Singing and rapping continue to evolve each year, and defining every genre they represent isn’t always easy. But when considering whether it’s possible to sing and rap at the same time, the definitions of both and how they relate ends up being key to the answer. Are singing and rapping exclusive from one another?
Technically, no, it’s not possible to sing and rap at the same time. Since each definition includes characteristics of the other, but only singing must include “musical tones,” singing and rapping simultaneously would only end up matching the definition of singing and not rapping.
Still confused? The rest of this article will explain a few topics related to this question in great detail, including the exact difference between singing and rapping, why singing and rapping at the same time isn’t possible, and how some artists are able to incorporate both styles in their music very well.
What’s the Difference Between Singing and Rapping?
When it comes to singing and rapping, it is worth recognizing that neither is really a subset of the other (singing isn’t a kind of rapping, and rapping isn’t a kind of singing). Instead, singing and rapping are both types of vocal performance more broadly. But before discussing whether they can be done at the same time, it is important to clearly define what is meant by both words.
What Defines Singing?
Singing can be defined as producing “musical tones by means of the voice.”
What Defines Rapping?
Rapping can be defined as “a type of music of African American origin in which rhythmic and usually rhyming speech is chanted to a musical accompaniment.”
At first glance, we can see that these two definitions seem to be differentiated by “musical tones” and “rhythmic […] speech.” While this is a helpful way of thinking of the two styles of vocal performance (with rapping having its basis in spoken rhythm, and singing having its basis in vocally produced tones), there is much more to these definitions than this basic distinction.
What the definitions of singing and rapping really show is a crossover that leads to an often overlooked implication: singing can also include rhythm. In fact, the odds of hearing singing without rhythm is almost zero. However, rapping, in definition and in practice, does not include “musical tones”–vocalizing a melody, a particular pitch, or even producing or holding tone.
Of course, rappers can often be great singers, and rap songs can include singing within them, but rapping itself does not require vocalizing musical tones in order to be considered rapping.
And it even goes a step further than that. If someone were to rap with musical tones, it would actually define singing, not rapping. This is because everything that differentiates it as rapping from singing would no longer be recognizable (i.e., speaking rhythm, rather than producing musical tones in rhythm).
Therefore, because of this crossover of definitions, where singing can also include rhythm, rapping with musical tones would only define singing, for however long it occurred.
Why Singing and Rapping at the Same Time Isn’t Possible
With these definitions providing a better understanding of what makes singing and rapping similar and different, the question of whether the two kinds of vocal performance can be done at the same time is already much clearer.
Singing and rapping at the same time is not impossible due to any human physical limitations, like an inability for vocal cords to match the shapes required to perform both actions at the same time. On the contrary, singing and rapping at the same time is impossible due to the fundamental relationship between each of their definitions, and the fact that performing both at the same time would automatically define singing, and only singing.
Singing and Rapping at (Almost) the Same Time
While the definitions of singing and rapping make it impossible to do both at the same time, there are many artists who merge the two styles of vocal performance to great effect in their own music.
There is no doubt that music continues to evolve with every year that goes by, and that more and more genres and cross-genres than ever seem to be appearing on the scene. Artists and groups of all sorts are making use of singing and rapping in their music (either in a secondary capacity, in a primary capacity, or somewhere in between). As a result, where one genre ends, the other begins, can sometimes be difficult to determine with full confidence.
Especially over the course of a single song, singing and rapping are often used together, either by one artist going back and forth between the two styles of vocal performance or by a second artist joining in a song so that both singing and rapping can be performed at the same time.
Singing and Rapping in a Song With One Artist
There are many examples of artists going back and forth between singing and rapping over the course of a single song.
With freestyle rap, hip hop, and R&B merging with each other more and more in today’s music scene, singing and rapping in the same song is only becoming more common.
For instance, freestyle rappers sometimes use elements of hip hop in their own rap songs in order to benefit from the more melodic sound hip hop offers. In such a case, an artist might rap in some sections of a song and sing in others, resulting in a more melodic-sounding rap than what would normally be possible in a standard freestyle rap.
In the Drake song, “Best I Ever Had,” this is exactly what happens. In the intro and outro section of the song, Drake delivers the lyrics using only rap. However, in the chorus and verses of the song, he delivers the lyrics using only singing. This makes for an overall well-balanced song in terms of the two vocal performance styles present, with the rap at the beginning and end providing good contrast to the singing in the middle.
The song as a whole, benefits from the qualities of both styles of vocal performance, with clear and energetic rhythmic speech provided by the rapping, and melodic resonance provided by the singing. Both of these sound qualities combine to make an effective musical contrast.
Singing and Rapping in a Song With Multiple Artists
Another common combination of singing and rapping in music is when a second artist joins in a song, allowing both styles of vocal performance to be performed simultaneously.
In “Baby Mama,” a hip hop song by Brandy, the first verse, second verse, and the first instance of the chorus are all sung by Brandy. However, beginning in the following pre-chorus, Chance the Rapper joins in with Brandy to rap while she continues singing. The song goes on to have Chance the Rapper rap an entire third verse on his own before Brandy finishes singing the song alone with the final chorus.
There is no doubt that a beneficial contrast is achieved when multiple artists collaborate on the same song since it gives more variety of sounds than might otherwise be possible in a song that does not make use of collaboration.
Technically, singing and rapping at the same time is not possible, since the fundamental relationship between each of their definitions automatically qualifies any attempt as singing, and only singing.
However, many artists merge singing and rapping to great effects in their music, either singing and rapping back and forth on their own, or joined by another artist.
Therefore, the answer really comes down to how one defines “same time” in this question. While one individual artist can’t sing and rap at the same time, adding just one artist into the performance allows both to happen at once.