Rapping, deconstructed: The best rhymers of all time

  • What can you learn from rappers simply by looking at how they rhyme with the beat?  Find out in this video.
  • Check out Martin Connor’s rap analysis at: http://www.rapanalysis.com/

Notes

4 bars from the video
4 bars from the video
  •  A bar is a grouping together of 4 beats.
The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow
The Breaks from the video
The Breaks by Kurtis Blow  from the video
But, fast forward to 1986 and you’ve got songs like “Eric B. Is President” from
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Eric B. & Rakim.
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Compare this to “The Breaks” and it’s clear the frequency of rhymes is greater.
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But not only are you seeing more rhymes you’re also starting to see different kinds of rhymes.
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“Indeed” and “Proceed” are internal rhymes because they happen inside the sentence.
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“Man made a mix” and “band-aid to fix” are multisyllable rhymes
02:40: Multi-sylable Rhymes
The other thing Rakim does later in the verse is cross the bar line and he does it in a
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tremendously clever way.
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Crossing the bar line happens when a sentence like “The rhyme can’t be kept inside”
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doesn’t end when the bar ends.
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If you listen closely you’ll hear that the second syllable of inSIDE
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Lands on the first beat of the next bar.
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Rakim even references this in the lyric. And it’s pretty clever.
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Now, fast forward 11 years and Notorious B.I.G’s “Hypnotize” cleverly used Rakim’s techniques
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to make one of the smoothest rap songs ever.
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Martin: What I like most about this is that it’s not predictable and it’s always changing.
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So sometimes Notorious B.I.G.s sentences are long. Sometimes they’re short.
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Like the moment in this verse here:
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He’s also completely comfortable delivering a sentence across the barline.
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But, what makes this song stand out the most to me is that before one rhyme scheme ends, another
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one begins.
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Like this moment in verse 2.
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The first group of rhymes is the “oo” rhymes and it links the first and second sentence
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which then begins the “ih” and so on.
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It’s a huge reason Biggie sounds so smooth here.
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Now, as much as Biggie daisy chained an entire song together with rhymes, he was, for the
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most part using single syllable and single word rhymes.
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And this is where artists like Mos Def push things even further.
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His verse on “Re:Definition” from 2002 hits nearly every note within the bar with
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4 syllable rhymes.
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And he does it across a whopping 14 bars.
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In Re:Definition, Mos Def is very clearly rhyming each word with the beat.
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This is where Andre 3000 shakes things up with his verse in Aquemini. Focus on the beat first.
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Now listen to each syllable, with the beat in mind.
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Most rappers would have dollars, parlors, and bottles all rhyme similarly on the beat.
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But Andre is accenting each rhyme within different places relative to the beat and bar.
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People say that the word orange doesn’t rhyme with anything. And that kinda pisses me off because I can
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think of a lot of things that rhyme with orange…
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In fact, Eminem, does this exact thing on his 2002 song “Business”
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Eminem doesn’t just pack in tremendously dense multi syllable rhymes, he also tells
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incredibly vivid stories.
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And for a lot of people that wins in a battle.
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This is where “Lose Yourself” comes in. It was the first rap song to win an Academy
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Award.
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Whew the Oscar goes to Eminem, for Lose Yourself from 8 Mile.
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Martin: I’ll see the line and I’ll separate it all into not just words or sentences,
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but into their syllables.
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When you group all of these rhymes together, this incredibly complex rhyme scheme emerges.
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Eminem rhyme scheme from the videoEminem rhyme scheme from the video
It’s unpredictable, it’s complex rhythmically and lyrically but –
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It’s not just that you’re rhyming, It’s that while you’re rhyming you’re
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still telling a good story. And “Lose Yourself” is like that.
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Today, rappers like Kendrick Lamar are carrying on the tradition of artists that are able to use the musicality of rhymes
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to create really memorable songs.
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Let’s look at Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortus”
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The first thing you’ll notice is that Kendrick has created a very clear motive with his rhymes.
08:00: What’s a Motive?
What’s a motive? It’s a short musical idea. A musical fragment or succession of
08:05
notes that has some special importance in a composition.
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Here’s probably the most recognizable motive in the history of music.
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That “du du du dummmmm” is carried out through the entire piece. It’s 3 quick notes
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followed by a long note.
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The musical motive in “Rigamortus” is two short notes followed by a long note,
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stringing the entire song together.
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When Kendrick goes into 4th gear he keeps the motive going. And the motive keeps him in check.
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As much as Biggie’s “Hypnotize” sounds completely different from “Rigamortus”
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there are a lot of musical similarities.
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Remember how Biggie daisy chained rhymes? Kendrick does that too here. In “Hypnotize”
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Biggie also creates a motive with the sequence of rhymes here:
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Now, let’s get back to MF Doom. Two years after “Lose Yourself” won an Academy Award,
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MF Doom released 3 full albums including
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Madvillainy – which is widely considered one of the best underground hip hop records period.
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Mos Def can’t even contain his excitement talking about Doom.
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For the most part, MF Doom rhymes on the beat but he uses multi syllable rhyming phrases
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up with wazoo often rhyming entire lines together.
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This is called a holorime.
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Mike: He’ll do setup punchline. Like his following bar will be referencing the punchline
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but not in a way that he’ll be setting up a another one, he just starts to go in another
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direction, but just acknowledges where the last bar was.
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This is what Mike is talking about.
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MF Doom understands the power of rhyme and the beat and completely manipulates it in
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a humorous way.
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As Pitchfork points out “the rhyme’s pattern and rap’s topical stereotype demands the word
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“bitches,” yet Doom hilariously says “booze” and uses that rhyme to connect the next sentence.
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Where artists like Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Andre 3000 are telling very vivid stories
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with their rhymes, MF Doom is using his dense rhymes like a villain would use his superpower.
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Before you know it you’re being hit with a killer punchline, double entendres, and clever wordplay.
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Martin: I love rappers with that syncopated uneven phrasing where the sentences don’t line up with the bars
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because, like you said, you can’t predict what’s going to happen.
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The point of appreciating it is to see what the very most clever human beings are capable of doing
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that you didn’t think possible.

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