Our Living Language The culture of hip-hop has been the source of dozens of words and expressions in American English, of which rap is one of the most familiar. The word is probably a development ultimately of rap meaning to hit. It shows up in the early 1900s in the extended meaning to express orally, as used by so notable a figure as Winston Churchill in 1933. Over the next few decades it came to mean to discuss or debate informally, a meaning that was well established in the African-American community by the late 1960s. A decade later the word was applied to an evolving style of music characterized by, among other things, beat-driven rhymes of an often improvisatory nature. The slang that is integral to the lyrics of rap continues to be a source of borrowings into colloquial American English; recent examples include chill, meaning to calm down, and dis, meaning to show disrespect to. These are but the latest examples in a long series of such borrowings from Black English stretching back a century or more, many of them directly from popular music lyrics or from musicians lingo.
rap /rp/ n.1 [C] a knock, loud tap: I heard a rap on the door, and I opened it.2 [C] slang the qualities or character (usu. negative) people believe s.o. to have, (syn.) reputation: He has a bad rap as a thief, but actually he is honest.3slang ones ability to talk well and at length: She has a good rap once she starts talking.4 [U] a type of music in which the artist speaks to a strong rhythm: Rap became popular in the 1980s. v.rapped, rapping, raps1 [I;T] to knock, tap loudly: My friend rapped on my door, and I let her in.2slang [I] to talk about s.t. a lot: We rapped about going to college and decided to apply.3 infrml.to take the rap: to receive punishment for the wrongdoing of s.o. else: The top mobster was responsible for the crime, but an underling took the rap and went to jail.
Usage Note: People who perform rap music are called rap artists, not rap musicians, because a rap performance combines dancing, talking, and singing in rhyme. Recently, some rap artists have been criticized for using violent words and ideas, but other artists use rap music to tell about life in American cities.