Where do you place your favourite rapper; is he or she rapping or yapping? We are not going to delve into origins or who owns what and what type of rap(s) there is, but we will first agree that rap means rhythmically applied poetry (RAP). With that out the way, we will briefly establish the idea of what it means to rap so we can know if our favourite rapper(s) is or are rapping or yapping. Don’t we all know that rap is one of the four pillars of hip hop among which are b-boying, graffiti, and DJ’ing? That’s a discussion for another day. Bear in mind that it has a purpose and designed so the rest of the elements would fit neatly into the mould we today call Hip Hop Culture. Paul Edwards in “How To Rap” posits that to rap is to articulate words and to deliver them with order and succession. It is the art and science of MCing (lyrical performance) through words and lyrics in order to influence and conjure up acceptance or glory – be it street or mainstream. Fredro Star of the hip hop group Onyx sees rap as a form of poem; a sort of poetry on music. As easy as that may sound, careful hip hoppers like us understand that a rap verse garners respect from its content, flow, writing – of course writing! and delivery. Let’s briefly look at the claims each makes on rappers.
This is the heart of the verse, it is the subject matter with regards to sticking to the title of the song. MC Shan, a Queensbridge New York rap veteran asserts that content is having thoughts behind the things you say; while Lord Jamar of Brand Nubia insists that it’s the substance of the flow that is being said within the flow. We also know that good contents are relatable whether factual or fictitious. Nas, the pride of Queens, known for his adherent to content stands a colossus in the lyrical world for his thematic investigation of subject matter. We hear him daring minds in “Book of Rhymes” saying; “The glimmers of hope provoke those without dollars to dream/ Through your existence become wealthy knowledge is king.” God’s son as he’s sometimes called knows better having bagged Five Mics from The Source magazine for his classic album of 1994. 2 Pac; another poet famed for both prophetic, conscious and political insights dared the atheist in all of us with; ‘I got shot five times and I’m still breathing/ That’s a living prove there’s a God/ if you need a reason,’ from “Letter to My Unborn Child” off the “Until The End of Time” album. However, it’s worthy to note that contents could be negative or positive, private or public depending on title. Of the many views shared by informed minds of the industry, Crooked i, seemed to have summed it up in the following way; “I don’t care what you are – a political rapper, a conscious rapper, a gansta rapper, backpack rapper – have some pride in the lyrics you’re putting together because its important”.
It has to do with the rhythm and rhymes a verse contains. It is fittingly stepping in time with the music; the beat. Paul Edward argues that in flow; the rhythm and rhyme of the flow are as important to rapping as melody and rhythm are to playing musical instruments. Did you hear that? Oh, I thought I was the only one. Eminem’s “8 Miles” flow exemplifies that; “Sometimes I just feel like, quitting I still might/ Why do I put up this fight, why do I still write/ Sometimes it’s hard enough just dealing with real life/ Sometimes I wanna jump on stage and just kill mics/ And show these people what my level of skill’s like.” Strange rhymes but the rhythm will surely get one going – need to listen to the whole song. No matter how intricate the rhyme pattern gets, it is that entertaining part that leads you to content. It is this very ingredient – flow, that makes a song popular or a hit. It has to do with pauses, rests, overlapping syllables, and stresses, all depending on the rappers’ styles and different abilities. Ever wonder why Notorious BIG is more appealing than rappers of his day? After saying; “Ain’t no other kings in this rap thing, they sibling/ Nothing but my children, one shot, they disappearing,” Biggie confidently killed it with that legendary Flava In Ya Ear rhyme; “I see… the gimmicks, the wack lyrics/ That shit is depressing, pathetic, please forget it/ Mad cause my style you admiring/ Don’t be mad UPS is hiring.” I haven’t shelved Nas’ Illmatic, but what could be iller?
Isn’t this one of the most important aspects of rap since rap lyrics are sometimes referred to as rhymes? Rhyming with reason isn’t a plate every rapper or MC can boast of eating, that’s why passing a message at the same time making efforts to rhyme is a show of skill every good rapper aspires to have. It gives the flow musicality. It’s the art of bending words and making them sound the same, thats more like, rhyming without rhyming. If you’ve listened to Killah Priest, Eminem, Jay Z, GZA, Kanye West, J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar among others, you already know what we are saying. However, Shock G of that defunct group; Digital Underground succinctly states; “A good MC should hold his rhyme patterns in the same regard that a graffiti artist holds his illustrations – with is own style, flair, and originality.” There you have it. It is giving structure to your lyrics. Or consider the rhyme and the rhyme scheme of Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” thus; “You can’t hold God’s people back that long/ The chain of Shatan wasn’t made that strong/ Trying to pretend like your word is your bond/ But until you do right, all you do will go wrong/ Now some might mistake this for just a simple song…” It goes on and on and as in the words of Biggie Smalls; If you don’t know, now you know!
Even if you’re actually ‘free-styling’, you’re writing rhymes or spewing rhymes written in your memory! Yes, I said it. Rick Ross said it best on “Freemason”, ‘Right now I could rewrite history/ I stopped writing, f**k it, I’ll do it mentally.’ Writing in rap is putting down content, flow and rhymes together to call them lyrics. It narrows down to a combination of flow and content and sometimes involves research. We all know that sometimes research isn’t enough and one has to be a good observer to come up with incredible insights like investigative journalists do. I wish one could read the catalogues of Wutang Clan, Mos Def, Army of The Pharaohs, Lupe Fiasco, Big Daddy Kane, AZ, Talib Kweli, Common, KRS One, Jedi Mind Tricks, Scarface, Immortal Technique, Canibus, Lil Wayne, Andre 3000 and Snoop Dogg (before he became Snoop Lion) among a host of others to decipher the dedication put into writing. Does the verse sound like a short story with styles and techniques of narration while experimenting with point of view? Or does the whole album seem like a novel with a beginning, middle and end as it tries to philosophy or tell a good story? Is the plot of the verse or album chronological – simple, or mosaic – complex? Albums like “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” or his “The Art of Storytelling” and Sticky Fingaz’s “Black Trash: The autobiography of Kirk Jones” come to mind. MCs need to look in the right direction, in the right places, for the right contents, to achieve the right results. If you have a writer’s block or your brain had decided to holiday at the most sacred hour, please hit the bookshelves. Or ask for divine guidance instead of misleading us.
It’s vocal transmission of flow, and content while paying attention to rhyme, pauses and stresses in syllables. It’s controlling your breath to the rhythm of the beat and the words have to be clearly said to make sense. Note: the words have to be comprehensible. Not a childish jabber, even Bone Thugs N Harmony, Mystikal and Twista among other fast-tongued rappers are heard. Delivery is adjusting voice to fit a mood or mode you wish to express. Rakim’s “18th Letter (Always & Forever)” of the same album title surmises the art of delivery in “I come and reign with the unexplained for the brains ’til things change/ They strain to sling slang, I’m trained to bring game/ History that I arranged been regained by King James/ Go to practice, with tactics, when the track hits, theatrics/ Women that look like actress the status of Cleopatra’s/ Stacks of mathematics took the ego -a- geatics?” What? Fire! Rakim’s jazzy flow is always praised for its seamless rendition and compared to a musical instrument – he did play the saxophone at a point. The “18th Letter” album was the first to be offered a million dollar deal in rap history and that tells you the creative depth and commitment the lyrical material was and is still worth today. Many good Mcs have been left out of this eclectic find – especially female rappers, not because they’re not ill but for space and ready examples to fulfil the need of answering our subject matter. We were simply looking for that Jay Electronica’s Exhibit C flow; I’m hotter then the mothafuckin’ sun, check the thermometer/ I’m bringing ancient mathematics back to modern man/My momma told me never throw a stone and hide your hand.” There’s a standard to everything, what is popular today may sometimes be short of standard and that’s why ethics of every discipline must be observed like the universality in currency and empirical science – accepted everywhere. The popularity of an opinion doesn’t amount to its truthfulness. If there are ideas anyone wishes to see expressed on this platform, we will love to do justice to it by letting us know in the comment section. How many of us could look at our favourite rapper and say; “Hmmm, it’s quite amazing that you rhyme how you do/ And that you shine like you grew up in a shrine in Peru”. So; Is your favourite rapper rapping or yapping? Or is he or she just a slave in another MC’s rhyme book?