MC Improvement Article #03
Every day we get lots of emails from emcees all over the world interested in rap advice of some sort or other. Though I try to answer all of my emails as soon as I can, every now and then I will also post up an email which I think will be useful for all of our visitors
Below is an email I recently received from a young emcee regarding finding your voice, developing a rap style and learning more about rap bars.
You can read the entire unedited email below. The sender’s name has been withheld for privacy.
Hi, I just wanna say that this website is amazing. It has taught me a lot about hip-hop and how to freestyle. However as I have only just started rapping even though I have been into hip-hop deeply all my life, I need some help. I am not a battle MC I am more of a rapper who writes lyrics and the raps to instrumentals.
I want to know how to find your voice. When rapping how should you use your voice and how would you make your voice sound like your voice? For example if you take a rapper like 50 Cent, whenever his track is being listened to you immediately know its him if you are familiar with him because of his voice. But sometimes when I rap, my voice sounds different to before. Can you help me?
Also you may have noticed like me that rappers generally have their own style of rapping and rap about certain subjects over and over again for example, The Game raps about dissin others, his crew etc. Kanye West raps about life issues. Lil' Jon raps about partying etc. Well I want to be a rapper who raps about girls and having fun without cursing. For example I want tracks like Nelly - E.I, Mos Def - Ms Fat Booty etc however I am finding it hard to write lyrics that are effective and good like theirs. I want my own personal style that everyone feels. Also I do not want to be a hard-core gangsta rapper. If I were to write another verse on either one of the 2 songs mentioned above, I want to be able to do it so if people heard it, they would think that Nelly or Mos has written them. Please help me on how to write good about these certain subjects (not sex) just chillin, rides and girls. Can you help?
One more thing, can you please teach me about bars? Please try and answer these 3 questions in detail.
Reply: Let me just get straight to your questions...
1) I'm guessing you're still relatively young...don't worry about your voice for now.
Your voice is going to come out different at times because you're probably not yet comfortable in your own style. So subconsciously you're probably trying out new things with flow, tone, volume, etc...and to you it appears "not consistent" but in fact its more like necessary experimentation. That's normal. You'll eventually grow into a comfortable style. But don't limit yourself to a single style either...that can be seen by some to be a gimmick, and though certain gimmicks do work to get you remembered...they can also backfire and be very limiting by making listeners automatically place a label on you…"club rapper" or a "love song rapper", for example. With all these other rappers, their voice is the same because they simply have unique voices, they enjoy rapping in those same voices, and they are full grown men who's voices will no longer change. Basically, don't worry about this problem, it will fix itself.
2) I see you're in the new wave of young rappers that are into the more "commercial" rap.
Ask yourself this first...do you really want to rap about just parties and girls?...if you do, fine, perhaps that's your personality, but there’s the key...before ANYTHING, you have to find out what your personality is! The reason Nelly can put out songs like "E.I." or "Ride With Me" and they just blow up (on top of the fact that they have catchy production) is that Nelly as a rapper...no forget that, as a person...radiates a young, fun, flashy, pretty-boy vibe. Chicks dig it, and young guys think he's cool because he's got all these girls and money. It really does come down to that. The reason Mos Def can come out with "Ms. Fatbooty" (a very different type of record) and have it do so well (with a very different type of audience in some cases) is because Mos Def also has a distinct personality that he radiates. Mos Def is a solid emcee and comes off as a stand up guy. Great lyrics, self-made style, he's earned his dues, he's intelligent, and he's just an overall talented and mature individual. "Ms Fatbooty" tells a love/party story, but keeping true to his persona it has substance...it has twists, and even its "adult" finale was pretty tasteful, one could say.
The point is that these rappers appear to RAP WELL to many people largely because their lyrics and subject matter agree with the image they portray. They don't seem fake, they seem genuine. If Mos Def carried himself exactly the way he does but put out records like "E.I."...people would be stupefied...probably even laugh and call him a sellout. Likewise if he acted and rapped the same, but didn't back it up (i.e. his personality in interviews, his lifestyle, etc.) he wouldn't be thought of as that good either.
You're still young...to you "finding your voice" should probably take on a whole other meaning. Think of it as "finding yourself" (as corny as that may sound). Find out your principles, what you stand for, what's important to you. If you don't have an established personality that is genuine, your rhymes are never going to sound right in the long run.
On the opposite end, once you do feel comfortable in your own skin...coming up with rhymes will come as easy as speaking your mind. Why do you think Tupac could write over a thousand songs from ‘91-‘96 with such a busy schedule?
3) And finally about bars...
Bars are simply the number of lines that rhyme in a verse...the typical verse is usually 16 bars, but can be anything (take Canibus' 100 Bars or The Game's 300 Bars and Runnin' for example).
Don't get caught up with the definition of a bar...like when it should start or stop...its really not very important and will distract you. Your best bet would be to just feel the rhythm of the beat, and go crazy, do you, rhyme how you want to rhyme...listen to a lot of different rappers and you'll see that their flow doesn't always come out to be perfectly readable bars on paper...but sound great on record.
But for example 4 Bars would be:
"My style of rhymin' is ancient like Aztecs and Myans/
Because I recognize it's all about timin/
Me and my freestyle alliance, practicin' African voodo science/
In front of twenty foot bonfires..."
But then again some people might say that the third bar ended after the word "alliance"...and they could arguably be right (depending on emphasis/flow). So you see, don't worry about the literal definition of a bar. At the end of the day you should turn to the beat as a guide to measuring bars. Drum beats are usually on fixed looped intervals, make sure that your bars are in synch with them.
I hope that I've helped and I thank you for visiting TheStateofHipHop.com. Please feel free to visit often, browse around and absorb all the hip hop. :)