4 Quarters Make 1 Dollar
Welcome to another edition of Be A Better Rapper Now! You may be wondering how to start rapping. One of the first things you need to learn how to do is hack the beat. What does hacking the beat mean? I’m not talking about stealing a beat from another producer or artist. That’s called beat jacking which is another topic. What I mean by hacking the beat is understanding the core fundamentals of the beat that you are writing to. In the real world we measure things by width, depth, inches, centimeters, yards, feet, miles etc.
In music you have measurements as well which are pretty basic. The term that is used to determine length in a song is ironically called “measures” or in hip hop measures are also referred to as “bars”. Bars and measures are exactly the same thing. All they are is a small piece of space in musical time. For example, in Hip Hop a bar is typically 4 beats. When I say beats i’m not talking about Dr. Dre headphones or hip hop instrumentals. Beats are pretty much little check points within each bar. Each bar will typically have 4 beats in it. Think of it like this, 4 quarters make 1 dollar so 4 beats make one measure.
These 4 beats are typically referred to as quarter notes. So again 4 quarter notes make 1 measure or bar. I am sure you have heard people in music especially live bands count 1,2,3,4 and then they start playing. What they are doing is what you call a pre-count. Which is establishing 1 bar or measure to the tempo of the song so the band can start on time and in tempo with one another. Depending on how fast the tempo is will determine how quickly the 1,2,3,4 count is.
Dancing With The Beat
When learning how to rap understanding this basic structure of musical length will allow you to hack any beat in hip hop. Typically the kick drum hits on the 1st and 3rd quarter note or beat and the snare drum typically hits on the 2nd and 4th quarter note or beat. Knowing this information will give you a clear indication of where you are in the actual bar. The reason this is important to know is because rapping is mimicking the percussive elements to the beat (instrumental). This allows you to ensure that when you are writing your lyrics or rapping that you are on beat.
I am sure you have heard the term “on beat” before and that’s exactly what I means. It means that you are in time & in sync with the tempo of the track and the drums typically carry the rhythm. So when you are rapping you want to be verbally dancing with the beat with your words landing on top of the kick and snare drums most of the time. You should be complementing the beat and adding to it instead of taking away from it by being off beat. Your rhymes should flow so well with the beat that they seem as if they are a part of the drum kit. This is going to make your flow sound tight and professional opposed to sounding like an amateur.
Speaking The Same Language
Another reason why it is important to know how to count bars is to be able to speak the same musical language with other artists. For example let say an artist hits you up and they are asking for you to jump on a track with them and they say that they need 16 bars. You need to be able to know how long 16 bars is. It would be really embarrassing for you to write 24 bars only for them to hit you back and be like “yo I asked for 16 bars your verse is to long for the song”. Then you have to go back and do double work to fit your verse into 16 bars. Tempos vary and some tracks are going to be faster than others so it’s really important that you are able to count your bars. Typically in Hip Hop verses are 16 bars and hooks are 8 bars.
1 of the core fundamentals
Learning how to rap is made up of several core fundamentals and this is definitely one of them. Having this knowledge allows you to be much more structured and systematic with establishing your rhythms as you begin to figure out how you are going to flow to the beat. Hacking the beat will act as guide to ensure that you are not off tempo and that you are able to measure your bars correctly. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I would love to hear your take on hacking beats. If you found this article helpful and would like to receive updates when new editions to this series are released & also receive a free copy of my e-book called The #1 Fundamental To Rapping then make sure you sign up here.