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.

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100 thoughts on “Rapping, deconstructed: The best rhymers of all time

  1. "It was all just a dream for me, to be the king it seems I need a killer team to get the green for me, scene clean in my Chevy now I'm ready for trouble, count my rocks, set up shop, collect my fetty and bubble…" ( Tupac Shakur)

  2. The beats tells us when to place it in the right spot and the melody tells us what to say at that moment you have to put it out right in your mind sending an messsge

  3. I've also been making music for 2 decades and I do not think the results were all intended, sometimes it's just coincidence. Or sometimes it does not fit all in a bar, then it is spoken faster …. but it is not always all genius.

  4. "Dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we know
    that we riddled some middlemen who didn't do diddly" –Big Pun

    Close the comments now.

  5. I don't get the science behind the Andre bit. Please someone explain how he actually rhymed on the beat. The beat switch isn't consistent with the visual

  6. You probably don't need to hear this, your very smart, and I enjoyed your breakdown –

    God Bless You 🙏 😇💯 ❣️

  7. I love rap and I don’t think I will ever meet someone that has the same top 10 songs of all time that I do. Does anyone think they will ever find two people that have the same list? My favorite rap song of all time is Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me by UTFO. I really doubt that I will ever meet anyone is my lifetime that has that same favorite rap.

  8. you know whats funny tho non of the legends would of been able to or even thought of there rhymes with deconstructing video, they just wanted to say some ill rhymes and try to be the best by ear, other than understanding multis it would of never got this complicated break down in there head it just came out while freestyling to a beat

  9. Yeah the problem with a lot of popular "rap" music today (if you could even call it that) is that a lot of popular artists dont seem capable of ryhming WHILE telling an interesting story or expressing any real thoughts, feelings, or opinions. If you ask me, you can rhyme all day but if there is no content or context it doesnt really have any value. I probably sound pretentious ill shut up now…

  10. the analysis of lose yourself definitely makes me appreciate it a lot more. i never really thought about how much talent goes into making a song like that.

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