Rap and Hip-Hop are continuing to grow in its global popularity and more frequently South African stars are making waves on the charts and in the media. Singers can work and practise on becoming better rappers, and visa-versa, but it’s important to realise that rapping is a completely different skill. Rappers also have a unique image and persona and to become successful in it you’ll have to put shoulder to the wheel and approach your passion in a more technical way.
This doesn’t mean you cannot have fun, after all, we sing and rap as they allow us to express ourselves and make an impact on the world.
Unfortunately, there are no set guidelines or guaranteed steps to becoming a rapper, but in this article, we will give you some basics on how you can learn to rap, become better at rapping and start to change the world with your word.
Developing an Ear for Rap
If you are reading this article, you are most probably already a fan of rap and Hip-Hop music. You know a couple of rap songs and like most of us you have your favourite artists like L'il Wayne, Cardi B, or Cassper Nyovest. Maybe you’ve already developed a passion for rap or have realised that you can drop words to the beat in the same smooth way that rap artists do?
To become a rap artist yourself, you will have to do a bit of homework, discovery and exploration into the art of rapping. Any performer, music artist, activist or even influencer who wants to make headlines knows they must bring something unique to the table. Their message and content are what intrigue the media and create an audience. During this exploration you will start to learn about important aspects of the entertainment industry and if you want to make money and become one of the best, you will need talent, content that is current, good producers and a unique voice.
You can start today by diving deep into the world of rap music.
Research artists, watch their videos and start to consider the following questions around their artist identity:
- What makes them different from other artists?
- What is their background and story?
- What are the core messages or social commentary they focus on?
- Are their identity just in their music or can you see how they express themselves in videos, at music awards and in everyday life?
- Are they just rappers, and what synergies are there between them doing different Genres of music?
Don’t be afraid to also delve into music you don’t normally listen to. Even famous artists do this, as it helps them identify those aspects and qualities that they like, dislike or can use in their own music craft. It also allows the creation of unique combinations in music and once they add their identity and personal touch it might lead to the next ground-breaking song in the music industry.
Manage Rhythm, Speed and Accuracy
To string out phrases with ease like Eminem takes skill and lots of practice. You have to have a good understanding of the rhythm and speed at which you need to deliver your words and the accuracy and speed at which you do it should be well rehearsed and thought through.
There are a couple of key attributes in rap that contributes to it being so identifiable as a genre:
- Rhythmic speech
- Street Language (street vernacular)
Historically all rapping was done to a two, four kick to snare cadence, but modern rapping takes rapping rhythm to a whole new level and getting rhythm right is fundamental if you want to become a successful rapper. Modern rapping happens at a pace of 90 – 105 BPM and a lot of rappers places the focus on the ‘off-beat’, but if you want to become a professional artist or make a career of rapping, you’ll have to make sure you can master the beat.
Professional rappers have a natural rhythmic and percussive way in which they deliver their message.
Eventually you'll want to focus on how you entertain or move an audience and for this you’ll have to have the beats, words and rhythm down to perfection.
Practise With Songs You Love
Imitating popular sings or some of your favourite songs is a good starting place for a beginner rapper who wants to teach him- or herself how to rap. Try different rap songs by different artists as this will help you with the discovery of your own style.
Make an attempt to master slow tempo songs first as they tend to be slightly easier. Be sure you place a lot of focus on how the performers accentuate certain syllables in words, where they take a breath and how they bring emotion across. These are some key ingredients that makes a song work and flow which expressing the written intent of the song.
You’ll also notice that memorising lyrics can be harder for rap than they would be in other songs. Singing existing songs will help your brain tune into this new skill and we also recommend you record yourself and listen back to identify whether you get the lyrics, rhythm and beat right.
Lyrics That Flow
Sometimes we know the lyrics to a rap song, we sing along to it with great enjoyment and think we have a handle on them. Listening to lyrics like a performing artist would is however, a different ball game.
Understanding and identifying great lyrics are imperative if you want to get to a place where you can write rap lyrics and create your own songs. It’s not only about the flow of the lyrics, but also how the words create a unified message to the world.
Here are a few key aspects about lyrics that you can look into while you dissect and analyse your favourite, and not so favourite, rap songs:
- What are the main messages, subtext and secondary issues captured in the lyrics?
- Do the phrases rhyme or not and how are some artists ‘cheating’ the rhyming (sometimes in great ways)?
- Is there an easy and consistent flow of lyrics, and where does the rapper create intentional breaks?
Why Do We Create Art and Rap?
Song lyrics form a fundamental part in bringing a message across to deliver social commentary or express ourselves. The delivery of these lyrics are just as important. You can have the most fantastic words, if they don’t flow, feel natural, lack volume and intonation, they might fall flat. Be sure you build and practise every skill that will contribute to making good rap music.
One of those skills, is slam poetry, which you can learn about here.
Improve Diction and Articulation
Most rappers use street language and tend to be a bit more casual in their vocabulary, but it’s still important to ensure your message lands and is understood by an audience. Rap songs are fast and with so many words flowing out, the rapper needs to ensure the words are clearly articulated.
To improve your diction, you can try and focus on the consonants while you speak or sing these words. Syllables can also be used and expressed in a selective way. Sometimes, breaking words down into syllables, could help you with the identification of where the focus needs to be.
Breathing and Breath Control
Rappers tend to place less focus on their breathing than classical singers, but you still need to be quite proficient with your breath management. You'll have to develop strong and consistent breath control to deliver catchy phrases in one, continuous stream without gasping for air.
Most performers have to go through a process where they have to learn how to breathe correctly to ensure they have enough air in their tank to get long phrases out. The art of breathing lies in deep breaths into the bottom of the lungs before allowing the controlled release of air while you sing or speak. It needs to sound as natural as possible, so be careful not to hold your breath. Standing while you rap is also a lot easier than sitting as you are not placing any pressure on your lungs.
Also be sure you research vocal health and take good care of your vocal instrument. Tired voices can lead to vocal damage and injuries, something that can be detrimental to any singer. Proper breath control will help take strain off the vocal cords and make your music career, if that’s your dream, a long and sustainable one.
Learn about some mistakes beginner rappers should avoid in this article.
Building a Career
To make a career or rapping will take time, practice and work. At this stage you should just work at building your skills and while you do so you can start thinking about your style, your public persona and the other elements that creates world class artists.
To build a career that's backed by a recording studio, record labels, managers and agents takes years of dedication. Maybe you just want to do it for fun, or improve your repertoire as a singer, but even those who are determined to one day land on the top of the charts will have to find the enjoyment in their rap and hip-hop as it might be centuries before they land a proper contract with a record label.
We also recommend you speak to a professional rapper, singer or performer about the industry as there are many things that you can learn through their experience like the management of contracts, record labels and choosing good producers and recording studios. Superprof singing tutors can give you step-by-step guidance in each lesson to practise your singing.
Enjoy your discovery of rap, your identity and your voice and make South Africa proud.
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