Throughout history, rap artists have taken on a variety of forms based on the culture and society in which they have expressed their art. Roots of the music can be traced to West Africa; there, the rhythmic delivery of lyrics was used to tell the chronology of a people or culture. Elements of the art form of rap can be found in Ancient Egypt, the Deep South during the time of the American Civil War, and countless areas in American society where African Americans have migrated to or collectively taken root.
Rap artists are as diverse as they lyrics they present to their listeners. Some of the earliest rappers took a form that was more like spoken word poetry, such as Gil Scott-Heron. Other rap artists would simply take written lyrics and set them to musical segments or repeated elements from songs; DJ Hollywood used lyrics by Isaac Hayes as the material for one of the first examples of modern-day rap. Other artists would pride themselves on the complex relationship between words, rhymes, and the rhythm of the music; rappers like Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, and Rakim followed this style.
In contemporary society, rap artists have become social commentators of sorts; while the use of music to address issues of social injustice is not new, the presence of rappers in the fight against such racially-charged issues as police brutality and overrepresentation of minorities in prisons is undeniable. Artists including Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino have all made a name for themselves at speaking truth to power in America. Other rap artists reflect their religious beliefs, including artists like Lecrae and Hostyle Gospel rapping about Christianity and Brand Nubian and Busta Rhymes writing and performing lyrics pertaining to the Five Percenters. Ultimately, rap artists use their craft to achieve a variety of goals ranging from entertainment to education.