How To Rap On Beat! – What You Need To Know
If you want to learn how to rap on beat, this is the article to read! To me this is the most important aspect of rapping, because even if you have written some very good lyrics, no one is going to enjoy listening to you if your flow and delivery of those lyrics is bad and you can’t rap to a beat. On the other hand there are a lot of rappers that are not particularly great lyricists. But despite them lacking in that regard, people love them because they have an interesting delivery and flow. It is one thing to improve your overall speaking and communication. If you get my ‘Learn How To Rap eBook’ then you will get more information on that. For the purposes of this article lets focus and take a look at how you can deliver those words and communicate over an instrumental.
First of all I want to teach you how to count bars…
What Are Bars Anyway?
The first thing I want to clarify is what I mean by the phrase ‘bars’. If you are musically informed and already understand what is meant by a ‘bar’ or ‘measure’ then you can skip the next few paragraphs and begin with the section, “What Do You Mean By Flow?”
If you are not musically informed however, then let me explain what a bar is. A bar (or measure) can be described as a segment of time defined by a given number of beats, each of which are assigned a particular note value. Dividing music into bars provides regular reference points to pin point locations within a piece of music. It also makes written music easier to follow, since each bar of staff symbols can be read and played as a batch. It is not necessary to understand the full musical theory behind bars and beats. You only need to understand it with regards to writing rhymes and developing your rap flow.
A simple way of understanding a bar is by listening to a piece of music and counting the number of actual beats in each section. Hip Hop and the vast majority of modern music (at least in the West) is generally set as 4 beats per bar. Therefore when listening to an instrumental you should be able to recognise each bar by counting 1, 2, 3, 4. The easiest way to count is by listening to the drums of the instrumental.
A very simple Hip Hop drum beat might go, “boom”, “bap”, “boom”, “bap” (or kick, snare, kick, snare, if you understand drums….) So on the first “boom” you’d count “1” on the first “bap” you’d count “2” on the second “boom” you’d count “3” on the second “bap” you’d count “4”. Then you count 1-4 over again. You will notice there is often a change in the music every 4-8 bars. So on many occasions you will notice that once you have counted 1, 2, 3, 4, four times, there will be a musical change such as a new instrument coming into the music.
Hopefully this clarifies your understanding of what I am talking about when it comes to “bars”.
What Do You Mean By Flow?
By flow I mean;
-A rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words
This could otherwise be described as cadence.
Basically, it is how a rapper fits their rhymes and lyrics to the instrumental. As stated at the beginning of this article, to me this is the most important aspect of rapping.
When I say that, it’s important to note I’m not playing down the importance of being a good lyricist here. I think that is very important too. But I’m just stressing the importance of flow because I think it is something often overlooked. If you are a complete beginner to all this I recommend you practice this exercise before you start writing rhymes;
Break the beats of an instrumental down to 1,2,3,4. Feel free to try some of my own rap instrumentals
Ok, got some beats… Now What?
Armed with some beats, you will want to take a simple sentence and fit it to those 4 beats.
You could take a really simple, even a cheesy phrase like, ‘I went to the shop, to buy a pack of mints…’ and flow that to the beat.
When you say that simple phrase, you want to make sure you time the words so that the main words are said at the same time you hear the drum sounds. A very basic drum sequence sound could be kick(1), snare(2), kick(3), snare(4) (or boom, bap, boom, bap if you don’t understand drums).
You fit the above phrase like this; I went(1) to the shop(2) to/
buy(3) a pack of mints(4)/
So the word ‘went’ is said on the first kick drum sound (1) the word ‘shop’ is said on the first snare drum sound (2)
the word ‘buy’ is said on the second kick drum sound (3)
the word ‘mints’ is said on the second snare drum sound (4)
Does that make sense?
Practice doing this a few times until you feel you’ve got the hang of it. Once you’ve done that you can start to replace the words with rhymes.
So you have the word ‘shop’. That could be your first word to set the rhyme up with. So to make this work you can replace the word ‘mints’ with something that rhymes with ‘shop’.
In this case we could use the word, ‘mop’. (Yes I’m aware this is incredibly cheesy haha, but we don’t need to be overly concerned with making something sound dope lyrically at this point….).
So the phrase now is;
I went(1) to the shop(2) to/ buy(3) a new mop(4)/
All you gotta do then is add a second bar to it like this;
I went(1) to the shop(2) to/ buy(3) a new mop(4)/
’cause the old(1) one’s shot(2)/ can’t clean(3) the cold slop(4)/
Notice that I DIDN’T insert the word ‘and’ between ‘shot’ and ‘can’t’. Instead it reads, ’cause the old one’s shot, can’t clean the cold slop’. This is because it fits better to the beat!
…..Now for the second bar;
So the word ‘old’ is said on the first kick drum sound (1) the word ‘shot’ is said on the first snare drum sound (2) the word ‘clean’ is said on the second kick drum sound (3) the word ‘slop’ is said on
the second snare drum sound (4)
Once you’ve got the swing of all this, then start writing rhymes.
Mo’ Flows Fo’ Yo’ Mofo’s!!!?
Now let’s take this a step further. You should take the time to see how many syllables fit in each bar. A fast paced rapper will be able to fit more syllables per bar compared to a slow paced rapper. Neither is better, it simply comes down to individual preference. Let’s break down what I did for 4 bars of lyrics from an old song I wrote called ‘Imperial Pace’;
“Things seem just a little too tyrannical
peeps walking round like they’re all made mechanical
dwelling hell bound like
they spanked all their capital
debt drowned and they cranked tax on the fossil fuel…”
Break down each bar to each individual line i.e. half a bar. Notice how many syllables are used on each line; Things(1) seem(2) just(3) a(4) lit(5)-tle(6)
….and so on. If you count the syllables on each individual line, you will notice that the maximum amount used is 7 syllables and the fewest is 5. It tends to work out at about 6 syllables a line.
Therefore if I had written 2 lines saying;
now they’re over encumbered in arrears because they’re so grotesquely enormous
“now(1) they’re(2) ov(3)-er(4) en(5)-cum-(6)bered(7) in(8) ar(9)- rears(10)
be(1)-cause(2) they’re(3) so(4) grot(5)-esque(6)-ly(7) en(8)-orm(9)- ous(10)
It’s plain to see that the amount of syllables I have used (10) is too much for me at the pace I intend to rap at. So some scaling back would be necessary in that case. I can do that by removing words or by trying to say the same thing in a different way that requires less syllables. Removing words might be ok provided the words are not so essential to the message I am trying to put across. I could get away with removing the two words “arrears” and “grotesquely” thus resulting in;
“now they’re over encumbered because they’re so enormous”
This results in a 7 syllable line and 6 syllable line. They don’t put across the message I want as stand alone lines. For them to do that, I have to explain the same point about ‘people having heavy debts’ or ‘big debt’ in another line. With that being the case, I decided it was far better to say the same thing, but in a quicker more efficient way. Hence the line;
“debt drowned and….”
This essentially says the same thing in far less the time!
Sometimes it is necessary to add syllables to a line rather than subtract, but in my experience it is far more often the case to actually subtract syllables and learn to say more with less rather than the other way around. The golden rule so often is the old cliché ‘less is more’.
Now for the final part. We talked about the placement of beats in a bar and what word we should place on each beat. We looked at this earlier with simple rhymes. To finish, I thought I would show you what syllables I place on each beat;
“Things(1) seem just(2) a little
peeps(1) wal-king(2) round like they’re(3) all made mec(4)-han-i- cal dwel(1)-ling hell(2) bound like they(3) spanked all their(4) cap- i-tal debt(1) drowned(2) and they cranked(3) tax on the(4) fos-sil fuel…”
Here are some other extremely important tips to help you develop your flow on top of all the information I have just given you!
Practice freestyling! (especially to an instrumental)?
Freestyling or improvised rapping allows you to really feel the vibe of the music and teaches you to work outside of a heavy structure. Learning to do this will give you many benefits beyond this! If you want to learn how to freestyle rap then read this article in the link!
Always write lyrics to an instrumental!?
Make sure you understand and implement some these concepts I have outlined. Once you do, you may in fact be able to get by on some occasions writing lyrics without an instrumental. That is provided you already know how many syllables generally fit in a line of lyrics.
You will make it easier on yourself if you get into the habit of writing your rhymes to an actual instrumental. This is overlooked by so many beginner and mid-level rappers! They spend ages writing rhymes but when it comes to delivering it over an instrumental, they find their lyrics don’t fit to the music! This is because the lines are too long or too short, or because the lyrical content and overall message doesn’t fit the emotional mood of the instrumental. Writing lyrics to the instrumental you intend to deliver them on is very important in my opinion and grossly overlooked!
Prioritise Delivery Over Lyrical Complexity
A lot of rappers make this mistake when they get passed the beginners stage and start to really develop their lyrics beyond simply rhyming. I myself have been guilty of this one in the past.
They start to use big complex words. Sometimes they use words that are not even complex, they’re just long! They do this as an attempt to improve and demonstrate their lyrical ability but they neglect their actual flow over the music. What this often does is distance the audience listening from understanding what they are trying to express or communicate and it takes away a verse’s impact with the music.
I’m all for improving one’s vocabulary and demonstrating wit and intellect but we also have to remember that this is still music. When it comes to first hearing a rap song, the first thing people listen to is the music, then the rapper’s flow, then eventually they take in the actual lyrics. When it comes to a choice of words to use in your rhyme, less is very often more! A rapper’s actual flow still holds more weight than the lyrics themselves. If you can’t flow to a beat and have no delivery, no one will want to listen to your verse in the first place, no matter how clever, witty or deep your lyrics are.
So when it comes to writing lyrics and constructing a rhyme, never neglect the importance of your individual flow to the beat and your delivery. If it’s a case of choosing between complexity in your lyrics and rhymes or your flow, flow is more important at least where music is concerned. I wrote an article with some excellent tips on how to improve your rap flow. Click the link to read!
The only time lyrics might outweigh flow is during a rap battle. But even then, rhyming with simple easy to digest words, outweighs the use of words that are long-winded and complex. You should put your complexity in your wordplay, your flow and delivery. When you reach a more advanced stage you can bring complexity into your lyrical content and subject matter but not the actual words themselves. Always remember your audience! Even when you are using more cryptic subject matter, you still want them to at least be intrigued by what you are actually saying.