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A musical form of vocal delivery, rapping (also referred to as rhyming, spitting, or emceeing or MCing) is a form of vocal delivery that incorporates "rhyme, rhythmic speech, and street vernacular," and which could be performed or chanted in a number of ways over a backing beat or musical accompaniment. In rap, the components of "content" (what has been said), "flow" (rhythm and rhyme), and "delivery" are all important (cadence, tone). Rap varies from spoken-word poetry in that it is often done to a musical accompaniment rather than to a set time. Despite the fact that rap is a major component of hip hop music, it is most usually identified with that genre in general; nevertheless, the roots of rap extend back many years before hip hop culture.

Rap is generally spoken over a rhythm, which is frequently supplied by a DJ, turntablist, or beatboxer, although it may be sung a cappella without the use of an instrument. Rap, in terms of stylistics, exists in a grey region between speech, prose, poetry, and songwriting. The term, which predates the musical genre, originally meant "to lightly strike," and is today used to represent rapid-fire dialogue or repartee between two or more characters. Since the 16th century, the term has been in common use in British English. In the 1960s, it was used to refer to "conversation" in the African American dialect of English, and it was only a short time later that it was adopted into its current use as a word indicating a musical style. Hip-hop music has been so strongly linked with the word rap in recent years that many writers use the terms interchangeably.