It’s no secret that what we call “rap music” today has a diverse and expansive background. Like many other styles of music, as its popularity grew, so too did the culture surrounding rap. Alongside the new genre, new terms to describe the different aspects of the movement began to pop up. Over time, common words have taken on a modified meaning. One such example is that of the MC.
The true definition of an MC has shifted throughout the years as the role itself has changed. So what is an MC today, what is MC rap, and how have we gotten here? Let’s dive a little deeper.
The Origins of “MC” in Rap
The term MC is the abbreviation for “master of ceremonies”. The role can be traced back thousands of years and is believed to have originated in the Catholic Church. As a general definition, an MC is the official host of a ceremony or event. It commonly refers to the person who has the main control of the microphone in such situations.
The origins of rap, on the other hand, began to appear in the early 1970s. During the same period, many Jamaican immigrants moved to New York City. In doing so, they brought along their vast culture. DJs performing at block parties began isolating and extending the percussion tracks of popular funk, soul, and disco songs. Oftentimes, these new sounds were pulled from the roots of Jamaican music. An MC introduced the DJ and kept the crowd energized during these performances. This usually involved engaging in jokes and simple commentary between songs. As time went on, the MC started to become more involved in the performance itself. They started talking over and in sync with the music, using rhymes and chants to further engage the crowd.
How MC Rap Has Evolved Over Time
There have been changes to the specific MC rapper meaning over the years. The traditional “hype man” role is much less common than it was. Instead of simply speaking in sync with the beat, pre-written or ad-lib rhyming verses were added. In the beginning, MCing was seen as a fad that would die out in short order. Yet, it continued gaining popularity, becoming an art in its own right.
By the time The Sugarhill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, this style of music was gaining ground outside the block party scene. In the 80s, the genre continued to evolve with groups like Run DMC pushing boundaries and breaking into the mainstream music scene. During the 90s, the MC became the focal point of performances, led by artists such as 2Pac, Biggie Smalls, Nas, and Jay-Z.
Fast-forward to the 2020s and humble MC rapping has morphed into the vast genre of hip-hop. It now includes a variety of sub-genres and styles, transcending the U.S. and influencing music across the world.
What Makes a Successful MC
The MCs that led to the creation of hip-hop as a whole often differ from the rap artists we see today. But, the hallmarks of a good MC remain unchanged. The focus of rapping is typically described as both true self-expression and entertainment. There’s a unique skill set that all performers must have to keep a crowd engaged throughout an entire show. The three main skills a successful MC needs are rhythm, rhyme, and stage presence. Overlook one and the performance suddenly becomes lackluster, leaving the crowd wanting.
It can be argued that all genres of music have a basis in rhythm. That being said, none truly rely on the rhythm as a tool as much as rap. A strong rhythm in the song helps draw people in and keeps them hooked throughout the performance. Meanwhile, the artist’s ability to find and harness that rhythm is what makes hip-hop, hip-hop.
From a stylistic standpoint, rapping is a mix of speech, poetry, prose, and singing. Meanwhile, the rhythm of the rap is what pulls it all together. Rap can technically be performed without accompanying music. However, the beat is required to be considered MCing from a traditional standpoint.
Rhyming has many different layers and techniques. There are, of course, simple rhyming schemes such as those often found in children’s books. But in the world of MCing, complex rhyme schemes and multi-syllabic rhymes are the stars of the show. Being able to tell a compelling narrative through rhymes is a true skill. Some individuals spend years trying to master it, while it comes naturally to others.
Rhyming in rap is arguably the most important part of a performance. MCs have even created new and unexpected rhymes throughout the years. In fact, some musical scholars credit rap as having the largest collection of rhyming words. This would mean that rap has done more for language as a whole than any other art form.
Since MCs are charged with keeping the crowd entertained and engaged, stage presence is key. It’s so important that many modern rappers have their own style of delivery. This makes most rappers instantly distinguishable, both on stage and on the radio. Tone, enunciation, and vocal strength are required to successfully deliver a bar. Breath control and overall movement add an extra layer to live performances.
An MC must have mastery of all of these aspects to present the song in the manner they intended. For example, pausing to take unplanned breaths can ruin the message they’re trying to convey. Similarly, a fast-paced, intense rap doesn’t suit a calm and still performance.
Are All Rappers MCs?
Though the terms are often used interchangeably, whether rappers and MCs are the same is up for debate. The real answer isn’t a simple one and often varies based on who you ask. During the initial rise of the genre, many MCs used the term “MC” in their stage name. Though this is much less common now, individuals unfamiliar with the culture as a whole may find that this adds another layer of confusion.
The prevailing argument can be summarized as all MCs are rappers, but not all rappers are MCs. This is because the term MC has been used for decades to describe a specific type of performer. One that not only has the ability to create and maintain a rap but also to hype up the crowd. In contrast, modern rapping has a broader blend of tones, emotions, and musical influences. Additionally, MCs tend to freestyle during their performances more than general rappers.
The Lasting Impacts of MC Rap
The art of MCing has come a long way since the 1970s. It has birthed an entire genre of music beloved by millions all over the globe. MCs have shaped rap music as a whole, experimenting with language and sound and inspiring generations of future rappers. But they aren’t finished yet. Hip-hop continues to evolve more and more each year. Alongside this, the role of MC rappers keeps changing. But one thing is for sure. They’ll keep driving the music forward and leaving behind a vast legacy as they have from the beginning.