Art of Rap – Rhythm & Cadence

Figuring out the right rhythm in rapping is something that most figure out intuitively.  If you are familiar with how music is constructed or how rap songs sound many people can instinctively know where to place their end rhyme to rap on beat.  

In The Pocket

A bar in hip hop represents one line of rap and contains four beats in the bar since hip hop is based on a 4/4 signature.  A traditional hip hop song has a snare or clap on the two and four beat within the bar.  The most basic form of rap is to place the end rhyme right on the fourth beat in the bar.  

Two years ago, a friend of mine
Asked me to say some MC rhymes
So I said this rhyme I’m about to say
The rhyme was Def and-then it went this way

Rapper: Run from Run-DMC

Song: Sucker MCs

If we were to show the lyrics in rhythm to the beat it would look more like this

         *                     *                     *                     *     (Beats in Bar)

Two years           ago       a        friend    of   mine

        Asked me to say    some   MC                rhymes


This is straightforward with one syllable words and one syllable rhymes.  With a two syllable rhyme, you would generally pick the higher stresses or accented syllable to land on the fourth beat.

*                           *                           *                           *

It’s on a, first come,                    first serve             basis
Coolin out       girl,              take you to the def      places


However, you may choose to stress the other syllable if it matches better with what you said previously.  

*                           *                           *                           *

Chasin these women        have an  everyday       twist

It’s on a, first come,                    first serve      ba- sis
Coolin out       girl,            take you to the def pla-ces


The golden rule is that the syllables that rhyme share the same cadence.  

Cadence – Modulation or inflection in voice.


The same rules apply to multisyllabic rhymes with three or more syllables.  In these cases, the stressed syllable that lands on the fourth beat is usually the second to last syllable or the last syllable of the rhyme.  If you put it earlier, you are cutting into your breathing break.  Those extra syllables after the fourth beat may force you to say the last rhyme faster than you would like to or not give you enough time to recover your breath for the next line.  

  *                          *                              *                                  *

We’re risin’, suprisin’,       and       often              hypnotizin
We always tell the truth and then we never slip no lies in

Run DMC – Rock Box



Out of the Pocket Flows

Not to be confused with rapping off-beat, out of pocket flows match the rhythm of the song but do not match the stressed rhyme on the fourth beat.  Instead the stressed rhyme is consistently before or after the fourth beat.  MF Doom is known for this.    



When writing lyrics some rappers figure out an ideal range of syllables to use per line to maintain a pace and rhythm to the lyrics.  Others choose a more random approach with some words stretched out long and others said fast.  This allows the verse to be dynamic and inject a more natural personality into it.  









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