Throughout my many years of being a student of rapping I’ve learned the power of observation. It’s amazing what you can learn when you just slow down for a moment and carefully analyze something. In this article I will share some insight that will show you how to study your favorite rappers and begin to understand their techniques on a deeper level so you can start applying them to your music.
Why Do You Like Them?
Before we dive in just pause for a moment and ask yourself why do you like them so much in the first place? What is it about them that you find so enjoyable?
Is it their flow, lyrics & rhyme schemes, delivery, music, or stage performance? Maybe it’s all of these!
Figure out what you particularly like about them and start paying close attention and study those areas. Most likely whatever you like about them is different and unique which causes them to stand out above the rest in your mind. If you acquire a deeper understanding of what their doing differently you can begin to start applying those techniques that you enjoy to your own music!
Remember this is not biting this is learning from those who inspire you! Eminem shares in this video some of the artists he studied coming up. He even stated after hearing Treach from Naughty By Nature’s verse on Yoke The Joker he didn’t write a rap for the whole summer. Tho Eminem didn’t say it I have a feeling he may have possibly started studying Treach during his short hiatus.
If you want to learn more about your favorite rappers lyrics simply do a google search for the lyrics to your favorite song by them. And remember the way you eat an elephant is one piece at a time so focus on one verse at a time with all the information I’m going to be sharing so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Highlight or notate every word that rhymes. Pay special attention to the length of their rhyme schemes. Do they last for 2 bars, 4 bars, 8 bars or more? Are they only end rhymes or are there internal rhyme schemes as well?
Transitions & Setups
Pay attention to how they start the verse off as well as end it leading into the hook. If there are any punchlines or metaphors observe how they are setup and where the punchline actually hits. Many times I’ve noticed punchlines being setup in quadrants meaning 3 bars may setup the punchline to hit extra hard on the 4th bar.
Notate what kind of words they’re using. Are they using lots of slang or does their vocabulary consist of more sophisticated words? Also pay attention to their use of descriptive words to paint pictures in your mind as you hear them.
How do they construct their thoughts? Does each bar complete a thought or do they use several bars to do so? Are their thoughts random and sporadic or organized and planned out by using the storyboard method?
If you want to go even deeper into their lyrics and learn exactly how they’re structuring each bar with rhyme schemes, breaths and timing then utilize the bar sheets that I provide in my structuring lyrics lesson
Remember when you break down what a rappers flow actually is it’s just scatting that’s been translated into syllables. So pay close attention to how many syllables they’re using per bar and where they are taking quick pauses to breath. You can make note of these in the bar sheets as well if you’d like.
An easy way to memorize a rappers flow is to memorize their lyrics because you will memorize both the lyrics and the flow at the same time. Also feel free to practice spitting their lyrics over a beat you’re writing to. If it’s easier for you to just memorize their flow aka cadence by scatting it there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Pay close attention to how often they switch their flow up. Is it every 2 bars, 4 bars, or 8 bars etc. ? Also take note on how they transition between different flows. You will most likely notice once they switch to a different flow that they will start taking breaths in a different spot and the syllable count per bar may change as well. They will also likely start and end on each bar in a different spot than the previous flow.
Learning different flows will allow you to be much more flexible and creative with your cadence when you’re approaching a new song. So learn as many as you please and try and put your on twist on them.
I like to think of delivery as the final stage in rapping. It’s where all the cadences and lyrics come together and are delivered to the listener. In my mind delivery is much like an actor acting out their lines from a script. This area is so critical as it is what makes what you’re saying believable and heart felt. If it’s not done correctly you could come off as sounding insecure, lifeless and amateur.
When you are studying a rappers delivery pay very close attention to the tone in their voice. Try and establish a baseline where their vocals are sitting at their most natural levels. And then pay very close attention to how they rise above and below that baseline to add a variance in emotion and energy in the track. You will likely find that the energy of their vocals will change on their rhyme schemes as well as the syllables that are landing on top of the kicks and snares.
Delivery can be very subtle changes in the vocals. It doesn’t always necessarily mean that the volume of their voice is changing. Sometimes it’s just the tone of their voice changing while remaining at the same volume. For instance you could say the same phrase several different ways and you could come off as serious, humorous, upset or excited base solely on the tone you say it in.
Performing live on stage and having the ability to captivate an audience is an art form in and of itself. If you’re wanting to up your performance game a few notches then study your favorite rappers stage performance.
Priming The Crowd
When they first get the mic do they go right into a song or do they interact with the crowd first to get them warmed up? If so then how are they interacting with the crowd? Are they doing callbacks for example “if you’re from X city or state let me hear you make some noise!” or “when I say X you say X”. and so on and so forth. Maybe they’re throwing free merchandise such as T-Shirts and CD’s into the parts of the crowd that are the loudest. Perhaps they spit a freestyle about current events and even include subject matter that is relevant to the specific town and venue that they are at.
Look at how they are holding the Mic. This may seem insignificant at first but on many sound systems if your hand covers up the cone of the mic it can cause feedback. Many rappers will grip the mic right below the cone and cock their elbow up a bit to the side. This can come off is looking more confident and it helps them from lowering the mic below their waste which can also cause feedback on some sound systems.
Body Language & Movement
Also study their hand and overall body movements that they make while rapping. Watch how they move around the stage and engage with all parts of the audience. There’s so many things to learn from a rappers stage performance so watch them not just as a fan but as a student and take as many notes about things you are noticing that they do that you find enjoyable.
One very important factor to take into consideration while studying your favorite rappers is the music they’re rapping to. As most rappers are developing their rap voice they will discover that certain types of music fits their rap style and voice better than others. With that being said you will want to see how close your vocals match the rapper you’re studying. If your vocals match pretty closely then you will have a good idea of what types of music may sound good to your vocals.
The Songs Key
It’s not just the style of the beat or instrumental that you should pay close attention to but more importantly the key that the song is in. The key of the song is basically the pattern of notes and octave that is being used to match the vocal range of the artists. The key scale of the artist is what producers build the whole instrumental around to ensure it’s going to fit the rappers vocal range like a glove!
So if possible try and do some google searching to see if your favorite rappers music tends to be in certain keys. If you particularly like their music feel free to start studying how their beats are made and what instruments are being used and try and recreate your own variation of their music style and put your twist on it. If you’re not into producing then you may want to search for beats that are already made to fit your favorite rappers style or consult with a producer to make you one from scratch.
My Best Advice
As you are studying your favorite rappers remember that the key is to study in small sections. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to take to much in at one time. Also be careful not to get to immersed in studying them as you may begin to feel like you’re crossing that line of simply learning their techniques to actually copying them. To help prevent this from happening you may want to consider studying only one song of theirs and then move on to another rapper you enjoy that is significantly different from the first.
In all the different categories I expounded on above everything really comes down to this very simple concept… finding patterns. All that you’re doing when you’re studying your favorite rappers is finding patterns. You simply discover and learn the techniques used to create those patterns and you add them to your arsenal to be used whenever you wish. That’s it!
How Did I Do?
Did you find this article helpful! Have a question? I’d love to hear from you so make sure you drop your 2 cents in the comments section below and I will get back to you!