From African Americans to Black Britons to Caribbeans, the BLM 2020 movement has united the African Diaspora across the globe. Reflecting on this, it’s only appropriate to see what deeply unites the diaspora, and rap music can be that unifying force. For some time, “rap was created by African Americans” has been the dominant discourse in our society. However, as long as rap music remained at the forefront of popular culture, no one questioned this narrative or even challenged it in any way.
While it is true that traditions such as scatting in jazz and improvisation of rhymes during soul music breakdowns are practices that have their roots in African-American culture, it is somewhat questionable whether this is cited as the source of rap. However, many people look at hip-hop through this lens. Additionally, many American citizens classify rapping from other nations as an appropriation of American culture which is an opinion derived from a long-standing lie.
In short, in the UK in 2016, when the artist grime Skepta released his award-winning album ‘Konnichiwa’ and MCs such as Stormzy began to gain traction in the US, many Americans saw the UK-born grime genre as a subgenre of hip-hop, simply due to the fact that it involves rhyme and rhythm. That’s not to say the genre hasn’t been influenced by hip-hop in many ways. However, the rap element came from another country; even this nation got it from somewhere else, and it’s not the United States.
As a form of expression, rapping is undeniably something that African Americans have excelled at and helped spread across the world. However, is this really their only creation, or is the art form rooted in something much deeper? I fear it will be the last, despite what the mainstream narrative suggests. The true origins of rap were exhibited by people like KRS-One and Akala. However, the truth always seems to fall on deaf ears.
Not to disparage anyone or their culture, but when it comes to rap, a thorough exploration of the history of this art form would take you back to the “Gold Coast” of West Africa. This is where the stylistic origins of rap come from. Moreover, no one created it. Prior to the creation of a shattered African diaspora that stretched across the globe, the majority of black people currently living in the Americas and Europe once resided on this coastline.
Here, a unique culture existed known as the “Griot Culture”. The term griot has been referenced in many hip-hop tracks. This is the real foundation of modern rap music. The base, so to speak. For those who may not be familiar with the term, griots were itinerant poets, musicians and storytellers who maintained a tradition of oral history in West Africa. Many historians have concluded that griots used drums such as djembes and bongos to enhance their traits.
This culture is something that would travel to the Americas. If we consider the displacement of these Africans as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, we suddenly begin to get a big picture of how the art of storytelling over drumbeats may have its origins in places such as the ancient Mali and Ashanti empires, instead of just the Bronx in the mid-70s. Griot culture has manifested itself differently across the Americas, from hip-hop to reggae. From grime to dancehall, they all incorporate elements of this same griot culture.
So, without this article turning into a conference, it has its roots in Africa, and these first griots are the first MCs. So many fantastic art forms were born out of this pre-colonial tradition, including hip-hop, grime, and the genres mentioned above. However, sadly, that means… no, the United States didn’t invent rap, but neither did any other country in existence today. You can find out more in the video below.