Our best posts
- IllumiNOT-Me: 10 Ways Rappers Deny Being in the Illuminati
- Kanye West Is Not a Jackass
- From Art Basel to Art Yeezy: Kanye's "New Slaves" Projections as Contemporary Art
- Top 50 Songs of 2013 // January - June
- Slap Genius: Hip Hop's Best Slaps
- When Hip Hop Goes to Court: Rap Lawsuits and Music Law
- She’s Just Being Miley... and Every Other Pop Star in American Music History Ever
- Trap Geniuses: Why Selling Rap is like Selling Crack
- Why No One Has Killed Your Favorite Rapper
- The Rapper's Flow Encyclopedia
- The Beastie Chronicles — I
- 100 Most Upvoted Annotations
- Verse to Verse: Arcade Fire
- Top 10 Television Theme Songs
- Verse to Verse: Kanye West
- Verse to Verse: Jay-Z
- Rap Genius Presents: The Top 100 Rap Songs of 2012
- Scarface: The Holy Bible of Rap Music
- Great Expectations: The RapGenius Guide to Rap Albums in 2013
- 100 Most Upvoted Annotations of 2013
- The Personification of Hip-Hop
- NEW VIDEO from the latest verified rapper on Rap Genius: 50 Cent
- NAS INTERVIEW: why Nas wants to explain his own lyrics on Rap Genius
- Showing Our Poetry Love
- Rappers Crying
- POETRY GENIUS: How To Read And Why
- Life is Good's Future Impact
- GODFATHERS OF RAP GENIUS: Ben Horowitz Interviews Steve Stoute
- Rap Genius Explanation Competition
- The Top 5 People Rappers Reference
- RapGenius Ranks the First Half of 2012
- Hannibal Buress: First Comedian Verified on Rap Genius
- Bricks to Billboard, Grams to Grammys: Rap Genius' Top 25 Jay-Z Verses
- RGU Lesson Two: Me and the Devil Blues
- What Does Trust Mean in the Rap Game?
- RGU Lesson One: The Signifyin' Monkey
- A$AP ROCKY INTERVIEW: Maboo v. Nardwuar
- Who's this new Bada$$ kid???: A UK Perspective
- Professor Rapper: 7 Uncommon Black History Facts as Told by Kendrick Lamar
- Bragging in Hip Hop
- Inside the Lines with RZA: Part 1
- Rap Genius goes Inside the Lines with Mac Miller
- Interview With B Horowitz: RG Verified Blogger
- Are the fans getting more ignorant?
- Rap Genius Interviews B.o.B.
- An Open Letter from Donald Glover
- Rap Genius Nas interview PREVIEW
- Drake Says He's The First Person To Successfully Rap And Sing. Here's why he's wrong.
- Operation Free Earl
- Rap vs. Ronald Reagan
- Rap Genius of the Month: Big Ghostfase
- 30 Rock: On Gunplay and 2Chainz
- What to Expect from Rap Albums in 2012: The RapGenius Guide to Listening Safely in a Hype-Cycled Universe
- Why There Will Never be a 'GOAT' in Hip-Hop: An Extensive Analysis
- SUBJECT: Jones, Russel Tyrone
- The Top 10 Mixtapes of 2011
- Top 100 Rap Songs of 2011
- The Direction of Hip-Hop
- The Recent History Of Mixtape Trolling
- Rappers' Obsession with Jewish Culture
- Dear Shyne, Ask Yourself: 'What Is A Classic Album?' Ya Bish!
- Five Tips For Unsigned Rappers
- The Navy Seal Who Killed Osama bin Laden loves That "Red Nation" Track MTV Banned
- Is Pete Rock's Disappointment Justified?
- Stereo IQ's Top Albums of 2012
- R.A THE RUGGED MAN AND EMINEM: BEEF, OR NO BEEF?
- Is The Rap Game Pretentious?
- My Philosophy on Socrates References in Rap
- Machine Gun Kelly Inside the Lines
- WTF is a Basquiat?
- You Can't Rap, But You Can Make A Song
- "Six Minutes, Slim Shady, You're On"
- Retrospect for Lu: One Year Later...
- Rap Genius Political Appointees 2012
- "Triple Beam Dreams": A Reinvigoration of Tradition
- Top 10 Lines From Drake's "Take Care"
- Rap Geniuses of the Month: Kembe X / Alex Wiley
- Freak Wit It - The Five Greatest Censored Versions of Hip Hop Songs
- Black Star: Let's ALL Get Down!
- Inside the Rappers Studio: A Witty Nicki Minaj?
- Can’t Wait To Be King: If J. Cole Really Were Simba
- Don’t Become a Rapper If: A Checklist
- All in the Name of P***Y: 7 Women Who Made Fresh Beef Into Poison Meat
- Fuck You; Pay Me (By Not Buying My Music)
- The Many Nicknames of Lil Wayne
- Introducing the Rap Map™ - your guide through the gangsta terrain of the planet
- Hella Based: The Many Faces of Lil B
- Is it right to hate fame?
- Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor: All the Lyrics Explained
- Rappers: They're Just Like Us!
- 10 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Ideas For The Hip Hop/Music Lover
- Lupe Fiasco: The Proust of Rap
- Which Throne are You Watching?
- Kill Whitey: Top 10 Corporate Greed Rap Lyrics
- Common: "A Letter To The Law" Video Breakdown
- Liquid Swords: Rap Genius on the Rap Genius
- Joey Bada$$ & Kendrick Lamar: This Generation’s Biggie & Pac? : A UK Perspective
- The Five Nastiest, Most Explicit Sex Scenes in Rap History
- My Kingdom For A Platinum Football Field
- Selena Gomez does Birthdays, Biebers, and Beats in her new album Stars Dance
- Tyler the Creator - Goblin
- Wax: From YouTube To Def Jam
- Eminem's Infinite Explained
- Bad Meets Evil Hell: The Sequel Lyrics
- Tyler gets pizzunked
- Kirk Knight Shines on Summer Knights: A UK Perspective
- Track-by-Track Guide to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
- ALL of Tyler, The Creator's "Bastard" Explicado
- Eatbox: rappers eat pussy sometimes, too
- Wale: The Antithesis of J. Cole
- MCA Keeps Rocking in the Afterlife
- THE HISTORY OF HIP HOP (as told by Rap Genius)
- Big Sean's "Finally Famous"
- That Shit Cray: Top Ten Meme Lines of the Year Thus Far
- I Think I'm Turning Japanese: Rap's Infatuation With Benihana
- ENTER THE WU: 36 Chambers
- Raponomics: Top Ten Foreign Currency References Of All Time
- Curren$y's Weekend At Burnie's Syncs With The Film
- Rage Against the Machine: Rap, Rock and Revolution
- Rappers and the Alphabet: A Romance on the D.L.
- International Underground: Hip Hop as Global Rebel Music
- Rap Genius LLP: A NEW Legal Service for the Rap Community
- Tyler, The Creator vs. Woody Allen
- "These n*ggas be mad -- that's why they stay hating" : Thoughts on V-Nasty
- Frank Ocean Nostalgia Ultra - all the lyrics explained
- Interview With Jay-Z's Financial Biographer: Rap Genius Editor SnoopZoggyZogg
- Rap Genius Watch The Throne Cover
- Excerpt: They call me Jay Electronica
- One Love. Elzhi's "Elmatic"
- Notes on "Ready To Die"
- Al Qaeda / Taliban rap paper plate awards: a discussion of Jihadi references in rap lyrics
- The Many Nicknames of Tyler, the Creator
- Top 25 Rap Albums of 2011
- 2011's Best Twitter Moments
- Rap Genius in the OED
- Curren$y "Covert Coup": All The Lyrics Explained
- Belief in Based God
- Lil Wayne Carter 4 Cover
- An Intro to Break Beats
- "Don't Ask Me How": The Elusive TRIPLE Entendre in Hip-Hop
- Big Sean is Finally Famous...boiiiii
- Gil Scott Heron - Father of Rap
- Hip-Hop's TECHNOlogic Revolution
- Pass Through, Ghost-like: A Multi Before I Die Mixtape
- Kendrick Lamar - #Section.80
- Nas interview PREVIEW
- Dominic Strauss Khan & Ghostface
- Adrien Brody Reciting 10 Crack Commandments
- M-m-m-maybach Music
- Crooked I Decodes Crooked I
- Lupe Fiasco's LASERS
- Jay-Z: "Rap Is Poetry"
- XV Reasons Why XV's The Next Big Thing
- A Modest Proposal: Why those white-bread, hella suburban rappers matter
- "Tastes like Swag": Cooking with Lil B (Part1: Wonton Soup)
- We Found Earl!
- Nas, Illmatic: All the lyrics to every song explained
- Wiz Khalifa: probably fucked your bitch
- An Open Letter Regarding OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All)
- Kanye & Pharrell at Design in Miami: Breaking Down Understanding and Rap Genius
- Most commonly misheard rap lines
- Kanye in Paris
- Tyler the Creator: Tron Cat
- Religion in Hip Hop: A RapGenius Overview
- Bad Meets Sequel?
- Rhyming Words with Themselves, sort of: Top Ten Homophone Rhymes of All Time
- Interview: Vince Staples
- Donald Glover Interview: "What the fuck is a Childish Gambino?"
- RAP GENIUS EXCLUSIVE: Despot reveals a supergroup and gives his fans a SPECIAL MESSAGE!
- Subliminal Satanic Messages in Jay-Z
- On "Blue Slide Park": A Review of Moderate Proportions
- The Classic Yo! MTV Raps Returns, One Night Only!
- Cadence & Flow -- A Study in MMG
- Curren$y Interview With DDS
- Jay-Z vs. RapGenius.com: Who's Better at Decoding Jay-Z's Lyrics?
- Lupe Fiasco's "Words I Never Said" Music Video
- Virginia's Finest: Intalek Interview
- "Well I Guess, This Is My Dissertation" - Notes on Graduation
- "Well I guess, this is my dissertation"- Graduation: Decoded
- Fabolous "I'm Raw": A Close Reading
- Dre - Is Detox coming?
- Lil B "Charlie Sheen" music video breakdown
- Fabolous SOUL Tape
- RAP GENIUS EXCLUSIVE: Nicki Minaj's Titty
- Hip Hop & Islam: The Sacred Nexus
- Hell: The Sequel
- Rap Genius on German MTV!
- RIP Macho Mane - Wrestler, Rapper, Baller
- "Don't Wanna Go Home" lyrics – Jason DeRulo
- Nicki Minaj Pink Friday: ALL the lyrics to EVERY song decoded
- Drake, Thank Me Later: ALL the lyrics to EVERY song explained
- "Empire State of Mind" video breakdown
- "Yonkers" Video Breakdown
- Lil Wayne Explains Lil Wayne
- Psychiatrist Advises Degenerate Geniuses to "Check Your Head"
- StereoIQ Lines of the Week: July 30-August 7
- Osama Got Popped..
- DIY: Turning the RG shirt into an RG Lady-Tee
- ALL the lyrics to Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" Explained
- RIP Biggie Smalls (the Rap Genius)
- Congressman Tweets Dickpic: Inspired by Kanye? Or Mannie Fresh? Who knows?
- Woman's work: transporting drugs for rappers
- Thank You Bouillabased God
- Rap Genius of the Month: Don Trip
- Hip-hop Superbowl: Black and Yellow vs Green and Yellow
- Jay-Z on Biting Biggie's Rhymes
- Pusha's "Fear of God" Mixtape: Don't Be Scurred
- Eminem, Recovery: ALL the lyrics to EVERY song explained!
- All of the Lights: Seizure-tastic
- V-Nasty Saying The "N-Word"
- Cole Summer Saga Continues..
- Interview with producer and OFWGKTA affiliate BrandenBeatBoy
- I Love Hip-hop, But...Part I
- Rappers: Suckered by Obama's Charm, Just Like the Rest of Us...
- big boi exclusive: new outkast next?
- Eminem vs. Weezy: Who's the King of these rude, ludicrous, lucrative lyrics?
- Lil Wayne and Birdman's Notorious K.I.S.S.
- Was Slug the O.G. Drake?
- The 5 degrees of decadence in "Fashion Rap"
- Either Kanye and Ghostface both sleep head to toe with their respective cousins, or Kanye is biting
- "Get it?" Why do rappers explain their own lines in the Age of Rap Genius?
- Roots, How I Got Over: ALL the lyrics to EVERY song explained!
- RIP Big Pun
- Rap Genius University: Rhyme Types
- Lulu's son shine: What is Jay-Z talking about in "A Star is Born"?
- Jay-Z, Eminem, and "Renegade": Who Killed Whom?
- Woman sleeps with Nas, Jay-Z, and Allen Iverson; reveals penis secrets
- "I Got More at Stake Than Philly": Reasonable Doubt decoded
- "Can't Knock The Hustle": How Jay-Z Came Up on Ace of Spades
- The Top Ten Verses of 2011
- Introducing RapMetrics™: The Birth of Statistical Analysis of Rap Lyrics
- Rap Genius Interview: Adam Bradley, editor of the Yale Anthology of Rap
- The Game R.E.D. Album Preview
- Wale Attention Deficit: DECODED
- Lil Wayne on Roman's Revenge 2.0: Only One Verse?
- Poll: What are the best "fuck songs" / "love songs" in rap music?
- Wiz & Amber sitting in a tree.. T - A - T - T - O - O - I -N -G
- "Words I Never Said": Lupe Fiasco's Anthem for the Egyptian Revolution?
- ALL of the "All of the Lights"
- Tat My Name On You So I Know It's Real
- Carter IV Preview: Lil Wayne rolling with a cougar
- 420 NEWS: Kid Cudi quits quitting weed
- Lil B album to be called "I'm Gay"
- Hipster Girl Raps "Look At Me Now"
- Prodigy's Book: The Anti-Decoded
- Lupe Fiasco's Long-Awaited Lasers...Cover Art
- Thurnis Haley: Really Into Golf
- Tyler Arrested In L.A.
- Tyler the Creator & Odd Future on Tim Westwood
- Goblin L.A. Concert
- Lil Wayne Carter IV Release Date
- Big K.R.I.T. booed at Highline Ballroom
- Odd Future Is The New Beatles
- "Dreams Money Can Buy" by Drake
- "Return Of Simba" by J. Cole
- FREESTYLE BATTLE: Lupe Fiasco vs. Bill O'Reilly
- Annals of the Rap Orientalist: Talk of Money in Rap
- "Acura Integurl" by Frank Ocean
- "She Wanna Have My Baby" by The Game
- Kendrick Lamar "Hiii Power" Music Video Breakdown
- "Marvins Room" by Drake
- "Everywhere I Go" by 2Pac
- "Tree" - Kid Cudi & Wiz Khalifa
- "Loud Noises" by Bad Meets Evil
- 2Pac on Intellectual Property
- "Ronald Reagan Era" by Kendrick Lamar
- Detox - July 26 Release Date?
- Lil Wayne: "Dear Anne" Lyrics Explicado..
- "Her Room" by Teyana Taylor
- Interview - Indie Artist "b.a.sick"
- Obama sings "Let's Stay Together"
- MO Purp please! New music from Alex Wiley, Kembe X and Chance the Rapper
- Hip Hop's Hero's Hubris?: RG Introduces Asaad
- Lupe Fiasco (and Big Sean) - "Wait for Me"
- Drake Interview
- Lyrics to Tyga's Well Done 2 Mixtape
- Norwegian Mass Murderer Hates Hip-hop
- The Bullitts X Jay Electronica MOOVIE
- "I'm On One" lyrics – Tyga
- "Oh My Remix" lyrics – DJ Drama
- Odd Future in Germany
- MeLo-X = Sade + The Weeknd
- J Cole Breaks Down His Album Title
- Soulja Boy: The Movie (Trailer)
- "Trouble on My Mind" lyrics – Pusha T
- Artist in Residence: Black Cobain says farewell
- "I'm On One Freestyle" lyrics – Chamillionaire
- What's Wrong With John Galliano?
- Tyler The Creator Bonds With Tim Westwood
- Oh Mercy Me: New Music & An Artist to Watch
- "Uncle Otis" lyrics – The Game
- Consequence's "Pusha T Diss"
- Frank Ocean on "Watch The Throne".. Good Move? Bad Move?
- Rap Genius Reviews Dreams and Nightmares
- Jetlifer SinnersRemorse Reviews Curren$y's Priest Andretti
- Nardwuar Interviews Casey Veggies
- MJ Faded Way: Perfect
- Big Sean Arrested
- Artist in Residence: Black Cobain spits a fire freestyle
- Wiz Khalifa x Curren$y x Big Sean = STONER MIXTAPE OF THE CENTURY
- Cam'ron Threatens iTunes
- Black Hippy Interview
- Watch The Throne (Snippets)
- Birdman Forbes Interview
- NEW MUSIC: "Hotel" by NRK (Nobody Really Knows)
- Watch The Based
- In the Zone: Jay-Z and Kanye West Live at Bank Atlantic Center
- EARL IS FREE!
- Rap Genius Editor Teaches Kreayshawn Makeup Techniques
- INSIDE GAME: The Making of Martians vs Goblins
- Rap Genius of the Month: Touré
- Kreayshawn's Ballinest Fan? Drake
- A$AP FERGENSTEIN: on the origins of "A$AP"
- "Watch The Throne" Preview
- Ambition 2: BEHIND THE SCENES
- J Cole on How Jay-Z REALLY Feels About "Cole World: A Sideline Story"
- Game's track-by-track breakdown of the Red Album
- Jay-Z 101 at Georgetown University
- Young Dr. Dre on TV!
- Drake care...
- Lil B's "I'm Gay"
- #Ambition (cover)
- Freddie Gibbs: Cold Day In Hell Cover
- BEEF: Fox News vs. Jon Stewart (& Common)
- Young Jeezy's TM103: Hustlerz Ambition Review
- Siri vs Biggie
- Bad Meets Evil on Fuse TV at Bonnaroo
- IT'S OFFICIAL: Cyhi is an Otis Fan
- N***AWATCH 2011: V-Nasty Calls A Black Man "N***a" In A Fight
- Mac Miller "Blue Slide Park" Tracklist
- Q: what will be this year's MOST MEME Halloween costume?
- MMG loves lyrics just like RG
- RUH ROH: Tyler the Creator Arrested (Again)
- NEW VIDEO: Lupe Fiasco's "Bitch Bad"
- RG RANCH SXSW RECAP (part 2)
- Introducing the Rap Genius Artist in Residence: The Black Cobain Experience
- 13 YEAR OLD KENDRICK LAMAR WISHES HE HAD RAP GENIUS
- TDE on Tour & Too funny
- Southern Boys Collide: Big KRIT & Yelawolf collaboration coming soon
- Rap Hoods - Hampton Roads, Virginia
- Big K.R.I.T. goes live from the underground and gets verified with RapGenius
- Lupe is a rap god but also human
- ras kass keeps it raw
- What is Wayne? The Artist Lives
- New Freshness: Urbana Poppin' Champaign (UPC)
- Ab-Soul Drawing Contest on Rap Genius?!
- Monday Morning with the BRKF$T Club
- Rhyme Spotters: Twinkies
- RIP KING CAPITAL STEEZ
- Artist in Residence: The Confessional, Day One
- Common talks LUV on Rap Genius - Live Ustream!
- first ever freestyled verified explanation (don't ask me how)
- Lupe Fiasco Exclusive world premiere: breaking down "bitch bad"
- Ras Kass Behind the Lines with Rap Genius
- Behind the Bars with RiFF RaFF, part 1
- Behind the Bars with Riff Raff, part 2 (prepare to be enlightened)
- Does Bruno Mars have a space in hip hop?
- Slaughterhouse tells RG what they really think about Black Hippy
- LUPE FIASCO EXCLUSIVE world premiere: Explore Lamborghini Angels
- LUPE IS HERE
- BIG BOI NOW VERIFIED ON RG!
- EXCLUSIVE Lyrics and More From Skyzoo's New *A Dream Deferred* -- UPDATED!!
- What Does Common Think About Rap Genius?
- 2012 BET Cyphers Lyrics: Who spit fire?
- Grand Theft Audio: The Music of San Andreas
- The Importance of Music Education
- big boi RG fan contest: are you big's rap genius?
- Celebrating Common: 20 years of verified explanations, pt. 1
- MEEK MILL EXCLUSIVE WORLD PREMIERE: Maybach curtains
- Ne-Yo is Now verified!
- Dreadlocks. Rasta?
- Blog fam Interview: AFH - Kendrick Lamar "GRIT"
- Celebrating Common: 20 years of verified explanations, pt. 2
- Verified Artist Lushlife is hosting an RG COmpetition
- Joey Bada$$ new single "Unorthodox"
- RANCH RECAP: RG at SXSW part 1
- Rap Genius x BET: Video Breakdown of Stalley's "Fountain of Youth"
- The Fine Art of the Name Drop: From Pac to R.A.
- News Genius Lines of the Week, 05/03/2013
- Kush and Corinthians: Religious Contradictions in Hip Hop
- The Honors English Rap Genius Challenge - CONTEST RULES
- News Genius Quotes of the Week, 05/10/2013
- Skylar Grey x RG x Gigg "Final Warning" Verse Contest
- Young and Beautiful: The Anomaly That is Lana Del Rey
- News Genius Quotes of the Week, 05/17/2013
- The 7 Stages of Yeezus: From "Through the Wire" to "I Am a God"
- "Jimmy's Back": A Documentary about Mass Incarceration by Dice Raw
- Why Kanye Chose No Album Artwork
- Top 10 Whistleblowers
- Wale Contest: Unlock the Meaning Behind The Gifted Lyrics and Win!
- Artist in Residence: Making of "The Recipe" freestyle w/ Black Cobain
- Honors English Lyrics Challenge Coming Soon - Sneak Peak
- TV Night at Cam's
It’s my belief that, when discussing rap (which here refers to something completely different from hip-hop), we can move the discussion beyond the “Drake sucks, Eminem rules” kind, based on nothing besides who you like more and fanboy-dom. We can look at rappers and, by describing their musical and rhythmic tendencies, group them into different categories, and then say who manipulates rhythms most masterfully. That is exactly what will happen in this article.
The rappers will be Kanye West, Mos Def, Andre 3K, and Eminem. Ultimately, who is good and who is bad will be left up to the listener, but I know what I prefer, and will offer my value judgments based on what I believe to be the core, fundamental principles underlying all good rap.
I’ve chosen these four rappers chiefly because, in integral parts of their styles, they are vastly different from how they approach the music. The three categories we can use to describe a rapper’s flow that concern us here are as follows (quoted from my How To Listen To Kendrick Lamar Analysis):
The nature of their rhymes – how many they drop per bar, how many syllables they are, where they fall in the line, whether they’re repeated in the same order or different, and so on.
The nature of their sentences — how long/short they are, where they fall in the music, how many of them there are, and so on.
Whether they repeat certain rhythms, or keep making new rhythms as they go long.
When I say the word “flow”, it means the rhythmic structure that arises in a rap from the interaction between the rapper’s words and the strictly musical rhythms of those words. That is, the rapper’s words will always inform how we understand the rhythms of any rapper’s raps.
A very good place to start this discussion is with Kanye West’s rap on “Jesus Walks.”, which you can hear here:
(Although Rhymefest is co-credited as a writer, this song falls so squarely into Kanye’s style that I’ll act as if he wrote it all.) This is because Kanye West is, comparatively, a technically simple rapper when compared to the likes of Eminem, Mos Def, Nas, and Andre 3k. This is because, according to our 4 categories, he:
1.Drops about 1 or 2 rhymes per bar, that are 1 or 2 syllables long and fall at the end of the line
For this discussion, it’s important to know what a bar is: a bar is simply a musical duration of time, just like an hour is a measure of chronological time. A bunch of bars together make a verse or hook, and the verses and hooks together make a song. The bars are represented in the music below by those vertical lines that separate the musical notes, such as between the word “know” and “what”:
(As a disclaimer, this article will make use of notated sheet music, but I PROMISE even if you can’t read music, you will be able to understand it.) Furthermore, those curved lines under the noteheads, such as from “you” to is”, represent basically sentences. These are also important for categorizing our rappers.
So for Kanye’s rhymes, they are generally on the simpler side. They come at the end of sentences, like what follows:
You can see that the rhymes, indicated by the capitalized words or syllables (the “-tectives” of “detectives”, “method” and the “-rest us” of “arrest us”) all come at the end of those slurred lines. Meanwhile, they are usually 1 or 2 syllables long, and there are only 1 or 2 per bar:
There, the rhymes (“west is”, “death is”, etc.), are all 2 syllables long, and there are 2 of them per bar.
Finally, the order of rhymed syllables is always the same order and in the same place in the bar. For instance:
Where the rhymed vowel sounds of “a” (like in “cases) and the “ih” sound (like in the “-ses” syllable of “cases”) always come in the same order. Furthermore, they fall in the same place in the bar. This is reflected graphically in the notation above by the fact that all of the capitalized rhymes are in the same place in terms of length from the start of the bar, which you can see for yourself. And as we will see, these type of rhymes – end rhymes, 1 or 2 syllables long, always in the same order, are not always the case for rappers, and definitely not the case for most of the rappers who will follow.
2.Has relatively long sentences that abide by the bar line.
This is also well represented by the graph: just watch where those curved lines end.
They, for the most part, come to a stop right before the bar line. There are, indeed, notes after them, like “where” into “restless (niggas)”, and “and” into “next these…”, but they are known as pick-up notes, meaning they function rhythmically to lead to the next beat because they start off the beat. There are exceptions, such as where “young and restless” starts and ends, but if you go over the rest of the verse, the pattern holds:
Here, the slurred lines represent grammatical fragments (only nouns or verbs unconnected to each other), which sometimes happens as well. I’ve grouped them according to how the listener should head them, when considering the rhythmic spaces between each one.
3.Is a through-composed rapper, meaning he doesn’t repeat certain characteristically unique rhythms.
Let’s look at the following music:
As promised, even if you can’t read music, you can see that no characteristic idea is repeated. That characteristic idea is called a “rhythmic phrase.” Yes, there are 4 notes beamed together (beams are those lines across the top of the notehead) on the very first beat that are repeated 2 bars later (on “ain’t goin’ no” compared to “mama used to”), but that rhythm is so common at all music that the listener won’t take special notice if it’s repeated. This is known as a “through-composed” verse. This is hard to conceive of in a negative instance, and it will be placed into much clearer relief when we examine Andre 3k, who DOES repeat characteristic ideas.
So, in summary:
Kanye West’s raps consists of shorter multisyllabic or single syllable rhymes coming at the end of sentences that aren’t dropped overly often, and are always in the same order. Furthermore, his sentence structure largely follows the bar line, and his rhymes are through-composed, making no use of rhythmic phrases.
(Please note that I still think Kanye is a really good rapper – probably Top 10 all time, just not in technical ability. For instance, anyone who can drop gems like, “She said ‘Oh my gawd, is that a black card?’ / I turned around and replied, ‘Why yes, but I prefer the term African American express”, definitely deserves credit. In fact, College Dropout is full of great puns like that. But technically, he is not complex.)
Next, we will look at Mos Def. What can we say about his style of rap?
As it turns out, Mos Def is similar to Kanye West in some ways, but very different in others. The biggest difference is in his approach to rhyming:
1.Mos Def’s rhymes are complex multisyllables, usually on the order of three or four syllables, that are both internal and end rhymes that come in different places in the bar while generally being in the same order.
We can see this from the following music, from Mos’ rap from Black Star’s “RE:DEFinition”:
He starts off with end rhymes: “son i’m way past the MINIMUM / entering millennium / raps will hold a gat to your back like paleSTI-NI-ANS”, and so on, where the start and end of sentences are represented by slashes. However, he quickly varies this: “official b-boy GENTLEMAN long term never the INTERIM.” He then continues this with even more internal rhymes that fall inside the bar:
“born inside the WINTER WIND, day after deCEMBER TEN / these SIMPLETONS they MENTIONED IN the SYNONYM for FEMININE.” Additionally, we can see that his rhymes are always 3 syllables long. In fact, in another difference from Kanye, he’s continued the same rhyming block for 14 bars, throughout this whole partial-verse (although it’s 14 bars long, it only forms part of a longer verse from the song.) However, similar to Kanye, the rhymed vowel sounds always come in the same order: “ih”, “er”, “ih”. (It’s also important here to note that rappers also make words rhyme that wouldn’t otherwise by changing exactly how they are pronounced, which is what Mos does here, such as between the “winter wind” and “mentioned in” rhyme blocks.) Especially accomplished is Mos’ dropping of a 5-syllable rhyme block, between “unit trembling” and “moving elephant.”
And while Mos’ rhymes fall in the same place to the beat, they are in different places in the bar. Observe:
Where you can see that the capitalized rhymes are in different places relative to the start of the bar, which, again, is indicated by those vertical lines all the way at the right, such as next to “them.” This, again, differs from Kanye West.
One final way they are different in terms of rhymes is in the rate of rhymes dropped per bar. As we saw for Kanye, his rate of rhymes per bar was, at most, roughly 2 per bar. But Mos drops many more. That one rhyme block is dropped 31 times, and if it’s 3 syllables long, that means there are 93 rhymes over 14 bars. 93 rhymes divided by 14 bars means there are 6.6 rhymes per bar, which blocks 2 rhymes per bar (Kanye’s rate) out of the water.
2.The nature of Mos’ sentence phrasing is similar to Kanye’s, in that it largely abides by the bar line.
Practically the whole verse is an example of this, but the highlights are:
Where you can see that the curved lines all start and end where those vertical slashes representing bar lines are. This pattern is continued before and after, but serves out purposes here. Mos’ sentences are also on the longer side.
(This would also be a good time to mention that exceptions can be found to pretty much everything I say in this article, not just across the artist’s different songs but also within the song. However, I aim only to make general remarks in order to highlight the ways these rapper’s are different. In my mind I have chosen the unique flow that predominantly appears in their works, and they can be found in songs other than the ones mentioned here.)
3.Mos repeats shorter rhythmic ideas, but none so characteristic that they could be called a “rhythmic phrase.”
If you look at the whole transcription of Mos’ verse, attached to the end of this, you’ll see that his rhythm from beat to beat, as represented by the lines joining the noteheads above them (one line joins a beat together), they mostly always fall on the beat. This means Mos’ rap is not very syncopated. For instance, he usually fills each beat up with 4 16th notes, hitting every division of the beat, as is done in almost these 2 whole bars:
This is likewise through-composed, because no characteristic rhythm is repeated. However, his 1 rhyme block is repeated, which is something Kanye didn’t do. Again, though, it isn’t unique enough to be called a rhythmic phrase. So why don’t we get to an example of just what the heck such a phrase would look like?
Enter Andre 3k. Because there is a reason why even Nas says, “I freak styles like three thousand Andre.”.
Let’s look at his first verse from Outkast’s song, “Aquemini”, which you can hear here:
1.Andre’s rhymes are usually 1 or 2 syllables long, like Kanye’s. However, like Mos, they can be internal or end rhymes. Also, they come in the same order, but not in different places inside the bar or even relative to the beat.
His one/two syllable rhymes are easy to observe:
Where the shorter-syllable rhymes are also end rhymes. But Andre can do internal rhymes as well:
Where “bought” and “walk” are internal rhymes. In addition, they come in the same order, just like both Mos and Kanye:
Where the rhymed vowel sounds are always in the same order, but fall in different places relative to their distance from the start of the bar – “hobby” and “wobbly”, for instance.
His phrasing and repetition of unique rhythmic ideas are really what concern us here, though. Because…
2.Andre’s grammatical phrasings fall in very different places inside the bar, NOT following the structure of the start and end of barlines.
This can be seen throughout the whole verse, but the best example is below:
Look for yourself how those slurs start and end almost anywhere relative to the bar line. They can be found at the start (“Live from”), at the end (“home of the brave, with dirty dollars”, inside them (“beauty parlors”), long (“know what you’re selling, what you bought”), short (“let’s walk to the bridge”), and even more. This is vastly different from what we saw from Kanye and Mos. And Andre’s unique phrasing allows him to take advantage of the mythical “rhythmic phrase.”
3.Andre uses a characteristic rhythmic phrase, a unique idea that gets repeated in a rap. Furthermore, he places it in different places relative to the beat.
The most amazing part of this whole verse is one that most people don’t pick up on because they don’t know how to listen to rap music. This applies mostly to the people who dismiss rap music because it’s “vulgar”, or “not really music”, or just “a bunch of gangstas who can’t do anything else.” What we can use to prove all those people wrong happens between “with dirty dollars” to “street scholars”.
We want to look at the notes that occur on “dirty dollars”, “beauty parlors”, “baby ballers”, “ball impalas”, and “street scholars.” You can notice that they all last four 16th notes long, and are all grouped together by slurred lines. Also, the final two syllables of each four note group rhymes together: “dollars” with “parlors” with “-palas” with “scholars.” This should all group them together in the schooled rap music listener’s mind, and makes them a characteristic idea. Additionally, the division of the beat is into five parts, not four, as with most 4/4 music, which describes all of the verses of Kanye and Mos. Because it is so different, it SHOULD stick out in our ears. Listen for yourself: I’ve accented the rhymes because they stand out in our ear, and represented Andre’s rhythms without the words so you can really focus on them. It starts at, “with dirty dollars”
Notice how each four note group (“street scholars” is three notes long, but the duration of musical time is still four 16th notes) goes together.
But that’s not all.
Because Andre has also switched up where that four note group falls in the bar. Listen again for yourself, by telling where each group starts in relation in terms of length of time to the underlying beat played by the lower bass kick sound. Sometimes the 3rd note of the group falls on the beat (the “dol-“ of “dollars”), and sometimes none of them are played at the same time as the bass kick (“beauty parlors”). This is a technique known as “metrical transference” because Andre has changed where the rhythmic phrase falls in the meter of the bar. This is extremely difficult to pull off, especially at the same time as rapping quintuplets, which I’ve only ever seen Eminem and Busta Rhymes use as integral rhythmic divisions of a flow.
Anyone still think rappers aren’t musicians?
Our final example comes from Eminem and his song, “Lose Yourself”, which you can hear here:
Although this example is not necessarily characteristic of Eminem’s signature flow, it is demonstrative of his mastery of any and all aspects of rhyming, as well as a good counterpoint to what has come before.
1.Eminem here, demonstrates why he is, for my taste, best rhymer in all of rap. He uses internal rhymes, external rhymes, block rhymes, free rhymes (rhymes in any order), rhymes that fall in different places in the bar and against the beat, rhymes that fall in the same place, multisyllable rhymes, single syllable rhymes, and any combination of those ideas.
“Palms” rhymes with “Arms” – single syllable internal rhymes in different places in the bar and the beat. “Sweaty” rhymes with “Heavy” – multisyllable end rhymes that fall in different places.
“-ality”, “gravity”, “rabbit he choked”, “mad but he won’t”, “that easy nope”, “he won’t have it he knows”, are all 3-or-greater syllabic end rhymes that occur in the same place in the beat.
“Bombs” and “On” are single syllable rhymes in the same place relative to the beat.
“Wrote Down”, “Whole Crowd”, “Grows so Loud” is a rhyme block because they are of the same musical duration and rhymes on the same syllable, simply moved around in relation to the beat, which is the same metrical transference we saw in Andre.
Do you get the picture?
But what really interests me is how, in the first half of this verse, Eminem moves from one rhyme group to the next.
Kanye moved from rhymes on the same vowel sound, called a “rhyme group” to the next, with no transition. He simply made a rhyme on one sound, then moved on. For instance, he rhymes “They be asking us questions, harass and arREST us / Saying, ‘We eat pieces of shit like you for BREAKFAST’ / Huh, y’all eat pieces of shit? What’s the BASIS / We ain’t going nowhere but got suites and CASES”, where arrest and breakfast form their own rhyme group, and basis and cases form their own rhyme group. And because they follow one right after the other, we can say that Kanye’s form of rhyme linking can be represented by ABCD, where each letter represents their own rhyme group. Andre did something similar.
Mos, however, made rhymes on only one rhyme group. This would mean that he could be represented by the form AAAA, because all of the rhymes are the same.
Eminem, however, in this song is different. He interlinks his rhyme groups, a poetic technique known as “synchysis” in classical poetry like Vergil. This can be represented in the form ABAB. Poetry (…or rap) involving multiple synchyses would be represented as something like ABACCAB, or AABACBADC. Hm, I wonder what Eminem does…
In the above music, there are rhymes on an “-ah” sound (on the words/syllables palms, arms, vom, mom, calm, bombs, on), a “-eh” sound (swea-, hea-, swea-, -rea-, -ghe-, rea-,), and an “-ee” sound (knees, weak, -vy, -dy, -tti, -dy, keeps). Let’s call the first vowel sound group A, the second group B, and the third group C. The order of those syllables is, in the text: “Palms-swea-ty-knees-weak-arms-hea-vy-vom-swea-rea-dy-ghe-tti-calm-rea-dy-bombs-on.” Which would be represented by:
And that isn’t even counting the rhyme on “nervous” with “surface”, so really it’s:
which is an incredibly complex rhyme scheme, and differs greatly from the approach to order of rhymes from Kanye, Andre, AND Mos.
However, he’s also similar to them in other ways.
2.Eminem’s grammatical phrase groupings are similar to Andre’s and different from Kanye’s and Mos’, because they can also start and end anywhere.
Notice again how those curved lines representing sentences run right across, over, through, and down those bar lines. Similar to Andre, different from Kanye and Mos.
3.Eminem makes use of rhythmic phrases, again similar to Andre, but he places them in the same place relative to the beat.
Here, the rhythmic phrase is generally the following:
Which you can hear for yourself here:
Such as on, “there goes, gravity, oh!”, or “there goes, rabbit he choked”. Again, we know it’s a phrase from the rhymes on the same vowel sounds and the grouping informed by the grammatical syntax of Eminem’s words.
However, unlike Andre, he always places them in the same place relative to the beat. The third note of that archetypal phrase will always land on the beat.
That was a lot. But hopefully this gives you a greater appreciation for what it is rappers are doing, and teachers you a little bit about what kind of things to listen for when bumping your tracks.
If you liked this, please like
-If you enjoyed this article, like his facebook page here or check out Martin’s blog, “Composer’s Corner”, for more rap analysis on Nas, Eminem, Notorious B.I.G., and more. The Composer’s Corner blog deepens a listener’s appreciation for rap by showing exactly how it is one should listen to rap, and what to listen for in it. The blog features rap analysis, rap sheet music and notations, free rap lessons and free beats from Martin, and more. Martin is a 2012 graduate of Duke University with a degree in music theory, and works as a freelance blog writer, composer, rapper, and producer. You can follow Martin on Twitter @composerscorner, or email him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.