Whether it be African-Americans, Black British individuals, or Caribbeans, the 2020 BLM movement united the African diaspora across the world. Reflecting on that, it is only appropriate to see what else unites the diaspora profoundly, and rap music may be that uniting force. For some time now, “rap was created by African-Americans” has been the prevailing narrative in our society. However, for as long as rap music has remained at the forefront of popular culture, no one has questioned this narrative or even disputed it in any way, shape, or form.
While it is true that traditions such as scatting in jazz and improvisational rhyming during soul music breakdowns are practices that have their roots in African-American culture, for that to be cited as the source of rapping is somewhat questionable. However, many individuals do look at hip-hop through this lens. Moreover, many US citizens class other nations’ rapping as an appropriation of American culture which is an opinion derived from a long-lived falsehood.
Briefly looking at the UK, in 2016, when grime artist Skepta released his award-winning album ‘Konnichiwa’ and MCs such as Stormzy began to gain slight traction in the US, many Americans saw the UK-born genre of grime as a sub-genre of hip-hop, merely due to the fact that it involves rhyming and a beat. This isn’t to say the genre wasn’t influenced by hip-hop in many ways. However, the rapping element came from a different country; even that nation got it from somewhere else, and it is not the United States.
As a form of expression, rapping is undeniably something that African-Americans have excelled at and helped spread across the globe. However, is it really their sole creation, or is the art form rooted in something much deeper? I’m afraid it may be the latter, despite what that prevailing narrative suggests. The true origins of rap have been expounded by the likes of KRS-One and Akala. However, the truth always seems to fall on deaf ears.
Not to disparage anyone or their culture, but concerning rap, a thorough exploration into the art form’s history would lead you back to the ‘Gold Coast’ of West Africa. This is where the stylistic origins of rap come from. Furthermore, no one individual created it. Before the creation of a shattered African diaspora spread across the globe, the majority of Black individuals currently living in the Americas and Europe were once residents of this coastline.
Here, a unique culture existed known as ‘Griot Culture’. The term griot has been referenced in many hip-hop tracks. This is the true foundation of modern-day rap music. The bedrock, so to speak. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, griots were travelling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintained a tradition of oral history in West Africa. Numerous historians have concluded that griots utilized drums such as djembes and bongos to enhance their features.
This culture is something that would travel to the Americas. If we consider the displacement of these Africans as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, we suddenly begin to see the bigger picture of how the art of storytelling over drumbeats may have its origins in locations such as the ancient Mali and Ashanti empires, instead of merely just the Bronx in the mid-’70s. Griot culture manifested itself differently across the Americas, from hip-hop to reggae. From grime to dancehall, they all incorporate elements from that same griot culture.
So, without this article turning into a lecture, it has its roots in Africa, and those early griots are the first MCs. So many fantastic art forms have been born from this pre-colonial tradition, including hip-hop, grime and the genres mentioned above. However, unfortunately, this does mean that…no, the US did not invent rapping, but neither did any other country in existence today. You can find out more in the video below.