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
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.
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
Jazz rap has close ties to the boom-bap era of hip-hop.
That’s because so many of the samples boom-bap producers used came from jazz and soul vinyls.
Jazz rap in the early 2000s pushed the limits of sampling techniques and combined complex rhyme schemes with off-kilter drum production.
To me, the two figureheads of jazz-rap are the late J Dilla and MF DOOM.
J Dilla is the producer who’s credited with pioneering the off-kilter, slightly swung drum production style that’s associated with Jazz rap.
MF DOOM is a master lyricist whose ability to string extremely complex rhymes into incredible storytelling rivals no-one.
Jazz rap artists to check out: Karriem Riggins, Knxwledge, Anderson .Paak
If there’s one genre of hip-hop you hear about most these days it’s trap.
Right now mainstream hip-hop—and really mainstream music in general from country to pop—is all about that trap beat.
Trap has many, many subgenres that we’ll unpack later, but in general, the genre originated in Atlanta and was pioneered by producers like Metro Boomin and Zaytoven.
Trap artists to check out: Gucci Mane, Future, Megan Thee Stallion
5. Mumble rap
Mumble rap is somewhat of a derogatory term for some artists. But, in many ways, it’s a fair description of a certain rap style that’s popular right now.
The genre is an offshoot from trap that plays with triplet-heavy rhyming used by many trap artists.
Mumble rappers will often rhyme very quickly in triplets while using unintelligible and sometimes made-up words.
Mumble rappers to check out: Young Thug, Lil Yachty, 645AR
6. Rap rock
Rap Rock combines the high voltage energy of rock music with the attitude and style of hip-hop.
The genre is rooted in late 90s acts like the Beastie Boys and Run DMC but grew to mainstream prominence with 2000s artists like Linkin Park.
Rap Rock often uses influences from punk and hardcore but leaves space for rap verses by incorporating hip-hop friendly drum parts inspired by drum and bass and boom-bap.
Rap rock artists to check out: Linkin Park, Rage Against the Machine
7. Country trap
Country trap is a relatively new genre with obvious connections to Atlanta trap and good ol’ Nashville pop-country.
The mega-hit that defined the genre is definitely Lil Nas X with Old Town Road, but outings from Nelly with Florida Georgia Line laid the groundwork for the genre.
Today’s modern country sound really does take a lot of cues from trap production, you’ll hear trap hats and 808 claps in many party-oriented pop-country songs if you listen closely.
Country trap artists to check out: RMR, Little Nas X
8. Gangsta rap
Gangsta rap is a subgenre of late 90s and early 2000s boom-bap.
To me, the sub-genre is particularly defined by its lyrical content that graphically describes the grittier side of life on the streets as a gang member.
But also, gangsta rap production often made heavy use of strings and orchestral samples from classical and jazz music.
The combination of the more formal sound and heavy boom-bap drums created a contrast that somehow felt suitable for the intense lyrical descriptions of violence and life on the streets.
Gangsta rap artists to check out: Jedi Mind Tricks, Geto Boys
Crunk is an absolutely incredible subgenre of rap that popped up in Florida and parts of the southwestern states over the 2000s.
It’s a really interesting genre of rap to me because it really sounds unique and different from most other kinds of rap. You know when you’re listening to a crunk rap song.
Crunk is definitely a precursor to the modern trap that’s so popular right now too. It makes use of fast hi-hat production and some pretty boomy bass kicks.
But what really pushes crunk over the top are its vocal characteristics—they often use loud and gnarly choruses that almost sound like they’re screamed into the mic.
The biggest crunk artist is Lil Jon, who’s famous for his prolific vocal features and his catchy way of shouting “YEAH’ and “OKAY”.
Crunk artists to check out: Lil Jon, Lil’ Scrappy, Soulja Boy
Drill is another trap-inspired rap style that made it into the mainstream towards the late 2010s.
The Chicago-based producers who created it like Young Chop and Chief Keef took inspiration from Atlanta-style trap but leaned heavily into speedy trap hi-hat production, brooding synth pads and crunchy horn samples.
It’s similar to gangsta rap’s reaction to boom-bap. Double down on the elements of trap music that hit hardest, and combine that with gritty lyrics about life on the mean streets.
Drill artists to check out: Chief Keef, Young Chop, Pop Smoke