Let’s be clear: Rap has always been musical. But back in the day, rappers generally, well, rapped: talked in cadence over a beat. Fans judged MCs primarily by their rhymes and rhythms, not their melodies.

Now? Rappers are mostly singers: MCs from Drake to DaBaby slip seamlessly in and out of melody. Some hits that appear on Billboard’s Rap charts feature literally no rapping. When did this change?

In this episode of Hit Parade, Chris Molanphy walks through the history of hip-hop—from Gil Scott-Heron to Lil Nas X—to trace the evolving role of melody in rap’s conquest of the charts. The broadening of rap to include more female MCs, from Queen Latifah to Lauryn Hill, had a lot to do with it. But all roads lead through rap-and-B’s power couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé. The pivot point may have been when Queen Bey realized she could sing with triple-time flow like the baddest MC.


Podcast production by Asha Saluja.

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