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Updated: Jan 12, 2021

by Alex Lavoie

Just about 40 years ago, hip-hop was born. Ever since, rap has exploded into countless subgenres and styles.

Today every hip-hop and rap subgenre sounds completely different, even if they still follow the core tenants of rhyme and beat.

From the early days of underground New York hip-hop to the twisted sound of UK Drill, the only thing that’s been constant in the genre is change, especially with the evolution of technology.

In this article we’ll briefly explore each genre that matters, so you know what’s out there to explore in-depth.

Here’s 22 rap styles that stick out to us.


1. Old school

Let’s kick it off at the most obvious place to start—old school hip-hop.

Old school for me encompasses most hip-hop from the late 70s and mid to late 80s.

And yes—there are notable subgenres within the old school canon, but I’ll cover and discuss those a little later.

But in general, old school hip-hop is characterized by early uses of samples, turntablism and simple rhyme schemes.

You’ll mostly also hear the use of duple meter. The use of triplets wasn’t much of a thing in the early days.

Hip-hop was born in New York, so naturally, that’s where most old school hip-hop artists hail from.

But, in the subgenres of old school hip-hop that we’ll explore later, you’ll see that New York was definitely not the only place where hip-hop was happening in the 80s

Artists to check out: Sugar Hill Gang, Tupac, Slick Rick


2. Boom-bap

Boom-bap gets its name from its distinctive drum production style.

The mid-90s old-school hip-hop genre made heavy use of strong kicks and snare, sometimes putting those drum sounds ahead of the hi-hats and other parts of a beat arrangement.

Boom-bap is truly a samples-oriented style of beat making.

Many producers from this time period would sample sections of soul and funk vinyl straight into an SP-1200 and then loop them to create repeating hypnotic, punchy and incredibly powerful beats.

It’s a beat making production style that ultimately had a huge impact on how music would be made going forward.

Between the stories from the streets that boom-bap MCs would rhyme about and the unique and hard-hitting sound of boom-bap drums, the genre is still one of the most well-loved and revered styles of rap.

Boom-bap artists to check out: Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep


3. Jazz rap