So You Want to Hire a Rapper?

Rap is a burgeoning medium that has rapidly begun to expand outside of hip-hop into almost every genre of music. Since Linkin Park’s genre bending album Hybrid Theory rap has spilled outside of hip-hop and rock into EDM, Jazz, Classical, Pop, Disco, Musical, and so many other genres. With this new found expansion of the medium, many musicians and songwriters are looking to feature a rapper on their songs. So, if you are looking to hire a rapper, here are some things you should know first.

What is Rap?
[Wikipedia] Rapping (or emceeing, MCing, spitting bars) is “spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics”. The components of rapping include “content”, “flow” (rhythm and rhyme), and “delivery”. Rapping is distinct from spoken-word poetry in that it is performed in time to a beat. Rapping is often associated with and a primary ingredient of hip-hop music, but the origins of the phenomenon can be said to predate hip-hop culture by centuries.
The first assumption people make is that Rap is synonymous with Hip-Hop. Without giving too much of an extended history lesson, Hip-Hop culture was born out of the 1970s block party culture in the Bronx, NY, NY. Early Hip-Hop DJ’s like Grand Master Flash and DJ Kool Herc would use two turntables in order to extend the dance break from disco songs. This would become the first of the “Five Pillars of Hip Hop.” Along with DJing came breakdancing, graffiti, fashion, and finally, Emceeing.

What Kind of Rapper do I want for my Song?
Now, this is the difficult part. When hiring a rapper you want to really consider four main points: content, flow, rhyme scheme, tone of voice.

Content: if you are hiring a rapper, and expecting them to write their own verse, you would first want to search their content. Just like hiring a collaborator, a rapper serves as a secondary song writer. That means that each rapper has a range of topics they excel at speaking on. Many can, and will, reach outside of their usual material at request, but it may feel unnatural for a “conscious” rapper to write about the thug life. Without engaging in raps many subgenres, it is important to get to know an artist’s style. This is the equivalent of asking Ben Moody (Evanescence, We are the Fallen) to write a pop song, it just won’t happen – or at least, it won’t be what you are expecting.

Flow: Flow is the pattern of speech by which the rapper rhymes. This takes into account speed, pitch, syllables per line, words per measure, and to some extent rhyme scheme. To use popular artists as reference, Drake’s flows are usually mid-tempo, melodic, with simple rhyme schemes and consistent pitch. While, Eminem’s flows range from conversational, to rapid fire, but always consist of wildly varying pitch and complex rhyme schemes. Both artists are extremely successful, and both style effective, but knowing what kind of flow you are looking for on your song is paramount. Once again, leaning on other genres, you wouldn’t hire a screamer for your love ballad. Listen to a few of the rappers demo tracks before hiring. Most rappers have many different flows. Just because one is fast and furious, doesn’t mean the next one isn’t going to be slow and simple. But find the one that fits your song best.

Rhyme Scheme: Rhyme scheme works hand and hand with flow. But here I’m more referencing the rappers writing abilities. Have a 128bpm dance song that you would like a rap break on? You’ll want to choose a rapper with a strong internal rhyme scheme. Internal rhyme scheme allows the rapper the ability to dictate their own tempo rather than rushing to keep up with the beats, without sacrificing rhyming in time with the rhythm. When a rapper rushes to hit end rhymes on a faster bpm then often the “flow” is lost and the illusion broken.
Have a slow love ballad that could use a controlled rap verse? Go with someone who has proven they have mastered conversational rhyme scheme. This rhyme scheme could either rely on slant rhymes or direct rhymes, but it is one that comes off effortless. Simple but effective.

Tone of Voice: Just like any other genre of music, you wouldn’t hire a baritone to sing soprano. Most session musicians will have their range listed on their gig posting, but since rappers don’t usually approach music this way, the responsibility falls on the musician to find a rapper who raps in an appropriate key. Most rappers have a set key in which their flow is most natural, but most can also bend a little outside of this. EDM already has a heavy bass line built in, so deeper vocals get lost, find a rapper with a slightly higher voice. Is your track piano heavy? Are most of your notes on the treble? A deeper voice would slot in nicely. Just as any other instrument, consider the rapper in your composition. Would his or her sound compliment the arrangement of instruments I have selected?

Just Remember Every Rapper is Unique!
Rap is in the process of evolving as a medium. Every rapper brings his or her own style to a track. Each and every writer has their own strengths and weaknesses. Take into consideration a rapper’s content, flow, rhyme scheme, tone of voice before you hire one!

This is a guest post by Matthew Madonia

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