While early hip hop arose through the decline of funk and disco while still employing their musicianship, there was the rise of artists who employed the use of the turntable as an instrument in itself. Hip hop turntablist DJs use turntable techniques such as beat mixing/matching, scratching, and beat juggling to create a base that can be rapped over. Turntablism is generally focused more on turntable technique and less on mixing. Each scratch of the turntable is considered unique due to the complex waveforms produced and employing digital sampling is considered an affront to a true Turntablist. Prominent artists included the , X-men, and the .
Hip hop also spread to countries like Greece, Spain and Cuba in the 1980s, led in Cuba by the self-exiled African American activist and aided by Fidel Castro's government. In Japan, graffiti art and break dancing had been popular since the early part of the decade, but many of those active in the scene felt that the Japanese language was unsuited for rapping; nevertheless, by the beginning of the 1990s, a wave of rappers emerged, including Ito Seiko, Chikado Haruo, Tinnie Punx and Takagi Kan. The New Zealand hip hop scene began in earnest in the late 1980s, when Maori performers like and Dalvanius Prime began recording, gaining notoriety for lyrics that espoused tino rangatiratanga (Maori sovereignty).
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Rapping, also referred to as MC-ing or emceeing, is a vocal style in which the performer speaks rhythmically and in rhyme, generally to a beat, recently, however, a difference has developed between "rapping" and "MC-ing". "MC-ing" has been used to describe those artists who possess and exercise superior lyrical ability and prowess. "Rapping" in recent years has become a pejorative term used to describe those artists who focus less on lyrical talent and ability, and has been used to characterize many of the mainstream artists of today. Beats are traditionally generated from portions of other songs by a DJ, or sampled from portions of other songs by a producer, though synthesizers, drum machines, and live bands are also used, especially in newer music. Rappers may perform poetry which they have written ahead of time, or improvise rhymes on the spot with or without a beat. Though rap is usually an integral component of hip hop music, DJs sometimes perform and record alone, and many instrumental acts are also defined as hip hop.
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"Planet Rock" influenced hip hop outside of New York as well, such as Latin hip hop (also Latin freestyle or freestyle) such as Expose and The Cover Girls, as well as Los Angeles-based electro hop performers like the World Class Wreckin' Cru and .
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The first Chicago hip hop record was the Groovy Ghost Show by Casper, released in 1980 and a distinctively Chicago sound began by 1982, with Caution and Plee Fresh. Chicago also saw the development of house music (a form of electronic dance music) in the early 1980s and this soon mixed with hip hop and began featuring rappers; this is called hip house, and gained some national popularity in the late 1980s and early 90s, though similar fusions from South Africa, Belgium and elsewhere became just as well-known into the 90s.
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While Run DMC laid the groundwork for East Coast rap, "Planet Rock" (Afrika Bambaataa) was one of the first electro tracks. Based on a sample from German rock group Kraftwerk (Trans-Europe Express), "Planet Rock" inspired countless groups, based in New Jersey, New York City and Detroit, among other places, to make electronic dance music (called electro) that strongly influenced techno and house music, and especially the burgeoning electro music scene in northern England, the Midlands and London.
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In Puerto Rico, Vico C became the first mainstream Spanish language rapper, and his recorded work was the beginning of what became known as reggaeton. Hip hop had always had a significant connection to the Latino community in New York City including the first Latin DJ DJ Disco Wiz, and hip hop soon spread amongst Latinos. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, most Latin rap came from the West Coast of the United States. In 1989, Cuban-American Mellow Man Ace became the first Latino artist to have a major bilingual single. Mellow Man, referred to as the "Godfather of Latin rap", brought mainstream attention to Spanglish rhyming with his 1989 platinum single "Mentirosa". In 1990, fellow West Coast artist Kid Frost further brought Latinos to the rap forefront with his single "La Raza." , of which Mellow Man Ace was a member before going solo, would become the first Latino rap group to reach platinum status in 1991. Ecuadorian born rapper received heavy rotation on video and radio for his single "Rico, Suave." As a result of the success of these artists, countries throughout Latin America such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico created their own hip hop scenes.