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Bam! “30 Days Rap Analysis Extravaganza” Part 6 on ya neck, and you ain’t shruggin' it off!
Now, in my mind, some of rap’s most famous places and people aren’t actually real. That is, Brooklyn isn’t really a place in New York City that has ordinary fast food restaurants and where people recycle their trash and shit. No, it’s just a rap heaven where people walk around spittin' mad raps, and you can exchange a dope freestyle for your groceries and stuff. Completely incorrect? Yes. More satisfying to believe? Also yes.
Then, we get to the rap Justice League of Jean Grae, Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def. I’m sure all of the phone messages they leave each other are 20-second freestyles with internal & external 3 and 4 syllable end rhymes with metrical transference. Even though Jean has specifically told me, “ We do hang a lot, but mostly we are never coming up with amazing raps” in my interview with her here, I think she was just being overly modest. Now, I’ve analyzed Jean here, and Mos Def multiple times, both here and here. And, I’ve got a Talib Kweli one coming out on the 24th. But what about that last dude, the one with the funny name? What was it again, Pharoah Monk or something?
Nah man, get to know it, and soon. Because that rapper is Pharoahe Monch. A monarch without the A&R. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to his puns/jokes eventually.)
The inverse relationship between Monch’s rapping abilities and the amount of radio play he gets is, unfortunately, a summary of the current situation in which the music industry finds itself. As I explain in my article on RappingManual.com found at this link here, written specifically for aspiring rappers, the only things that all pop rappers have in common is good delivery. It is pretty much a given for any rapper you’ve ever heard that they have good delivery. Unfortunately, that might be ALL of the rapping ability a dude’s got. I mean, does 2 Chainz have anything BESIDES good delivery? Dude doesn’t even rhyme sometimes. From the inexplicable hit, “I’m Different”–
“Hair long, money long / Me and broke niggas, we don’t get along”
…and then he has the audacity to REPEAT that line. I also refuse on principle to link to that song’s youtube video or the Rap Genius lyrics.
And that’s what we’ll be discussing today. We’re gonna talk about next level shit – what separates the good from the “ehhh, they alright”, and the great from the good. Because that’s the standard we hold ourselves to over here at the Composer’s Corner. Yeah, I get it, Drake gets the best hooks and beats and you’re just trying to go out and get drunk on a Friday night, but when you got options like Jean/Talib/Mos/Pharoahe when you’re on your own, why would you settle for less?
So, the first thing that separates good from great: a rap that leads the listener tantalizingly forward in the song through a continuous narrative, whether musical or textual. That is, every verbal idea has to lead logically from one to the next. Although he’s a great rapper, and I hate to mention him in a negative context, Busta sometimes fails this test. Observe the following rhyme, from “Get You Some” (my 4th greatest Dre beat of all time, found at my full countdown here, and explained on Rapgenius here):
“A lot of niggas shit sound dated / I’m like Shaq, the franchise player just got traded…”
But okay Busta, we get it. You left your old record label for Aftermath (a union that was too short for my taste.) But what does that have to do with other rapper’s shit sounding dated? Nothing! You gotta keep talking about related things the whole way through.
And that’s what a rapper at Monch’s level does. In the song that will form the cornerstone of this analysis, Monch keeps talking about the same thing: the general topic of how amazing he is. He doesn’t swerve off into unrelated material. On the song “Oh No!”, where he raps with Mos Def and Nate Dogg, you hear a very good example of this. You can hear the song here:
And get the lyrics on Rapgenius here.
On this song, he raps,
“Very contagious raps, should be trapped in cages / through stages of wackiness, Pharoahe’s raps are blazing, and it amazes…”
This idea, what I call the rhyme barrier, can be understood in practice, as well. When one chooses a word to rhyme off of, one immediately and by necessity restricts the number of different things one can say after that. For instance, if you say, “I’m the best rapper ever”, you’ve already limited yourself to next using words that rhyme only with “ever,” or “best”, or “I’m”, and so on.
Or so you’d think.
Because this limitation doesn’t seem to exist for Pharoahe. He seems to always locate the exact words with the maximum amount of rhymes to say what he’s trying to say. There are an infinite amount of ways to express the same idea as “Very contagious raps, should be trapped in cages” – such as, “My raps are so dangerous, you gotta lock ‘em away” — but he comes up with the one way to express the idea that fits in the most amount of rhymes. The interaction between what ideas he wants to express and the exact words he uses to express them is flawless.
You get the feeling that Pharoahe wrote these rhymes all the way through in one sitting, rather than just picking and choosing his best one-liners and hashtag jokes and adding them all together until they made 16 bars (like some rappers…Lil Wayne…Lil Wayne, Lil Wayne, Lil Wayne…)
But that’s definitely NOT all there is to Monche as a rapper.
In rap, there are 2 major song sections: the verse and chorus. The chorus, also called the hook, is the part that’s repeated, and the verses are all the different rap parts. And the order of the sections in a song usually goes verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and continues to alternate. So…
Wouldn’t it be a REALLY good idea to musically lead from one to the other?
And we’re not just talking throwing in a “yeah!” or “because!”, at the end of a verse to kinda, sorta make that connection across sections. I’m looking at you, Eminem, end of 2nd verse, on 50 Cent’s “Don’t Push Me”, with Rapgenius lyrics here:
“You know you not dealing with some fucking / marshmallow, little, soft yellow punk pussy whose heart’s jell-O…CAUSE [50 cent chorus now:] Right now I’m on the edge / so don’t push me…"
[Disclaimer: I still think Eminem is one of the greatest MCs of all time.]
But how could a rapper better lead into the chorus from the verse?
In one of the major ways to create continuity in flow, as I explain in some in-depth videos here, which are for both the aspiring rapper and the hardcore rap listener, how about ending the verse rhyming on the same vowel sound that the chorus starts its rhyming on?
Monch ends his verse on “Oh No” by reeling off 11 rhymes in 2 bars, a rate of 5.5 rhymes per bar. This rate compares well with, if not better than, the rates we saw with MF DOOM here, Nas here, or 2pac here. Pharoahe’s lines in question are,
“PhaROAHE’s FLOWS BLOW SHOWS like aFRO’s / we HATE Y’ALL THOUGH, that’s when NATE DOGG GO,”
where all the capitalized syllables rhyme. It’s…amazing. And that’s just looking at the rhymes themselves, without what comes next.
Because when you consider that Nate Dogg immediately comes in during the same beat as the word “go”, starting his chorus with the words, “Oh no!”, and continuing to rhyme on that “oh” sound throughout the rest of the chorus –
“Niggas ain’t scared to hustle…” (Nate says it so that “hustle” rhymes with “oh no”)
It just flows like butter. That’s the kind of shit that separates great from good.
And this isn’t even considering the structure of the rhymes themselves, which are internal multisyllabic rhymes that occur in different places inside the bar and against the beat! (A beat is a musical duration of time, just like a second is a chronological measure of time. And 4 beats make up a bar, just like 60 seconds make up a minute. 16 bars usually make a verse or chorus, and choruses + verses = a full song. For a longer explanation of this check out my analysis of Kanye West, Eminem, Mos Def, and Andre 3k here.)
And it wouldn’t be Monch if we didn’t give him credit for the crazy vocab he’s got. Vocab, although it doesn’t get the respect it should in popular rap and rap in general nowadays, has always been an important part of the rapper’s tool box. As the Fugees asked back in ‘94, “Who Got The Vocab?”
Or as Busta pointed out:
“Vocabulary’s necessary / when digging in to my library”
I shouldn’t even have to quote what song that is, but the Rapgenius lyrics are here.
In various Monch songs he uses — correctly, mind you — the words “epiphany,” “rigorous”, “epitome”, “audacity”, “tenacity”, “magnanimous”, “ignoramus”, “banish”, and even more $20 SAT words. Fine, maybe the college graduates among you are unimpressed (to be fair, I had to look up “magnanimous.”) But the fact isn’t that he just strews them willy-nilly among his rap; he features them prominently by rhyming them all. On “No Mercy”, as the Rapgenius lyrics note here, he raps:
“This rhyme…will remain in the minds of my foes forever in INFAMY / the EPITOME of lyrical ePIPHANIES / skillfully placed poems, we carefully plan SYMPHONIES.”
You can hear the song at this link here
Remember: there’s good…then there’s great.
And all of this doesn’t even mention that all those capitalized words there are 3 syllable rhymes that occur in different places inside the bar and relative to the beat. So at this point, we are pretty much taking for granted and assuming that Monch is a master rhymer, on the level of someone like Eminem. Em can drop, “I’m zoning off of ONE JOINT / STOPPING A LIMO / HOPPED IN THE WINDOW / SHOPPING A DEMO at GUNPOINT” on “Still Don’t Give A Fuck”, where 15 out of 16 straight syllables are rhymed with 3 and 2-syllable long rhymes. But Monch has got, on “Behind Closed Doors”, from the album of the same name,
“Ex-MaRINE you DRAG QUEEN, WE TAG TEAM / QUEENS FINEST, the ALLIANCE DEFIANT WE BAG FIENDS”,
where 17 out of 21 syllables rhyme. You can hear that song here:
And see the proof on Rapgenius here.
Once again: good…great.
Finally, there are Monche’s jokes, puns, and double-entendres. These are way beyond what I like to call the Childish Gambino variety of metaphors, (seriously, how many different puns are there to make on, “I’m fly”?) You can find a nice summary of them on reddit at this link here. These are always plays on run-of-the-mill slang words, like “hot”, “fly”, “the shit”, and so on. Just miles, miles away from, “Serial numbers is Braille / so when you rub against, it feel all twos”, from Raekwon on the Dr. Dre beat “Catalina”.
I don’t talk about puns on here too much, but when they’re as good as Monch’s, you gotta sit up and pay attention. So simply to pique your appetite, I will explain one that I think not a whole lot of people get on the first, second, twentieth, or fiftieth listening. I know it took me a while. The line is this:
“Fill ‘em with so much lead they call / Berger and Associates!“,
from “No Mercy.” You might think, “Okay, pretty straightforward: Monch is gonna shoot them until they call lawyers to throw him in jail.”
Not so fast.
The Berger Attorney Firm, formerly known as “Berger & Associates”, is a New York law firm located at 321 Broadway in New York City, where Monch and M.O.P. are from. The firm’s website, found here, says that the Berger Attorney firm takes up cases dealing with worker’s compensation, sexual harassment, birth injuries, and injuries to children. Some real shady, sheisty shit, as far as lawyering goes. In particular (now quoting their website), “The law firm Berger Attorney helps children with lead poisoning. Children with lead poisoning from lead paint or dust can have very serious problems, including brain damage, learning disabilities, and behavior problems.”
So, Monch will fill ‘em with so much lead that they call some shyster lawyers to sue him for lead poisoning!
If you’re dying for more puns like I think you are, you can thank me later for telling you about his song from his “Internal Affairs” album, called “Official,” lyrics found here and the video here:
SAY IT WITH ME NOW, EVERYBODY!
As usual, support the artists! Even Youtube video views make a difference. Of course all these songs are on iTunes and the Internet. You can get at Monch on his myspace page (remember myspace?) here.
If you enjoyed this, please consider donating to my kickstarter campaign, funding the publishing of my book, here. Because I gotta eat somehow, these analyses will only be available for a limited amount of time for free and online. Then, I will put them in the book and make my website subscription-based, while still leaving some articles up there for free, like the Kendrick Lamar one. Please help me turn my dream into a reality. Thanks!
If you enjoyed this article, like the Composer’s Corner facebook page here or check out Martin’s blog, “Composer’s Corner”, found at http://www.rapanalysis.com, for more analysis on Nas, Eminem, Notorious B.I.G., Jean Grae, Common, Pharoahe Monch, 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, and more. Martin is a 2012 graduate of Duke University with a degree in music theory, and works as a freelance blog writer, composer, and producer. You can follow Martin on Twitter @composerscorner, or email him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.