This blog post was written by Lord Omega, who granted me permission to post his post here. Check his work out here
WHY YOUR FLOW SOUNDS LIKE SHIT
Inspired by Hyde's post on good music, I get the question a lot about how to ride a beat. Gonna lay down some heavy tech knowledge on kids about flow. Reasons why writers turned rappers can't stay on beat worth shit is because they write out all their lyrics first, then try to cram it in all over a beat thinking it will just magically fit. When it doesn't, they think that just changing how fast or slow they pronounce words will fix shit, then it all ends up sound inconsistent and disjointed. NO. Below some flow science for dummies.
Rapping is a form of “Vocal Percussion”
When rapping, you are drumming with your voice. Bad flow = 0 rhythm. Every syllable of your written bars is an individual note, meaning EVERY SYLLABLE THAT COMES OUT OF YOUR MOUTH is a musical note that needs to match music timing to stay on measure. Bars in Hip Hop are generally timed in 4/4 and composed of 4 Beats (1-2-3-4) (kick-snare-kick-snare) also known as Quarter notes 1/4. That means, if you rap in quarter notes, you are cadencing 1 syllable every beat. So if I rap in quarter notes f or an entire bar without pausing, that means in each bar I will only pronounce 4 syllables.
Audio every tick tock is a beat, 4 beats = 1 bar
Visual 1(Look) 2 (At) 3 (My) 4 (Flow)
Since we established that rapping is drumming with your voice, and every syllable is a note. Just like drumming, a good rhythmic cadence means that EACH syllable has to fall into timing pockets. We know that Quarter notes 1/4 are when your cadence is at the rate of a syllable per beat. Here are some other note timings:
Eight notes 1/8th notes your cadence is rapping 2 syllables per beat (1-2-3-4)
Audio Visual: (1 Look/at 2 me/im 3 rap/ping 4 cra/zy)
Biggie and a lot of old school artists have cadences that ride often in 1/8th pockets for hippy/hoppier flows
Sixteenth notes 1/16 your cadence is rapping 4 syllables per beat (1-2-3-4)
Audio Visual ( 1 Look/at/me/I'm 2 rap/ping/like/a 3 mon/ster/call/a 4 doc/tor/bal/la)
All rappers use 16th notes as they are closest to regular human speech, they are balanced and not too fast for the ear over most beats in a 90 – 140 Beat per minute range.
Thirty-second notes 1/32 your cadence is rapping 8 syllables per beat (1-2-3-4)
( 1 la/la/la/la/do/do/do/do 2 la/la/la/la/do/do/do/do 3 la/la/la/la/do/do/do/do 4 la/la/la/la/do/do/do/do). What can I say about this one? If you insist at rapping like this for sustained periods of time then you're a fucking psychopath with a chain gun for a mouth.
Putting it altogether
Sure you can just rap in 16th notes for an entire bar and get away with sounding like a competent rapper, but that shit’s boring and you sound like a fucking robot. Great party trick though! Natural flow comes from mixing different rhythmic measures to create patterns, in rap terms its more widely known as “sketching a flow”. Sketching is literally breaking down each bar mechanically and deciding what note cadence you use on EACH syllable.
Example: Audio Visual ( 1 8th/8th 2 16th/16th /16th/16th 3 16th/16th /16th /16th 4 8th/8th )
In the above example, I deconstruct the bar. In beat 1, I rap 2 syllables in 1/8th note cadence, then beats 2 and 3 in 16th note cadences before ending the bar 4th beat back in 1/8ths. Remember, these have to line up, you can't just do this wherever. Rapping is music so when you understand the fundamentals of notes and timings, you need to perform deliberate and consistent patterns with them.
Sheet the flow
Every rapper has a different style on how they sheet the syllables, if this is too overtop for you, hashes and symbols are a common and perfectly acceptable way to do it. I like to (Bracket) my 1/8ths and “//” my 32nd notes, I will period “.” Where my rests are. Some rappers will scat their bars by humming gibberish, for others, their notebooks even look like this: (bar 1 8/8/8/16 – 8/8/8/4 – ) They will write it out that way to sketch the flow, then they will replace the numbers with syllables of words.
It’s gonna seem tedious at first but it gets natural with time, eventually rhythm becomes a 6th sense and your big brain will already write lyrics in different cadences without sketching symbols.
Until you get to that that point, if you’re serious about becoming a good rapper, your notebook should have none of that: “yo im the best and im better than the rest” full sentence shit. It should look like 1(Yo) im/the 2 best . % // and (im) 3 bet/ter/than/the 4 % rest . . ) or whatever fucked up alien code of your choosing to sketch your bars. Yes every time. Yes EVERY bar. If your syllables don’t respect timings and don’t align, if you cadence in random patterns instead of deliberate calculated ones, if you don't care to do none of this shit, just quit rapping cause it’s not your thing.
TLDR – If you caught none of this scienc’y flow shit, we can’t collab and you can't rap worth shit
BONUS! Other rhythm and poetry terms:
BREATHE MUTHAFUCKA! You can rap all robot for an entire bar of continuous like the above but you got to remember to stop n’ huff somewhere. Rests are when you deliberately pause your cadence to either breathe, or to deliberately create a pattern or flow.
Example of mixing pauses “ . ” and notes to make flow patterns audio
bar 1 is ( 1 . / . /8th 2 8th / . / . / 3 / . /16th /16th 4 16th/16th/16th/ . / )
bar 2 ( 1 . / . /8th 2 8th / . / . / 3 16th/16th /16th /16th 4 16th/16th /16th /16th)
Two bars, that’s it. You know that basic ass shit rappers do when they rap a line, then they rap another line and it rhymes with the first one? Yeah, that’s a couplet. Couplets interact with each other through end rhymes, multi-syllabic end rhymes and mid bar rhymes. Our simian brains like symmetry and repetition. A good practice is to make your couplets mirror each other, from the cadences to the rests. For example, If you rest on beat 4 of bar 1, a mirrored couplet means rest on beat 4 of bar 2 as well.
A pair of couplets, 4 lines making 4 bars. Both couplets don’t necessarily have to link to each other, sometimes rappers will keep the same flow and scheme going for an entire stanza, often making the rhymes chain with each other. You should break up your bars into 4 bar stanzas, the purpose is to organize your lines and ideas better, new stanza = new idea and new rhyme scheme. Our Simian brains also like the rule of 4, you should switch your cadence timings and patterns every stanza to keep listeners hooked to the verse.
The Versace flow, Figaro, whatever you wanna call it. Often characterized as 3x 16th notes in rapid succession that repeat a rhyme chain
Example Audio What Joe Budden does at 2:54
Some rappers do this thing where mid bar, they will burst into 32nd note triplets. It always sounds random but they are deliberate and structured to create a repetitious flow effect. It’s also a great way to cheat structure to squeeze a few extra syllables into a bar.
Example Audio What rapper Crooked I does at parts like 3:15 , 3:32 , 4:00