How to Be Good at Rapping
If you've ever wanted to rap and be good at it like Eminem or 2pac, you're not alone. Though you may not ever be as talented as them, since talent like that seems to come only once in a lifetime and many people are born with natural talent, there's still a possibility that you can become a great rapper, as long as you have a little knowledge about Hip Hop and how Rap works. Lots of people seem to think that rapping is all about rhyming, but there's so many different aspects of it that go beyond just simple rhyming. I'm sure you've heard people say that rap is poetry. This is mostly true, but it's also so much more than just simple poetry. Poetry is just one small aspect of it, because while it's on paper it's nothing but poetry, but once it's recorded and performed, it becomes a completely different type of art form. So if you're just starting out and learning how to rap, here's some pointers that may help you improve your skills and focus on the areas of talent that count.
Rhyming & Wordplay
When it comes to rhyming, rap is supposed to be more complex than nursery rhymes. We've come a long way since the 80's, and yet there's still many people who still haven't improved their lyrics to show that. While it's not necessary, it helps if you can learn to rhyme more than one word at the end of each sentence. Everybody knows how to rhyme that one word at the end, but not too many people are good at rhyming more than just one word. For example, let's say the end of your first line says "I like grape juice". Then the end of your second line says "thats why I cut loose". The words "loose" and "juice" rhyme, but it would sound a lot better if you were to also rhyme "grape" and "cut", since those are the second to last words. So let's replace "cut" with a word that rhymes with "grape" but a word that still matches and makes sense with the word "loose". So instead of saying "grape juice" and "cut loose", let's say "grape juice" and "break loose". As you can see, the words "break" and "grape" sound similar, so it makes the entire rhyme sound a lot better and smoother. This style of rhyming is known as multis, which stands for multisyllable rhyming. All the real talented rappers use them at least a few times or more in their songs. Once you get better at rhyming the second to last words, try rhyming other words in the sentence, like words that are in the middle of the first line, with words that are in the middle of the second line. Multis really impress people and will take your raps from a nursery rhymes level to a professional-sounding level. In addition to multis, you should also learn other aspects such as metaphors, similes, and punchlines. None of these things are needed for you to be a good rapper, but many MC's still use them and lots of Hip Hop fans really appreciate and admire the MC's that do. If you don't know what these 3 things are, then here's a few examples. The common expression "life is a bitch" is a metaphor. Because you're taking two things that are different, and you're saying they are the same. A simile would be if you took two things that are different, and compared them by using words such as "like" or "than". In Tupac's song "Troublesome 96" he says "I bet I roll on your ass like an avalanche". In that line, he's comparing himself to an avalanche and saying he shares similar aspects with that avalanche. Punch lines were originally used mostly in comedy to refer to the end line of a joke, or the part of the joke that makes it funny and completes the joke. In rap, punch lines are used in a similar fashion, but it doesn't have to focus entirely on comedy. Punch lines have always been a part of rap since it's beginnings, but they weren't used nearly as much as they are in today's raps. This is why it took about 20 years before the Hip Hop community crowned someone as the "Punchline King", which would be Lloyd Banks of G-Unit. This is because punchlines became increasingly popular in Hip Hop in the late 90's and early 2000's, right around the time that 50 Cent and his G-Unit group were becoming popular. Lloyd banks wrote entire songs that were nothing but punchlines, so many crowned him as the King, although there had been other people with less mainstream fame that also used a similar format, like Chino XL. In one of his lines, Lloyd Banks says "I'll put a dot on your head like it's part of your religion". He's saying that he's going to shoot someone in the head so it makes a hole, but he's comparing the hole to the dots (known as tilaka) that some religious people have on their foreheads as part of their religion, specifically Hindus. The part that says "like it's part of your religion" is the punchline. That section made the rest of the line make sense, like punch lines in comedy help the joke make sense. So now that you know what multis, punchlines, metaphors and similes are, you should study as many rappers as you can and try to take notice of other aspects of their written lines, since these are some of the most common, but not the only ones used.
Content is not as important as it used to be when it comes to financial success in rap, but it helps, especially with longevity. If you're a rapper who only knows how to rap about a few things, such as cars, money, women, and clothes, then you may still enjoy some success like Soulja Boy and Lil Wayne/Cash Money have. However, your chances of lasting over the years are much better if you diversify and talk about things that people really relate to and identify with. The reason why 2pac is still one of the top selling artists and still sells albums 15 years after his death, in addition to having lots of unreleased songs, is because he has a large following of people who identify with his lyrics. The difference between a fad and a trend, is how relevant something remains. 10 years from now, people may get sick of all the glitz and glamour in Hip Hop. They may suddenly want to get back to the roots and talk about real issues again. If this were to occur, a large amount of rappers who are hot these days would be out of business overnight. If you're preparing to be the next big rap star, then you have to prepare for the future and think about how generations change. While money, women, cars, and clothes have always been a part of Rap lyrics, some rappers have focused on that more than others. On top of longevity, content will also help you gain respect from not only the general public and fans, but from fellow rappers. Nobody wants to work with that one-hit wonder type of guy who only had one hit that was about Laffy Taffy or fast cars. They want to work with genuine artists, who are artistic with their music and cutting edge with their subject matter.
When it comes to voice, nothing grabs your listener's attention better than this. Vocals have been one of the most central and important aspects of recorded music throughout history, yet when it comes to people who interested in learning how to rap, this is one of the most overlooked things that they should be focusing on. 2pac's song Dear Mama probably wouldn't have made such an impact on his listeners if he didn't have such a unique and powerful voice. Eminem's angry songs like Kim wouldn't be so intense if it weren't for his angry and escalating tone. Lil Wayne probably wouldn't even have a career if it weren't for his awkward voice. In fact, if you study majority of rappers, you will see that most of them realized the power of vocals and started developing theirs more to improve their overall sound. If you study Lil Wayne at the start of his career, compared to where he is at not, you will probably notice that his voice became less human as the years went by. This was no accident, he purposely started tweaking his voice and trying different vocals, and that's obvious if you listen to him at Point A and then again at Point C. Another good example would be in Westcoast rapper Yukmouth's vocals. If you listen to Yukmouth when he was in the duo The Luniz, his voice was not as developed as it is on more recent songs. Keak Da Sneak and Canibus are two other similar examples that I'm sure you're familiar with. All of these people worked on their vocals, while they also worked on their rhymes and content. Unlike other genres of music, having a clear voice does not always help people in Rap. It all depends on your overall sound and what type of appeal you're trying to give your listeners. Take Kool G Rap for example, many people complain that he sounds like he has marbles in his mouth and he's not rapping clearly, but at the same time, that sound is what makes his voice very distinguishable and brandable. When you hear Kool G Rap on a track, it's easy to recognize him and remember him. Your vocals are like the packaging around your product and one thing that helps you stand out in the crowd. If you want people to look at your product and listen to your rhymes, you will have to grab their attention and get them interested. Vocals also help put character and emotion into songs, so the feelings you are trying to convey on your listeners are easier to get across. There are still many rappers that are extremely talented when it comes to lyrics, but are "missing the boat" and are often overlooked because their voices are weak.
The flow of your lines is what's going to get people to bob their heads to your songs or not. There are literally hundreds of different types of flow out there, but the more mastered you are in the different types, the better chances you will have at succeeding. You should study the flow of people like Snoop Dogg and The Notorious B.I.G. and compare that to the flow of people like 2pac and people like Bone Thugs n Harmony. Lyrics and vocals are great, but they aren't going anywhere without the flow. Your voice is like your instrument, and if an instrument always plays every note in the same exact manner, it's going to be boring to listen to. Your flow is what gives your vocals and lyrics the rhythm they need to interest people. Without flow, it will just sound like you are reading words off of a piece of paper, and nobody buys an album or listens to the radio to hear that. Some people focus hard on learning a complex flow, and they stick to that and master that. This is one way of impressing people with flow, but there are other rappers who try to learn all the different types of flows that are basic and easy to learn, so they can show people that they are diverse. You can choose either of these routes, it doesn't matter, just as long as you have some type of flow and understand how crucial it is to creating interesting raps.
One of the many talents that is associated with rap music is the ability to freestyle. Freestyling is when a person is able to rap spontaneously and come up with sentences that rhyme off the top of their head. If a person is rapping with lines that they have previously memorized, written down before, or used before, then they are not freestyling. Many rappers, even some of the best rappers, fake their freestyles and are not actually spewing out words off the top of their heads. Many of them memorize lines or certain bits and pieces of full songs they've written, and use those to pretend like they are freestyling. If you've ever seen the famous recorded scene where 2pac and the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie) are sitting at a table and freestyling, you will notice that 2pac is genuinely doing it, while the Notorious B.I.G. is repeating lines that he had written down previously. We know this just from watching it, because while 2pac is rapping, he is referring to things in the room, such as a razor blade and a glass of alcohol in his hand. This shows that he improvised and incorporated things that are right in front of him into his rhyme scheme. We know the Notorious B.I.G. was spitting written lines, because the lines he is pretending to freestyle are actually lines that he used in the song "Niggas", which was written and recorded before the day he and 2pac sat down at that table and recorded themselves, although the song wasn't officially released until 1999. This isn't to say that the Notorious B.I.G. wasn't a great rapper, as he was one of the best. It's just to say that many of the best rappers aren't very good at freestyling. So if you want to be a good rapper, you don't need to know how to freestyle. That is not one of the main aspects of rapping, it's just like a bonus talent, similar to how some NBA players can spin a basketball on their fingers and some can't. Michael Jordan does not need to know how to spin a basketball on his fingers in order to be good at playing basketball. Freestyling has always traditionally been viewed by the Hip Hop community as an added bonus talent, but when Eminem's movie 8 Mile was released in theaters, many people who were not part of the Hip Hop community before then thought that freestyling was one of the primary things you need to know in order to be a great rapper. So if you don't know how to freestyle, don't worry about it, many NBA players don't know how to spin that ball on their fingers.
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