List of Rap/Hip Hop Subgenres

Boom Bap

Style of hip hop that features a more vintage sound inspired by the music of the 70s with real instrumentation as opposed to electronic sounds.  There is a heavy emphasis on the kick and snare drums that form the “boom” and “bap”.  Additionally, it usually features sampling from the 1970s or before to add other musical elements as well as DJ scratching.  The style was most popular in the Hip Hop mainstream during the Golden Era (Mid 80s to Mid 90s).  Rap in boom bap that cover a wide range of topics and styles. 

Trap Musik

Style of hip hop known for subdivided hi-hats, heavy bass, sub-bass layered kick drums often utilizing the TR-808 drum machine.  Beats often include drums in half-time syncopated rhythms, layers of orchestral synthesizers, and melancholy dark ambience and lyrical content.  Trap started in Atlanta during the early 2000s and featured rapping about life in the “Trap” which is a building where drums are sold illegally.  By the 2010s ‘trap’ became a term to describe music that included the production associated with “Trap” music regardless of the content of the lyrics.  The style became popular in 2003 and has remained very popular in the present day.   


Easy listening hip hop characterized by slower tempos, relaxed moods, and lo-fi sounds.  Chillhop is often used as instrumental background music but can include rapping as well as long as the laid back tone is maintained.  The beats often have very smooth chords or jazz samples with a warm feel and punchy snare.   

Electro-hop and Electro-funk Hip Hop

Style of hip hop that focused on electronic sounds such as TR-808 drums, vocals featuring vocoding, talkboxing, and other forms of distortion or effects.  Beats were more syncopated and often was used for more dance oriented music.  The style was most popular in Hip Hop mainstream during the early 80s.  As Hip Hop evolved more electronic techniques and sounds became the norm in Hip Hop and it stopped existing as a distinct subgenre but has heavily influenced many subgenres that followed it.    

Hardcore Rap

Rap that is confrontational, aggressive, unfiltered, and/or vulgar.  Hardcore rap was a term to developed to describe the competitive Hip Hop culture found in the streets that was a complete contrast to the safe mainstream acts of the early 80s that marketed rap more in conjuction with disco, R&b, and funk culture to appeal to casual listeners as opposed to the Hip Hop audience.  The beats of hardcore rap have evolved from Boom Bap to incorporate many styles.  Hardcore rap still exists but the term isn’t used as much because the style has become typical in Hip Hop.      

Miami Bass

Electronic Hip Hop style that originated in Miami that featured heavier bass and more sexual content that previous styles.  It used the TR-808 drums including a sustained kick drum, heavy bass, and fast dance tempos.  The sexually explicit lyrics contained in the songs led to a court case that determined if cussing and sexual content should be allowed in distributed music.  The end result was that music of this kind must contain a parental advisory label on the cover.  The style was most popular during the Golden Era (Mid 80s to Mid 90s).  Miami Bass isn’t as popular anymore but was a major influence for the New Orleans Bounce Music and Dirty South Hip Hop.  

Dirty South Rap/Hip Hop

Hip Hop subgenre that bridged sounds developed by the slower beats of UGK, the chopped and screwed methods of Houston, Miami Bass, New Orleans Bounce, G-funk, horrorcore styles popular in Memphis, and gangsta/hardcore rap of the early 90s to develop an umbrella sound that spread throughout the southern United States.  The success of Dirty South Rap led the region to reaching its peak from about 2002 to 2004 accounting for over 50% of the singles on hip hop charts.  Dirty South is noted for having double/triple time hi-hats, expressive and high energy rap vocals, organs, and more expansive percussion.  Many of the songs dominated the club scene during the Platinum Era (Late 90s to Mid 2000s).  The term Dirty South Rap isn’t used anymore partly because the sound has been adapted by all regions of the U.S. making it oudated.  Also, subgenres spun out of Dirty South Rap such as Crunk Music and Trap Music are used more often to describe a sound since Dirty South was a very loose umbrella description.

Crossover Hip Hop

This subgenre  combines rap verses with melodious vocals on the hook and catchy tunes traditionally found in R&B and Pop music.  During the 80s and early 1990 there was a strong divide between the hardcore rap community and radio friendly acts that led to many people referring to Pop Rap acts as sell outs.  During the mid 90s hardcore rap acts started making music that blended the two styles and gained more acceptance for crossover music by both fan groups.  As a style built for radio, crossover Hip Hop has maintained a presence throughout all Hip Hop history.    


Alternative Rap/Hip Hop

A subgenre that encompasses the wide range of styles of Hip Hop that doesn’t conform to other established subgenres or styles.  Typically it is less aggressive than hardcore rap styles but does not emulate the catchy tunes of crossover styles or club songs.  Closely related styles include experimental hip hop, conscious rap, neo soul, and chillhop.  It reached a high level of popularity with the Native Tongue Posse in the late 80s and early 90s.  Since then its popularity has fluctuated but remains present in Hip Hop.  It’s not a very common term to describe artists or songs since it is a broad description more defined by what it is not as opposed to what it is.  

Underground Rap/Hip Hop

An umbrella term to refer to music less popular than the mainstream acts.  Underground acts include independent artists, artists on independent labels, and artists on major labels but function on a budget analogous to an independent label.  There isn’t an exact style that represents this subgenre but there is general direction that the music is targeted to an artist’s core fan base as opposed to chasing radio hits or appealing to casual fans.  Before the mid 90s the term wasn’t used as often since Hip Hop was viewed as a more underground genre.  By the late 90s when several acts started seeing mainstream success, the divide between the two worlds became more profound.  By the mid 2000s the distinction started to shrink due to the internet and advances in technology.  The line is more blurred with each new era.  

Mainstream Rap/Hip Hop

An umbrella term to refer to popular hip hop music from artists backed by major labels.  There isn’t an exact style that represents this subgenre but  there is general direction that the music is targeted for radio success and towards casual music fans.  By the late 90s when several acts started seeing mainstream success, the divide between mainstream hip hop and underground hip hop became more profound.  By the mid 2000s the distinction started to shrink due to the internet and advances in technology.  The line is more blurred with each new era.  

Instrumental Hip Hop

Simply hip hop music without vocals.  Often used more for background music but can feature more complexity, details, and instruments than Hip Hop featuring vocals on it.  Although producers have made and released hip hop beats without MCs since hip hop’s inception, those records rarely became well-known.  Although it has been around since the beginning of hip hop it had a jump in popularity in the mid 90s and has remained an active subgenre since.   


The art of manipulating sounds and creating new music, sound effects, mixes and other creative sounds and beats, typically by using two or more turntables and a cross fader-equipped DJ mixer.  As opposed to simply DJing, a turntablist plays the DJ equipment as an instrument of its own using scratching techniques as well as other elements of the equipment.  This subgenre has been popular since the beginning of Hip Hop but has found more success as a performing art than as a recording art.  

Battle Rap

A type of rapping that includes bragging, insults and boasting content in a face to face competition similar to a boxing match.  Battles can be spontaneous freestyle battling or be a scheduled match where each competitor prepares content for the encounter.  Crowd reaction and/or judges determine a winner for the match.  Battle rap is noted for its clever punchlines, showmanship, and crowd reactions as well as very harsh, disrespectful insults.  

Gangsta Rap

Style of hip hop characterized by themes and lyrics that generally emphasize a gangster lifestyle.  The genre evolved from hardcore rap into a distinct form in the mid 1980s and was very popular during the late 80s to mid 90s in Hip Hop becoming the most commercially lucrative subgenre during this time.  Many gangsta rap artists openly boast of their associations with various active street gangs as part of their artistic image, with the Crips and Bloods being the most commonly represented.  A microgenre of this called Mafioso Rap became popular in New York in the mid 90s.  This style leans to a more mafia or drug kingpin slant on the subgenre as opposed to street gangs.