So you want to know how to rap? Are you a beginner trying to put your first rhymes together or are you more advanced? Tired of reading about rap theory and actually want some practical exercises?
A lot of people think that rap is a natural talent; a mystery that cannot be taught. This is not true. While many people have a strong sense of rhythm and timing and others are good with words, these are skills that can be worked on and developed. Even freestyling can be gradually developed; though this is something that people often have a predisposition to. Like with everything in life, with knowledge and practice you can develop and improve. Nobody tries to learn the piano without knowledge and practice; why would rap be any different.
Rap can be seen in Jazz, Rock, Folk, and World music as well as more traditional urban genres such as Grime, Drum and Base and Hip Hop. I have also aimed this at people who already rap, and the information will hopefully increase understanding and ability.
There are some fundamentals of rap, so before you use the links let me break down the key things you need to be able to work on to develop good rap technique.
Timing – to put it simply if you can’t count the beat then you can’t rap. When you learn to play the music you learn to count 1234 along to the music. This is your basic skill and something you can practice to any track.
Rhyming – most of rap revolves around the ability to rhyme words. While it is not essential and groups such as Public Enemy ‘I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddling’ didn’t use rhyme to a large extent, it is still key to the rap sounds.
The ability to listen – listening to other rappers, listening to the track, listening to other types of music, listening is vital. One of the most important exercises you can do is to simply take part in call and response exercises, imitating what rappers do. After all, you don’t start composing music on the violin the day you have your firs lesson; you imitate starting off with simple things and then becoming more complex.
Imitation – Another key exercise is to simply write down songs you hear and learn the raps, rapping along with the rapper. if you can rap other peoples lyrics, you can rap. The next step is to write your own.
Counting The Beat
Counting the beat is essential in all forms of music and rap is no different. If you can’t count the beat,you can’t stay in time with the music and the other musicians.
Most songs that are used in Hip Hop and other popular forms of music are counted in 4 time. In other words we count along 1,2,3,4 and then start the cycle again.
Sometimes the music is counted in 3 time, think of the 123,123, sound of the waltz.
We can also rap in a 123,123, way over a standard 4 count.
For an example of a 3 count track listen to Kanye West Spaceship.
A great way to start out practicing rap technqiue is to put a moderate tempo track on and count along to it,1 2 3 4. Some will find this easy; some will find it difficult, but with practice you will lock into the rhythm of every track you put on.
Then to add to this, try putting a word on each 4 count, for example 1,2,3, rap, 1,2,3, name.
Once you have done this, try putting a word on the four and then thinking of a rhyming word to go on the next four. See how long you can keep the rhyme going for. This will improve your ability to count to a track, your ability to put words to that count and your capacity to rhyme words. Try listening to different genres and see if the 4 count works, or if you think another count is needed.
There are an infnite number of rhyme patterns but there are also a core few that are commonly used. But what is a rhyme pattern? It is simply a way of constructing your rhymes in a song.
One of the most common rhyme patterns is called ‘rhyming on the snare’. Think of the best as boom bap boom boom bap. The bap sound is the snare drum. Often it is on the 2 and the 4.So rhyming on the snare can often be thought of as rhyming on the two and on the four.
Kick Snare Kick Kick Snare
I am writing a rhyme
It sounds funky every time.
With the rhyming words ‘rhyme’ and ‘time’ on the snare or the four.
Another rap pattern is called internal rhyme. It simply means having rhymes inside each line rather than simply at the end of each line.
Forgot monotony, I probably created a monopoly.
Its possibly the hottest beat and mixed in with philsophy.
This also uses multi syllabic rhymes: rhyming words with more than one syllable. this gives it a complex and sophisticated sound.
There are many other rhyme patterns and some are more common to diffferent genres.
Meter is all about the placing of syllables in lines to create different rhythms. To understand meter you need to understand word stress and syllables.
Lets start with syllables.
The word today has two syllables or ‘sounds’. ‘to day’.
The word tomorrow has three syllables or sounds.
So what about stress? Word stress is something we do naturally. When we say a word we push down on a particular syllable. For example with the word ‘photo’ we push down on the ‘pho’ part of the word.
With the word ‘beserk’. We push down on the ‘serk’ part of the word. So its beSERK and not BEserk. Another way to think about is to think that we are holding that sound a little longer. Say the two variations slowly pushing down on one sound and then the other.
The word address is interesting. In America they stress the ADD part of the word, ADD ress. In England we stress the ‘ress’ part of the word add RESS.
Meter is how we place words with different types of stress next to each other. There are four types of meter.
This is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, for example
i WRECK the MIC and RIP it HARD.
The first sound is stressed and the second is unstressed.Take for example famous poem.
TI ger TI ger BUR ning BRIGHT
IN the FOR est OF the Night.
To hear the difference between these two types of meter try repeating the word
‘eject eject eject’ over and over, Notice the feel of this and how it seems to lift at the end of each word.
Then repeat the word ‘tiger tiger tiger’. Notice the feel of this and how it seems to drop at the end of each word.
These two types of meter can be applied to tracks to give them these different feels.
This is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed. The waltz has this feel. Try repeating the words ‘rashers and sausages, rashers and sauages’ and you will get this feel.
This is the reverse of Dactylic so we have two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed. The rapper APL.D.AP uses this is the song ‘like that’ by the Black Eyed Peas (2.30 in)
Meter is an advanced technique and something you start to feel rather than over analyse but once mastered can give your rap rhythms a varied and interesting feel.
Phrasing is the way in which we use pauses in a rap, emphasise certain lines, or say things earlier or later than expected.
The best way to think about phrasing is to listen to Jazz solos. When does the saxophone player choose to pause in their solo, which bits do they speed up for, which bits do they slow down for.
One way to work on phrasing is to take a line from a song and practice saying certain words earlier or later, stretching out certain sounds or placing pauses in different places.
It might help to think of the idea of a joke. In a joke we place a pause before the punchline. This is a choice of phrasing. We constantly phrase throughout conversation, sometimes simply to accommodate breathing, at other times to create suspense, convey excitment or keep our listener engaged.
Freestyling is the ability to improvise rap lyrics, thinking of rhymes over the top of your head. The best freestylers engage with the environment around them, talking about what someone in the audience might be doing or an object in the room.
All freestylers have lines that they have stored in their heads ready to use when necessary. These ‘fall back’ lyrics give them something to fall back on while they think of the next thing to say. The more rhymes you know, the more lyrics you have stored and ready to use.
One of the best exeplars of freestyle rap is the rapper ‘Supernatural’.
While freestling is a great way to impress, some of the best rappers can’t freestyle and some of the best freestylers can’t make a decent rap song, so it is not the be all and end all.
Freestlying is now also sometimes used as a term to denote something rapping a pre written verse over a track that they have just heard.
A good way to practice freestyling is to simply talk about your day or a topic you know well, along to a track. Then try emphasising whatever particular word you are on when you get to the four count. This will get you used to improving in a rhythmic way.
Another effective way of practicing is to start with an easy word to rhyme such as ‘sea’. Then write a few basic lines. Learn them; rap them; and then try to add on other rhymes from the top of your head.
Wherever you choose to take your ability to rap is up to you, whether it be on a rap, rock, folk, or jazz track; or whether just to impress your friends.