Rapping, deconstructed: The best rhymers of all time

Rapping, deconstructed: The best rhymers of all time


A few weeks ago, I interviewed one of my favorite
rappers, Open Mike Eagle. And immediately we started geeking out over the masked emcee,
MF Doom. His flow I have to be careful with his flow
because his flow lives in my mind and in my heart. I can almost get into his mind on how
he writes. You know? This is what MF Doom sounds like. Just listen. He’ll have entire bars that rhyme. Like
the entire set up bar rhymes with every syllable in the punchline bar. It’s incredible. It made me wonder: What can I learn from rappers simply by looking
at how they rhyme with the beat? I try to start off with 16 dots on the paper. That’s Rakim. He’s widely regarded as
one of the most influential MCs of all time. If 4 bars was this long. I see like a graph
between them four bars. I could place so many words and so many syllables. I could take
it to the point where there were no other words you could put in those 4 bars. So, before we get into rhymes we need to know
what beats and bars are. Martin: I always try to find the beat of the
music first. That’s Martin Connor. He’s analyzed the
most rhythmically dense rap songs down to the last syllable. And he writes about it. Martin: A bar is a grouping together of 4
beats. Before guys like Rakim came along, rhymes
in rap songs were pretty basic. Take one of the first commercially successful
rap songs from 1980, “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow This simple AA BB rhyming pattern with no
word play or puns is pretty predictable, lyrically and musically But, fast forward to 1986 and you’ve got
songs like “Eric B. Is President” from Eric B. & Rakim. Compare this to “The Breaks” and it’s
clear the frequency of rhymes is greater. But not only are you seeing more rhymes you’re
also starting to see different kinds of rhymes. “Indeed” and “Proceed” are internal
rhymes because they happen inside the sentence. “Man made a mix” and “band-aid to fix”
are multisyllable rhymes The other thing Rakim does later in the verse
is cross the bar line and he does it in a tremendously clever way. Crossing the bar line happens when a sentence
like “The rhyme can’t be kept inside” doesn’t end when the bar ends. If you listen closely you’ll hear that the
second syllable of inSIDE Lands on the first beat of the next bar. Rakim even references this in the lyric. And
it’s pretty clever. Now, fast forward 11 years and Notorious B.I.G’s
“Hypnotize” cleverly used Rakim’s techniques to make one of the smoothest rap songs ever. Martin: What I like most about this is that
it’s not predictable and it’s always changing. So sometimes Notorious B.I.G.s sentences are
long. Sometimes they’re short. Like the moment in this verse here: He’s also completely comfortable delivering
a sentence across the barline. But, what makes this song stand out the most to me
is that before one rhyme scheme ends, another one begins. Like this moment in verse 2. The first group of rhymes is the “oo”
rhymes and it links the first and second sentence which then begins the “ih” and so on. It’s a huge reason Biggie sounds so smooth
here. Now, as much as Biggie daisy chained an entire
song together with rhymes, he was, for the most part using single syllable and single
word rhymes. And this is where artists like Mos Def push
things even further. His verse on “Re:Definition” from 2002
hits nearly every note within the bar with 4 syllable rhymes. And he does it across a whopping 14 bars. In Re:Definition, Mos Def is very clearly
rhyming each word with the beat. This is where Andre 3000 shakes things up
with his verse in Aquemini. Focus on the beat first. Now listen to each syllable, with the beat in mind. Most rappers would have dollars, parlors,
and bottles all rhyme similarly on the beat. But Andre is accenting each rhyme within different
places relative to the beat and bar. People say that the word orange doesn’t rhyme with anything.
And that kinda pisses me off because I can think of a lot of things that rhyme with orange… In fact, Eminem, does this exact thing on
his 2002 song “Business” Eminem doesn’t just pack in tremendously
dense multi syllable rhymes, he also tells incredibly vivid stories. And for a lot of people that wins in a battle. This is where “Lose Yourself” comes in.
It was the first rap song to win an Academy Award. Whew the Oscar goes to Eminem, for Lose Yourself
from 8 Mile. Martin: I’ll see the line and I’ll separate it all into not just words or sentences, but into their syllables. When you group all of these rhymes together,
this incredibly complex rhyme scheme emerges. It’s unpredictable, it’s complex rhythmically
and lyrically but – It’s not just that you’re rhyming,
It’s that while you’re rhyming you’re still telling a good story. And “Lose Yourself” is like that. Today, rappers like Kendrick Lamar are carrying on the tradition of artists
that are able to use the musicality of rhymes to create really memorable songs. Let’s look at Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortus” The first thing you’ll notice is that Kendrick
has created a very clear motive with his rhymes. What’s a motive? It’s a short musical
idea. A musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in
a composition. Here’s probably the most recognizable motive
in the history of music. That “du du du dummmmm” is carried out
through the entire piece. It’s 3 quick notes followed by a long note. The musical motive in “Rigamortus” is
two short notes followed by a long note, stringing the entire
song together. When Kendrick goes into 4th gear he
keeps the motive going. And the motive keeps him in check. As much as Biggie’s “Hypnotize” sounds
completely different from “Rigamortus” there are a lot of musical similarities. Remember how Biggie daisy chained rhymes?
Kendrick does that too here. In “Hypnotize” Biggie also creates a motive with the sequence
of rhymes here: Now, let’s get back to MF Doom. Two years
after “Lose Yourself” won an Academy Award, MF Doom released 3 full albums including Madvillainy – which is widely considered one
of the best underground hip hop records period. Mos Def can’t even contain his excitement
talking about Doom. For the most part, MF Doom rhymes on the beat
but he uses multi syllable rhyming phrases up with wazoo often rhyming entire lines together. This is called a holorime. Mike: He’ll do setup punchline. Like his
following bar will be referencing the punchline but not in a way that he’ll be setting up
a another one, he just starts to go in another direction, but just acknowledges where the last bar was. This is what Mike is talking about. MF Doom understands the power of rhyme and
the beat and completely manipulates it in a humorous way. As Pitchfork points out “the rhyme’s pattern
and rap’s topical stereotype demands the word “bitches,” yet Doom hilariously says “booze”
and uses that rhyme to connect the next sentence. Where artists like Kendrick Lamar, Eminem,
and Andre 3000 are telling very vivid stories with their rhymes, MF Doom is using his dense
rhymes like a villain would use his superpower. Before you know it you’re being hit with
a killer punchline, double entendres, and clever wordplay. Martin: I love rappers with that syncopated uneven phrasing where the sentences don’t line up with the bars because, like you said, you can’t predict what’s going to happen. The point of appreciating it is to see what the very most clever human beings are capable of doing that you didn’t think possible.

100 Replies to “Rapping, deconstructed: The best rhymers of all time

  1. Their rhythms are OK, but their vocabulary and themes are weak. Second generation rappers (Rakim, Latifah, Kane, G-Rap, etc…) had stronger vocabularies for lyrics, with more powerful themes (tricknology) in their rhymes. In the end, it's all about 'them' words in those rhymes, with a deep subject. Anyone can rhyme in and out of a bar which we called rhythmic rhyming, but it's those words and topics that define how deep your mental is!!!

  2. this reminds me of a part of a verse i came up with in 08' the bar goes "Nice fullback and i love her back field and she like to have that when i hit it from the back feel" (the whole verse used football references as punchlines). later i realized that i could go from "she to "back feel without fully pronouncing the words. and years later found it interesting and funny i could hum and not say the words in between "she" and back feel. What's more interesting is while typing this i realized that i could change that when to the when and i still get my point across. it take years to get to that point.

  3. This isn’t cool to me. They’re trying to take EVERYTHING from us. In 100 years black people will be forgotten as the architects of hip hop. Just like Rock and Roll, Jazz and so on….

  4. I always loved this vid but I feel the rhyme styles of Ghostface, GZA, Big Pun, Redman, Common, Kweli, Twista, Jay Z and Kool G Rap (all in their lyrically primes) should have been included, if only just briefly…. Each one made a vast contribution to the MC culture alone

  5. This is without a doubt, no exaggeration one of the greatest videos I have ever had he pleasure of watching. So well constructed and researched.

  6. Lil pump is still better than all of these dudes and it's not even close. He was able to create a banger by repeating 2 words throughout the song. His lyrics and schemes are just so complex and he even has quadruple entendres that our feeble minds can't fathom. He's truly the greatest and anyone who says otherwise doesn't know true hip-hop.

  7. I pray, for forgiveness and apologize, for creating these genres, because they are getting my young brothers into so much pain and misery. Dear Judges: "Please, LET MY PEOPLE GO! I created these genres, (rap and hip hop) and then; I left them unattended and without instruction and proper guidance. For this I am truly sorry! I was unaware of the many ways, you would use them against my brothers. Please; just "LET MY PEOPLE GO!

  8. Lose yourself first rap academy award, that's some BS. Set if off, above the rim, and many other OST had bangers. Just the world we live in I guess, still some BS

  9. You guys say Kurtis Blow doesn't use wordplay or rhymes, but he uses both with "breaks" and "brakes," it's right there in your little dataviz

  10. I really like how this video is able to give the information and explain these songs without picking favorites; bravo to you, honestly

  11. I consider Vox to be the best story teller in youtube. The flow of the stories is so good. I have been consuming a lot of their vidoes lately.

  12. Great video, really enjoyed it. It would be even better if you could do segments on individual rappers including 2pac, Jay-Z, Nas, J. Cole, and Drake.

  13. Rappers like Andre 3000 and Kendrick Lamar are really really good with lyrics but then you get Migos, Future, Lil Pump that somewhat make rap a joke.

  14. nothing new here. This is just scansion for poetry and metrics. Cacophony, assonance, alliteration, enjambment, end rhyme, internal rhyme. It's just that much of the rap world and their fans are ignorant of it.

  15. DOOM is without a doubt one of the best rappers of all time and its a shame that hes actually relatively unknown, most people I talk to about music/hip-hop have never heard of him.

    Living Legend.

  16. Thank you for making this video, it gave me a greater appreciation for the greats, and the art of rap.

    It also gave me a real appreciation for poetry as a whole.

  17. In short, black folks are soulful creatures. What we do and say, the way we dress, what we drink drives the culture, even those who hate us imitate us. ps, Rakim is the goat, because Rakim revolutionized the flow, he became and is the standard for how rap would be done for the duration of the artform.

  18. when I was young I had a friend from Jamaica he was doing this before it got on the radio. you just give him a topic and he do a whole song around it that told a story. He said people where he came from like to practice this. This was about 1977. we just said cool.

  19. For the people who dont understand, rap/hip-hop is an art and it may not be as easy as it looks. For the people who thinks hip-hop is nothing but nonsense and unintelligible, ask them to come up with a rhyme straight from the dome and see what happens.

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