What’s the Difference between Rap and Poetry Slam?

Although the messages communicated may be similar, rap and poetry slam have little in common.
These are two very distinct forms of expression.

What is the difference between rap and slam?
Rap is a musical genre, in which vocal expression is essential, respecting rhymes and a very rhythmic diction.
Slam is closer to reading a poem, rhymes and music are not mandatory, the message is even more emphasized.

In the following article I will introduce you in more detail rap and slam, their origins and celebrities.



Rap is a type of music in which the words are not sung but are spoken in a rapid, rhythmic way.


Just like Pop or Reggae, we are talking about a clearly identified musical genre, with codes and rhythm.

The word rap comes from the English word “to rap” which means to chat, to chitchat.


The origin of rap undoubtedly comes from the MCs (Master of Ceremonies) who in the 70s accompanied the DJs at the microphone during “breaks”.
The DJ would let a beat play in the background, and the MC could come up with a few rhymes to set the tone for the evening.

As time went by, some DJs, like DJ Kool Herc, realized that breaks were the most popular parts of the evening, and had the idea to organize whole evenings around them.
A few years later, the first rap songs appeared, with notably in 1979, the interplanetary success of Sugarhill Gang: Rapper’s Delight:


The continuation of this movement is only a succession of personalities, who each in their own way have brought new things to rap.

Here are a few videos to take you back in time, enjoy:

  • Run-DMC and GrandMaster Flash in the 80’s
  • Dr. Dre, 2pc and Snoop Dogg in the 90s
  • And of course Eminem in the 2000s

More recently

Today, rap is still a very popular musical genre, with many famous artists.
Drake’s “The God’s Plan” in 2018 was a big hit, and there are many others to come.

But rap is also a whole social activity that takes place on a smaller scale, in towns and cities.
In many neighborhoods, hip-hop disciplines (rap, dance, DJ and graffiti) are part of the social actions set up by the municipalities to support and entertain young people.

I won’t discuss politics here, but we must not forget that rap is not just performed by American superstars.

Poetry Slam


A form of performance poetry that combines the elements of performance, writing, competition, and audience participation


This time it’s no longer about music, but about oral expression, poetry, etc.

The rhythmic chanting of the lyrics is emphasized in the definition of slam, as in rap, but it seems to be the only common point.


The origins of slam are much easier to explain, since slam was invented from scratch by one man: Marc Smith (American poet), in 1987.
The slam was created to make poetry readings less boring.

It was after an evening at a poetry declamation workshop that Smith was surprised to see that poets lacked energy and ignored the audience.
So he wanted to change that, and make poetry more interesting.

The movement then spread throughout the world, particularly in Europe in the 1990s.

Performance example

Here is a video of a young guy performing a poetry slam during the Australian Poetry Slam contest at Sydney.
You’ll be impressed 🙂

Related Questions

What is the difference between rap and hip-hop? Hip-hop is a complete cultural movement, including rappers, DJs, dancers and graffiti artists. Rap is therefore part of the hip-hop movement.


You now know the difference between rap and poetry slam.
Even if the goal is almost the same (communicate similar messages), these performances have not so much in common.

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