Flow is everything. Anyone can write a witty rap, but the skill and craft devoted to just the delivery is another story. “It’s just like Pimp C from UGK,” according to David Banner in Paul Edwards’ How To Rap 2: Advanced Flow & Delivery Techniques. “Pimp C may not be what people consider the biggest lyricist, but his style and his voice—I’d rather listen to him than somebody so called lyrical.”
In How To Rap 2, Edwards gives readers valuable insight into the dynamics behind the art of flow and delivery. Every facet of every aspect—from rhyme placement, to vocal pitch changes—is discussed by Edwards, and 104 pertinent emcees interviewed for their input. No stone is left unturned in this comprehensive manual for aspiring artists.
“I wrote How to Rap 2 to help preserve the history and techniques of rapping, specifically the flow and delivery side of the art form, which is often overlooked,” explains author Paul Edwards. “I feel like the musicality of rapping has been under-appreciated in general, and I wanted to give people the tools to explain its significance. I hope readers of the book gain a thorough understanding of what goes into the rhythm, rhyme, and vocal aspects of rapping, and come away with a vocabulary for discussing these elements in detail.”
Gift of Gab from Blackalicious provides the Foreword, discussing how his first rap was written in self-defense, directed at a peer who daily ridiculed others with his rhyming abilities. “He kept killing us, kept killing us, kept killing us—but as I got older and my skill developed, one day I got to a point where I was better than he was,” notes Gab. Confidence is key, but as Edwards chiefly contends, style and flow go hand-in-hand.
Here are 10 Things that stood out in How To Rap 2:
You’ve Got To Have A Good Voice
According to Edwards: “Voice is the first element of MCing that listeners hear and judge you on—it is your first impression. Listeners immediately decide whether they like your voice or not and whether to keep listening.” But that doesn’t mean artists are limited to their natural pitch. Edwards points to the Beastie Boys and B-Real, who rap in different voices than their speaking ones.
Understand The Importance Of Flams
In drumming terms, flams are when grace notes precede each beat within the measure. Put more simply, “Who We Be” by DMX is delivered in a basic flam style. Most fans are familiar with this type of delivery, but at the same time, “flam” isn’t exactly the most popular word among listeners. Edwards also supplies a fun fact in this section: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien can write drum notation and articulate his verses in both written form and as drum patterns. Basically, he knows every which way a song can be sung.
Experiment With Your Voice
One of Edwards’ recommendations for voice alteration is to mimic the opposite gender. For male emcees, experimenting with female voices can add another dimension to some songs when it’s done effectively, whether it’s dialogue within the verses, or just a change of mood. Voice experimentation also enables the possibility of creating an alter ego (a la Slim Shady).
There’s Four Pages On The Art Of Stuttering
According to Edwards, “Stuttering can be added one or more times in a song simply to provide more variety to the rhythm and sound of the track.” Emcees might stutter to better reflect a nervous mood, or just to demonstrate it as a skill. Stuttering has been utilized by many over the years, but often falls by the wayside in discussions pertaining to flow and delivery.
Don’t Be Afraid To Grunt
The easiest way to funkify your track is to grunt. It’s a technique that dates back before Hip Hop, made famous by James Brown, among others. Andy Cat of Ugly Duckling nicely explains the power of the grunt: “I really dig the way that [James Brown] and, especially, Bobby Byrd, pepper the songs with ‘hehs,’ ‘uhs,’ ‘ohs,’ and ‘heys.’ For me, it really makes the rhythm swing an extra bit.”
Singing Works Too
Singing is a versatile technique when mixed with rapping. A singing section (not the hook) is a good way to throw a curveball at listeners, while also adding another layer to the song. Whether it’s fused with rapping to create a certain style, or separate from the hook and verses, there are many ways to add a useful singing component to the respective flow.
Find A Niche
Section E of How To Rap 2 is dedicated to “Character, Personality, and Emotions.” The brunt of this topic is discussed in greater detail in the first How To Rap installment, but Edwards connects a few more dots between the artist’s character and flow: “Most MCs [sic] begin by taking some of the characteristics of other MCs they like, and later refining their own character and really pinning down their own vocal style.” From there, the moods of beats will allow the artist to display his or her personality accordingly.
Differentiate Runs Of Rhyme
Rhymes within a verse run according to their number of syllables. In How To Rap 2, emcees like R.A. the Rugged Man and Brother J from X Clan note how Big Daddy Kane’s debut in the late ‘80s was a game changer because his rhyme styles were so unique. Since then, emcees like Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Eminem have stretched compound rhyme schemes out to as many as six syllables.
You Don’t Always Have To Rhyme
Breaking a rhyme pattern with a word that doesn’t fit isn’t frowned upon. In fact, the consensus seems to be that the song’s bigger message is always more important. Says The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown, “I don’t think it’s necessary, like you have to rhyme. I don’t think that’s even a requirement.” Not rhyming can emphasize a certain point, or switch up the scheme completely. Edwards points to Method Man’s verse on “Shame On a Nigga” for its effective instances of pattern-breaking.
Style Outweighs Content
How To Rap 2 stresses that above all, flow defines the best emcees. In the “Final Words” section, Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox says, “You can be saying something that’s worthwhile and great and positive, but if the flow was cheesy and wack, no one’s gonna listen to it.” Finding an artistic identity comes first. But the ultimate goal is to master the flow, because it is the medium through which emcees emanate their styles.