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

  1. Strange, no mention of G Rap , Pun or AZ!

    AZ was Eminems primary influence, check Infinite to hear direct comparisons.

    He later changed the style but kept the complexity.

  2. This video is fascinating and rappers who are great writers are impressive, but I guess I don't consider all of these Paul Simon half-rhymes as rhymes. That doesn't make these songs less amazing, but none of those words rhyme with orange.

  3. Y’all gotta remember that the rap has to sound good… it ain’t just a textbook u study. That’s why many “top 50” rappers, aren’t actually that great. That’s why em is > biggie

  4. Kendrick Lamar is trying so hard to keep the old school going but man these kids just love all the new rappers that are the same age as them

  5. i dont have great proof on my channel but i do almost all these things since i started rhyming cause I started off of Samy Deluxe

  6. All of you are retarted. The industry is full of devil worshipers. Immortal Technique and Professor Griff are better than any of these so called rappers here.


  8. Wow! You have successfully convinced me that hip hop IS the rightful Crown Prince to Jazz music. Jazz is all about improvisation.

  9. Oh the good ole days. Back when rap reigned supreme and true hip hop artist kept it real. Now its full of a bunch of clowns and jokers. Well, at least kendrick is somewhat putting it down. Bring back the true artist!!

  10. Lol…u think lose yourself is complex ryhming… Me and Marshall both are laughing 😂😂🤣 listening to stay wide awake 2nd verse

  11. What is lost is the dedication to rap as an artform …..Rakim says it all here….that's why Big and Pac were so great they really studied their peers before them and then tried to improve lyrics and flow

  12. the one thing that surprised me is that some or many of these rappers went to college and are pretty smart and many had a love for poetry so makes sense that many would be able to rhyme thats what poetry is about and telling a story of course

  13. "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)

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