Right, I got a bone to pick…I’m vocal when it comes to hip-hop you know? I grew up in the 90’s, my dad was a Bboy, so I was listening to Pac, Wu-Tang, Common, Outkast etc from a young age. My granddad is a poet, so between that and my parents good taste I’ve been deep in lyricism for years and years. When I say I’m vocal I mean you can walk up to me in the street and we can speak for an hour on hip-hop as a culture, music, current state etc I’ve done it before, there are people I don’t know the name of but I know them when I see them because we had that random convo in the middle of town about hip-hop.
One of the biggest questions that can be asked is, “Who’s your top 5?” Now I’m not going to reveal my top 5 (but if you say Rakim isn’t number 1 our conversation probably hasn’t started very well), but we can kind of agree that Jay, Nas, Biggie, Pac, Em are all names that consistently crop up. Another question, “Who’s the biggest in the game right now?” So I ask the question, “What is dope?”
People I speak with will always speak on their opinions about artists praising them to the highest level, but so much I find myself wondering do you even know why that person is so good? A prime example, Kendrick Lamar, yes an absolute beast; and yes people are right to say he’s dope but if I asked why he’s dope I always hear without a doubt one of three responses if not both, “He’s just so real”, “His flow is sick bro” or “He’s just sick fam”. So first thing first…we’re talking hip-hop right? So what is real in hip-hop, is Kendrick real because he speaks on real stories? He doesn’t speak on hip-hop culture and it’s roots and 5 elements…but ok can let that slip to a point because yes his stories are real and deep which is a key component in hip-hop. Yet these same people will listen to “I’m in love with the coco…”and tell me that’s dope…See? That’s why I have to question do people know what makes dope in hip-hop?
Now the skill of emceeing comes with certain techniques, which is what makes dope. It goes beyond your story or flow, those are important but it’s like being able to come up with an incredible story and routine for a dance piece…and being unable to 2-step; there must be a foundation upon which all advanced technique rears and stands upon. Now I’m not going to give an essay on literary techniques but lets be basic you know…(and there are more techniques other than those mentioned, I’m just giving a few)
- Metaphors- the ability to speak about a thing using the imagery of an apparently unrelated thing, can be a little one line metaphor or a whole song using an extended metaphor
- Rhyme schemes- we all know you have to rhyme when you spit, the most basic rhyme schemes are to do AABB (I got bars for days, under the ground but never play, swing and slide like Ali on the flow, spit faster than light you know) or rhyming couplets (Sleep on me, go on I dare you, make you weep on me, my flow leave it unable to repair you). These can be advanced by using internal rhyming, invented by Rakim by the way trust me, do that research there (rhyming twice within one bar) or altering and extending the rhyme scheme (keeping the same rhyme for 8 bars or maybe changing the rhyme scheme at odd places so in the 3rd or 5th bar or using two different rhymes in the same bars)
- References- being able to reference other things outside the subject matter you’ve been using, closely related to but different from metaphors
- Story- the ability to tell a story and see how creative you can get with the plot of said story
- Double entendre- something that is used to mean more than one thing, can be advanced by being made into a triple or quadruple, ie cheese (money, weed, food)
So if we start breaking down a lot of emcees in the mainstream using an analysis of the use of these basic, foundational techniques you will see a lot it lacking, but those rappers/mc’s are regarded as dope or good. Just like genuinely good contemporary mc’s have this foundation and an advancement of them in abundance but do you hear this half the time? Like I mean a lot of people listen but do they really hear the depth of lyricism in these songs?
We live in a time where artists like Joey Bada$$, Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Ab Soul (just to mention a few) are bringing lyricism to new peaks, but it’s very confusing to understand how people will talk on these guys being incredible but then still give love and props for “bars” to “I’m in love with the coco” or “’Bout a week ago” and speak of those guys being good mc’s…
All I can say is just because you don’t understand some lyrics please don’t write it off and be like yeah…do the artist their due diligence, they worked on the lyrics, so do the research and if someone is your favourite artist please, take a Kendrick song or a Cole song, look it up on RapGenius look at the breakdowns, you will develop so much more appreciation for those songs, because when you understand the history of hip-hop as a culture, as music and the techniques behind the art forms you will truly know…what is dope.