The Anatomy of the Perfect Rap Verse
By Jaylin Paschal
Have you ever listened to a rap verse and been left exasperated; a type of mental exhaustion that leaves you winded, thinking "that was perfect?" It's a rare feeling, but a good one.
I thought I'd dissect the phenomenon and explore the components of rap that make a verse perfect.
A rap verse should be interesting, filled with lyrical and sonic twists and turns that keep listeners in tune. There are few things worse than a flat verse; predictable and underwhelming. Many rappers avoid this static approach through 1) Flow and 2) Rhyme Scheme.
A dynamic flow is key to maintaining listener interest. If you're flow doesn't elicit a visible head nod or an audible "That's crazy," try again.
The rhyme scheme goes hand-in-hand with this concept. Less often are we impressed with the One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish rhymes. We like the rhyme schemes to be steady and unpredictable which, I know, makes little to no sense, but is still a requirement. I don't make the rules.
Long story short: Delivery is everything.
Content is only listed as Number 2 because we've seen how train wrecks of rappers have taken off via the "Mumble Rap" era (no shade). But despite public opinion favoring flow over content, it is still an essential element of rap. Content can be broken down into three other components: 1) Message, 2) Relatability/Aspiration and 3) Cleverness/Punchlines.
If we don't know what you're trying to say, we've essentially wasted our time listening to you. What's the point? What are we supposed to walk away with? It doesn't have to be "deep," and it doesn't even have to be explicit, but it should exist. The message of your content is ultimately what will blow listeners away, after the dynamism hooks them in.
It's also important for your content to be either relatable or aspirational. You could give listeners something they can understand, with a rapper-next-door approach, or you could flex and give them a lifestyle to list as "goals." You could even do both, discussing humble beginnings and larger-than-life personas, like many rappers do when telling their success stories. Either way, a connection needs to be formed where listeners can see themselves in your writing.
And of course, you can't be corny. J Cole still hasn't recovered from his "You think you the shit/ but you can't out-fart me" line. You have to be phenomenally witty and ridiculously nonchalant about it. I'd suggest looking into everyone from MF DOOM to Lil Wayne's work for examples on this topic. They weren't always flawless in this part in the craft, but when the punchlines did hit, you felt them long afterwards.
Like in all artistic mediums, a distinct style is imperative in Hip Hop. You know Common's voice, or Kanye's voice, or Nicki's voice, or Kendrick's voice, or Andre 3000's voice. The legends, Biggie, Nas, Hov, Pac, Lauryn etc. all benefit(ed) from their individuality in the game. Think about Busta's voice. Em's voice. Anyone worth mentioning had a style. No one sounded like them, sounds like them or ever will. Not only are their literal sounds unique, but the "angle at which words fall from their mouths" is undeniably original. No carbon-copy will ever be listed as a great. So while Desiigner was able to capitalize off of Future's sound, that sound will never be attributed to Desiigner. His theft was for temporary gain, not longtime glory. And everyone in the rap game is in it to last, right? There's no doing that without a prominent voice.
No one wants to listen to your twenty minute rap song. Sorry.
To conclude, listen to Rick Ross and Andre 3000's struggle with being concise in Sixteen, where Andre delivers what I personally consider to be a perfect rap verse.