claiming different origins.1 One version claims that rap, 'born' in the Bronx, was a direct descendant of Jamaican 'toasting' (Jamaican deejays were prominent in New York hip hop culture at its inception).2 The 'toasting' of Jamaican musicians was in turn inspired by the scatting and jive talking of deejays on black American radio stations broadcasting from the southern United States 3 Its ultimate origins may lie in the 'spoken word' performances of the griots, traditional West African professional bards who served as oral historians and musicians.4

Rap music has reached beyond black American communities to find adherents in non-black communities of color who bring their own cultures into the mix. From its earliest days in the Bronx, rap has seen the involvement of MCs of Puerto Rican descent.5 More recently, Mexican American rappers such as Akwid are fusing Mexican musical styles with rap in a style called "urban regional"or "banda rap".6 Tha Tribe, a multitribal Native American drumming group, has blended hip hop and pow wow music.7 Asian American rapper Jin has made attempts to connect with his Chinese heritage through his music.8

In fact, rap has moved beyond the U.S. to become one of the most popular forms of music in the world.9 While local rappers have sprung up around the world, not all choose to merely imitate imported music from the United States. Some have chosen to localize rap (beyond the level of spoken language) by bringing their traditional music and values into their version of rap.

Brazilian rapper Rappin Hood merges samba and hip hop'.10 Iranian rappers have incorporated traditional instruments into their pieces, although this move is not necessarily viewed favorably by traditional musicians.11 They rap the poetry of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi.12 In Japan, the female rapper Hime has used tanka, an ancient form of poetry, in her performances.13 The Senegalese rap group Gokh-Bi System distinguished itself from the rest of the rap world with its fusion of traditional music with rap, funk and soul.14

American rappers of color have also integrated influences from other cultures into their work, collaborating with across ethnic or national boundaries. Rap group Wu-Tang Clan included the spoken word of Shaolin Monk Shi Yan-Ming reciting the Heart Sutra in 'Life Changes' (on their 8 Diagrams album).15 Black Eyed Peas collaborated with Brazilian composer Sergio Mendes in a new recording of Mende's "Mas Que Nada", injecting the energy of rap into a bossa nova classic.16 American rapper BabyGirl recorded a genre-crossing duet 'Mama' with Algerian rai singer Cheb Mami during his trip to the U.S.17


  1. Kurtis Blow Presents: The History Of Rap, Vol. 1
  2. Reggae Routes, p72, Wayne Chen
    When Did Reggae Become Rap (Jamaican.com)
  3. The Story of Reggae - Toasting & MCs
    RECORDINGS; Rap Plus Reggae - A Compelling Synthesis (NYT)
  4. The Evolution of Rap Music in the United States (yale.edu)
    Griot on wikipedia
  5. Pass the Mic!
  6. Latin Rap - Spanish Rap - Hip Hop Latino
    Banda Rappers for President (Village Voice)
  7. Tha Tribe, Hip Hop Meets Pow-Wow
  8. Rapper Jin Reconnnects with Chinese Roots, Backs Obama
  9. History of Hip Hop Music (ez-tracks.com)
  10. Rappin Hood - "Sou Negrao" (on National Geographic)
  11. The Loneliness of an Iranian Rapper
  12. Medieval Sufi poet all the rage in Iranian rap (Reuters)
  13. Hime on wikipedia
  14. Gokh-Bi System: Mission of Music
    Gokh-Bi System bio on vh1.com
  15. Heart Sutra on wikipedia
    Wu-Tang Clan "The 8 Diagrams" review on larhythms.com
  16. 'Mas Que Nada' on National Geographic
  17. Cheb Mami 'From South to North' on RFI Music