How To Rap – Understanding Ad-libs

Puzzled Faces

When you are learning how to rap one word that you are going to eventually come across are ad-libs. Most rappers never learn the importance of this word until they are in the studio recording and the engineer asks them “do you want to do some ad-libs?”. I know this for a fact because I have been that engineer asking that very same question to artists. Every now and then the artist will look back at me with a puzzled face and curiously ask “What are ad-libs?”.


Ad-lib is actually short for the word ad libitum which means “at ones pleasure”. In the musical sense it simply means to act or speak withoutimprove_rapping preparation also known as improvising or improve for short. When you hear the word improve the image of actors on stage doing funny things may come to mind. Basically what improve is to actors is equivalent to what free styling is for rappers.

Enhancing The Flavor

spice_up_your_rapsTechnically Ad-libs are not freestyles because they are typically not full thoughts however they are usually small pieces of unprepared speech which are added to recordings to add more vibe, emotion & personality if needed. Think of ad-libs like seasoning, it’s not the actual meat and potatoes (lead vocal) of the dish but are enhancers to bring out more flavor.

Robust, Subtle Or None At All

Just like in the cooking world, how much or how little seasoning you need is dependentlil_jon_ad-libs upon the dish and your personal preference. This theory directly applies to ad-libs in your recordings as well. In one song it may be appropriate to add a LiL Jon “YEAH!!” “What!!” “Okay!!” while on another more mellow & intimate song it may call for some sincere lower energy sounding ad-libs. But also don’t rule out the possibility that the track may not need any ad-libs at all.

If You Add Anything Make Sure It’s Adding Value

The most important thing to remember is that if you are adding ad-libs to the track they should be adding value and not taking away from the song. Unless you are recording a really crunk track subtle ad-libs mixed at volumes lower than the lead vocal usually works best. If possible try to place you ad-libs in between words from your lead vocals. This ensures that the ad-lib is not distracting the listener from the focal point of the song which is most likely the lead vocal. If I choose to record ad-libs I often like to make them so low in volume and subtle that you need headphones on to really notice them. To me personally rapping_experimentthis adds something somewhat hidden for the listener to discover.

Do What’s Best

Please remember this isn’t just music this is your music! and there is no right or wrong way to do ad-libs. Experiment and have fun with them or heck don’t use them at all! It’s entirely up to you how you wish to sound on records and the bottom line is you want to do what you personally feel sounds best for your song.

How Did I Do?

How do you like to record your ad-libs? Have a question or a comment? Please feel free to drop your 2 cents in the comments section below and I will get right back to you! Cheers to being a better rapper now!

    • Hey Mike, yes when I mentioned stacks that is when you say your whole main vocal over again on a separate track which is typically turned down and kind of tucked behind the main vocal to give it a little more body if needed. Spot stacks is when you only say certain parts of your main vocal that you may feel need more emphasis or energy. Let me know if this explanation helps clarify things for you.

      • I thought that’s what you meant. I just hadn’t heard the terminology for them.. I tend to do spot stacks but I just call them dubs. Perhaps I’m using the wrong term. Thanks for the clarification.

        • Oh no, you’re not using the wrong terminology technically you are doing dubs. Spot stacks and stacks are just different ways to specify what kind of dub it is your doing that’s all. Glad to be able to clarify things. Hope you had an awesome Thanksgiving Mike!

    • lol welcome to the club! Most of us have all been there at some point of time 🙂 I figured I might as well give others a head up so they wont be caught off guard and instead be like ad-libs? oh yeah no doubt run it! lol

  • could you explain what is the terminology for these new “fill-in” adlibs that almost takes the spot of a verse. its hot right now and maybe for awhile. a reference, Andy Mineo – Piasono Wylin (first verse)?

    • Hey Chris thanks for reaching out with your question. Basically what Andy Mineo was doing in the first verse was his way of demonstrating what unskilled rappers sound like as he makes that reference in his second verse I do believe. Basically all that is going on in verses like these is the verse is lacking lyrics and are being filled in with adlibs with a delay effect on them. There is really nothing new here as far as adlibs are concerned but as you pointed out they are basically taking up half of the verse as there is only like half a verse there in the first place lol I hope that helps clarify things for you. So in summery there is nothing new going on here with adlibs they are just more prominent in verses that lack lyrics 🙂 Does that help out?

  • Thank you, this was very engaging to read and my understanding of adlibs is definitely better now.

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