How to Develop An Outstanding Rap Flow!
Do you feel your rap flow is a bit repetitive and monotonous? Are you struggling with ideas on how to switch it up? Well in this article I’ll show you how to develop an outstanding rap flow and a diverse, individual style and delivery!
First if you haven’t read them yet, I encourage you to read How To Rap On Beat and my 5 Awesome Tips To Improve Your Rap Flow! As well as Easy Music Theory for Rappers. This article intends to be an expansion on the ones I’ve mentioned particularly the latter. The former two articles will give you some additional useful tips as well as an explanation as to what rap flow really is and some definitions of musical terms, most notably rhythm which predominantly is what this article is all about and how to utilise it as a rapper.
What The Theory?
As I say, you should read my article Easy Music Theory for Rappers as this will explain beats, bars, time signatures, tempo and rhythm. Once you’ve read that you’ll understand what I mean by rhythm. Assuming you’ve read and understood this, let’s now go to basic types of rhythms you can utilise in your rap flows.
Basic Types of Rhythms
The most common time signature in rap music is 4/4 (explained further in Easy Music Theory for Rappers). So with that in mind we’ll look at the most basic rhythms and how to apply them to a 4/4 time signature. Despite them being basic, that doesn’t mean that is a bad thing. As is so often the case a lot can be accomplished with basic means as long as it’s done well!
The most basic rhythms are as follows;
Whole Note Rhythms
A whole note is one note held for 4 beats. Whole note rhythms would be the equivalent using one note, in our case as rappers, one syllable in a bar. For example if you had a 4/4 bar loop and you clapped on each beat but delivered your syllable on the first beat it would like saying “ONE, clap(2), clap(3), clap(4).” This type of rhythm is best used when you’re looking to create space. Less can very often be more!
Half Note Rhythms
A half note is one note held for 2 beats (unsurprisingly half a whole note). Half note rhythms would be the equivalent using two syllables per bar. For example if you had a 4/4 bar loop and you clapped on each beat but delivered your syllables from the first beat it would like saying “ONE, clap(2), TWO, clap(4).”
Quarter Note Rhythms
A quarter note is a note held for 1 beat. Quarter note rhythms would be the equivalent using 4 syllables per bar. For example if you had a 4/4 bar loop and you clapped on each beat but delivered your syllables from the first beat it would like saying “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR.” With each syllable on each beat.
Eighth Note Rhythms
An eighth note is a note held for half a beat. Eighth note rhythms would be the equivalent using 8 syllables per bar. For example if you had a 4/4 bar loop and you clapped on each beat but delivered your syllables from the first beat it would like clapping on each beat as well as saying each syllable between beats too. For the sake of simplicity we can utilise this by simply saying the word ‘AND’ between beats e.g. “ONE, AND TWO, AND THREE, AND FOUR, AND”
Sixteenth Note Rhythms
A sixteenth note is a note held for quarter of a beat. Sixteenth note rhythms would be the equivalent using 16 syllables per bar. For example if you had a 4/4 bar loop and you clapped on each beat but delivered your syllables from the first beat it would like clapping on each beat as well as saying each syllable between beats too. For the sake of simplicity we can utilise this by simply saying the word ‘and’ between beats as with eighth notes but also ‘e and a’ between the ‘AND’ e.g. “ONE, e, AND, a TWO, e, AND, a, THREE, e, AND, a FOUR, e, AND, a”
But Lav! How do I Apply This To My Rap Flow??
The key to develop an outstanding rap flow with an individual style and delivery is to use variety and to experiment with new ideas. These rhythms provide varied choices of patterns to utilise in your bars. Although it’s generally good to land your syllables on beat you don’t have to rigidly stick to the same rhythmic pattern throughout the whole song. If you were on a standard 4/4 boom bap beat and every single bar you spit to was in a quarter note rhythm that would be extremely dull and repetitive unless it was for a short burst. Instead you can diversify by utilising variety! Some bars you can use a quarter note rhythm, some eighth notes. Sometimes sixteenths and sometimes whole notes, or whichever. Of course many times you might want to deliver a mix of notes (or again as said earlier in our case as rappers, syllables rather than notes!) within the same bar.
For example you could use sixteenth notes in a 4/4 time signature and have 16 syllables in a bar. Or you could vary it by using sixteenth notes for beat 1, a quarter note for beat 2 and eighth notes for beat 3 and beat 4 making 9 syllables for that bar. Then varying it to something else the following bar.
The choice is yours! All you have to do is test it out to see what sounds and feels good to your ear…
Are There Other Types of Rhythms??
Of course! For example there are 32nd note rhythms where note is only held for an eighth of a beat and you could have 32 syllables per bar (if you’re quick enough!) It’s rare to go as quick as 32nd note patterns unless the beat is pretty slow and it’s certainly even rarer to go quicker than that…
There are also triplet rhythms where you go off the standard pulse of the beat in 4/4 and deliver your notes or syllables in thirds. The more recent and obvious example of this would be much of the work of Migos. Although there’s plenty of others. It was extremely common over the 2016-2018 era, although it’s been utilised in rap from much further back than that. This Vox video on the triplet flow is an extremely good and incisive look at the history of the triplet flow and the many ways it’s been utilised.
What About Time Signatures?
Like I said, the most common time signature in rap is 4/4 but don’t feel you have to stick to it! Especially if you want to diversify your flow and come up with new creative ideas. Changing the time signature could be one of the most interesting ways of doing so. You could go 3/4 (3 beats per bar) or even trying something more obscure like 6/8. Feel free to try it out and get creative!