Many are in the dark about what exactly technical abilities in hip-hop are. Technique is deeply tied into the other two skills of a rapper, and can be shown in near infinite ways. Generally, technical skill is overshadowed by lyrical skill and subject matter; but it’s often, if not more, important than those two. A rap technician can be one of the most exciting things about music in general.
Technique is engorged in sound, cadence, and rhythm. You may wonder how these things tie into lyrics as they’re all musical, and lyrics is practically just literature. If you’re familiar with poetic techniques, particularly those in meter and cadence, then you’ll be aware of these. Assonance is one of the most common things heard from rappers. A “vowel rhyme” is a more descriptive title for it. Many emcees have replaced raw rhymes for it as it opens up a lot more word choices and it still is just as sonically attractive as regular rhymes. For example, Inspectah Deck’s verse in this song:
There’s also the more rare and impressive cousin of assonance, consonance. Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds instead of vowel sounds. Though, often they’re both paired together in hip-hop. A good example is Mr. Muthaf*ckin eXquire in the song “The Cauldron”
At the beginning of the second verse he says “Gift and a curse at your worse usurped in inertia, your persistent peril to quench your thirst for nirvana.” In this specific case the actual consonance was also assonance, but it’d be unique if one could align them separately while maintaining an appropriate rhythm. Another technique to add to the long list is Alliteration, which isn’t all too uncommon. One of the best examples of this is “Prefix” where Sir E.U raps some alphabetical alliteration.
A little less tied into poetry is rhyme schemes. As said before, this includes assonance and consonance as rhyme replacements. There are lot of different kinds of rhymes, in fact; the ones more attributed to flow: monosyllabic, multisyllabic, internal, slant, and end rhymes. Multisyllabic rhymes are easy to fit in most cadences and are instantly attractive to the ear. For poetic effect: eye and rich rhymes, and sometimes less impressive (depending on how its used) identical rhyme. Understanding the different types of rhymes help you decipher lyrics and understand the true complexity of a rapper’s technical skill. Then you go on to actual patterns of how rappers rhyme from line to line (ex. ABAB). Usually, the more complex these schemes are, the more of a technician the rapper is, but there are plenty exceptions. Namely Z-ro’s verse on “All My Dogs”
where he spits three rhymes in rapid succession, then does a fancifed alternating rhyme scheme.
Double time is one of the most exciting techniques because it’s instantly recognizable to any listener, and it’s well-known that many people are physically incapable of doing it without mispronunciation or taking unwanted breaths between words. By itself, double-time isn’t a big deal nowadays. In fact, a slow flow with dynamic or complex cadence pattern can be seen as more amazing. A good example of rapper who uses double-time is Eligh.
Speaking of flow, let’s get into the specifics of that. Flow is essentially the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables mixed with the cadence of the sounds. Rappers use their voice as an instrument to make the rhythms we know as rapping. You technically can’t call a flow “bad” per se, but generally speaking:
The more common a flow, the worse it is.
The more simple/redundant a flow, the worse it is
If the flow doesn’t match the rhythm of the beat, it’s bad
Unintentional and awkward rhythms are detracting factors depending on how they’re used.
Since there are infinite ways to construct a flow, it’s really impossible to define what exactly a good flow is. It’s hard to measure art. This site (check the “Rap Analysis” section, for what I was specifically talking about) is a great site for analyzing flow in hip-hop though.
Just a few of the many ways people make this music.
Check out the lyrics portion of my Three Skills series