Have you ever wanted to know how to have powerful stage presence as a rapper? Have you ever wanted to have the crowd in awe of you when performing on stage? Well in this article I want to tell you about a crucial mindset to develop awesome stage presence!
I have often done well in live performances to a crowd and I always thought it was down to my lyrics, but under further investigation it wasn’t about lyrics, it was about showmanship.
This is an important point for all rappers to grasp whether you are just starting out honing your skills or you have been rapping for a long time. A lot of rappers get hung up on lyrical content. I have met some rappers that make great recordings with great lyrics, but when it comes to performing live to a crowd that have not heard any of their songs before, they are not well received and fall apart. They then come to the assumption that their lyrics are still not good enough or come up with the assumption that the crowd are stupid and they are performing to the wrong audience. It is when they come up with these assumptions that they are often missing the point. In quieter settings or in a recording, lyrics do have strong importance, as people will eventually take in what you say and I am not down playing the importance of being a good lyricist. But as a rapper you inevitably will not always have the luxury of performing in quiet settings. There will be times when you have to perform in a big reverberant room, with average sounding microphones, with loud backing music, that is poorly mixed. This can seriously limit what people can hear from you in terms of your actual words, and will not be able to take in and process your lyrics.
It is on these occasions that we as rappers or MCs really have to understand what MC stands for. That’s Master of Ceremonies for those of you that don’t know! You are the stage conductor and the showman, who is there to get the crowd hyped and to enjoy the music or event that you are at. To do this takes charisma. Charisma sounds like a very intangible thing that cannot be learnt nor taught, but I beg to differ. I think when you understand some of the things that make a person charismatic you find that it is something that anyone can learn.
I just gave an example of some of the rappers I have seen that are great lyricists, yet for some reason couldn’t cut it on stage. Conversely I have also seen rappers that are very average lyricists and did not have all the hype behind them that the big names have, yet still managed to kill it on stage in front of a busy crowd. The crowd absolutely loved them! So how could it be that people thought they were any good, without any hype and despite them being very average lyricists? Well, it’s because of what was going through their head in the moment, their body language and to a lesser degree their flow (the rhythm of their voice that people could hear to the music). When they took the microphone and started rapping, they weren’t acting timid and looking for validation from the crowd. They were simply having fun. It came across as if they had complete disregard for the outcome and went with the flow. They put themselves out there for people to take or leave so to speak, with complete indifference to what the crowd thought of them. You could take their approach as being like this. If the crowd liked them, great! If they didn’t, then at least they would learn from the experience in one way or another. Having this vibe in the moment of performing is a crucial concept to adopt.
When you are performing to a crowd you cannot afford to get hung up on whether they like you or not. It sounds almost counter-intuitive but the less you care about what they think of you, the better you are going to do. You get to focus more on expressing yourself honestly to the people in front of you. When you look for validation in any shape or form you often inhibit yourself and focus more on trying to make them like you rather than expressing yourself honestly and instead hold back through fear that they might not take to it. As a result you are likely to sub-communicate neediness in your body language, voice and general demeanour. This is off putting not just on stage but also in social settings.
I’m sure you can think of a time when you were in school, or work, or at a party or family gathering and can remember being in a conversation with a particular person that just came across as needy. Maybe it was the lonely kid in school that didn’t have many friends and wasn’t particularly well socialised. Or an old family member that didn’t get out much. As they may have felt they didn’t have any real friends and you happened to be one of the few people that spoke to them, you could sense them being really eager to talk to you. Maybe they kept trying to impress you with average jokes that weren’t that funny, that you pretended to laugh at. Or they kept asking you ‘interview’ questions about yourself. Perhaps they felt they now finally had a friend in you, because they weren’t used to having people actually speak to them. You can probably remember them not being a particularly bad person but also not really wanting to talk to them. You certainly wouldn’t entertain the idea of actually speaking to them on a regular basis and were simply carrying on the conversation out of sympathy rather than genuine interest, whilst in the back of your mind really wanting to get away. Think about the sort of things that person was sub-communicating in their body language, conversation and general vibe…. If you were to think back, you will probably notice they were sub-communicating in their body language and conversation that they felt they were lower value to yourself. As they perceived you as higher value they felt they had a need to have a positive response from you to give them a sense of validation and worth and a general need to impress you and hold your attention.
Don’t get me wrong, I think everybody deserves a basic level of respect and kindness. Even if they’re telegraphing a certain amount of ‘neediness’ and lack social skills, but for the purpose of this article I want you to understand how different mental approaches can affect how others perceive you.
These same points are things to avoid when performing on stage. You may want attention, positive responses and validation but in this game the hungry don’t get fed! I think the most charismatic people in the world are more concerned with expressing themselves honestly rather than having positive attention from everyone. That is at least in the moment of performing. As a result they are no longer inhibited by worrying about the outcome. Certainly in todays Hip Hop scene you don’t have to fit into the standard rapper/gangster stereotype to be accepted by a Hip Hop crowd. You can be anything from a nerdy, suburban kid, a poor homeless person or a gangster and anything anywhere else in-between. Who you are or where you’re from doesn’t matter as much as the uninhibited expression of yourself or the persona you want to put out. To quote the great Rakim, ‘It ain’t where you’re from it’s where you’re at…’ You should wear who you are, almost as a badge of honour, especially to a crowd whilst on stage.
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