From Old School to New School, Dirty South, East Coast, West Coast, and even to the shores of Europe, rap has embraced the Internet more so than many other genres. In fact, according to Nielsen Soundscan's 2013 report, rap accounted for 50% of all streaming plays online. Thanks to the popularity of rap music, there are many websites that offer free downloads of everything from mixtapes to official releases.
Free Rap Music Downloads
Although illegal peer-to-peer sites abound online, it's important to only download music legally, which means the site that offers the download has the proper authorization to do so or they have created their own royalty-free content, such as popular DIY beats and loops sites. The following legal sites offer free downloads of high-quality rap:
DJBooth is a well curated site that makes a distinction between hip hop and rap, and it includes a Top 20 section for each. In addition, under its "Songs" category, it has a special section for free downloads where you will find many of the top indie rap artists.
For hobbyist, DIY rap fans, HipHopMakers is a creative way to access royalty-free, legal rap beats in the style of big-name rap artists like Dr. Dre and mix them yourself with Fruity Loops Studio freeware or other free, easy-to-use recording software. Instead of downloading artist tracks, you're digging into the world of DJs and turning your headphones into your own private house party.
Datpiff is a must for any rap music fan. Although you can find some free official release tracks on the site, its main bread and butter are mixtapes. Major rap artists, including Snoop Dogg, have tailored mixtapes for release on Datpiff. With over 450,000 users, it is a top destination for rap artists and fans alike.
ArtistDirect, under its "Songs & Downloads" section, offers a handful of free tracks from big rap names such as Eminem. Although its selection is smaller than Bearshare, it is another place to find free music from big name artists.
ReverbNation is always a fun place to find music because the artists are often unsigned, so you might discover the next big act before they make it big. In addition, you will find artists from every corner of the globe, which will give you an interesting glimpse of how rap music is done elsewhere.
Last.FM is another indie rap treasure trove similar to ReverbNation with hundreds of free downloads in many genres including Dirty South, underground rap, Russian rap, and gangsta rap.
British and French Rap
Some feel that UK rap has trouble crossing over because UK slang doesn't always translate well in America, especially in the fast-paced speech of rap music. French artists -- known for their political volatility -- have the same problem crossing over because most Americans don't speak French. Despite any language barriers, both genres are fascinating to explore. You can find free downloads at sites such as:
Soundcloud's abundant French and British rap collections
ReverbNation's up-and-coming indie French rap artists
If you're planning on making any trips to Europe soon, it might be a good idea to immerse yourself in the music they love, especially if you're a rap fan. Exploring the links above is a great way to expand your cultural horizons.
People forget that the hugely popular genre of rap is a relatively young style of music and yet it has proliferated at a startling rate. Rap is an American brainchild, born in South Bronx where it began with DJs at parties building their own equipment and doing improvised MCing. Next time you're in New York City, tip your hat in the direction of Brooklyn and thank them for giving the world rap music.