Monday, October 6, 2014

Rap Music Analysis - Eminem, "The Rap God"

From new Composer's Corner contributor, Steven Bruno:

-Steven Bruno is a 22 year old author from Toronto Canada who writes short scary stories, you can find his work on his blog Blood In My Pen.”

Eminem’s ability to rap well is obviously one of the main reasons that he stands at such a high spot in hip-hop. He can string words and syllables together that no other rapper would even dream of, and he does it CONSISTENTLY. He uses a mixture of complex rhyming schemes and wordplay that he mixes together with a smooth sounding flow to create his own unique sound that not many other rappers can match. Some rappers can emulate certain parts of his style and make a few good songs, but I haven’t heard of anyone who is able to do it consistently for 8 albums. His consistently good music is what sets him apart. I’m going to break down his style into multiple sections to help you understand fully all that is Eminem. I’ll include some verses from other rappers to compare and contrast multisyllable/word rhyming, flow, speed and wordplay.  

Let’s check out Drake’s opening lines on “Headlines”: (each song's title in this article is hyperlinked to the YouTube video for that song.)

"I might be too strung out on compliments, overdosed on confidence
Started not to give a fuck and stopped fearing the consequence
Drinking every night because we drink to my accomplishments
Faded way too long, I'm floatin' in and out of consciousness”

Now I’ll admit to the fact that Drake is a far better rapper than this verse implies; I’m just using these lines as an example of a popularly used simple rhyming scheme. As you can see, he’s rhyming only one word with one word, each word being 3 syllables:

"Compliments
Confidence
Consequence
accomplishments
Consciousness”

This is probably one of the easiest patterns to use, although it’s commonly done with 2 syllables instead of 3. Before we go on, I should define what a perfect rhyme and family rhyme is. A perfect rhyme has these characteristics:

            1. The rhyming syllables have the same vowel sounds 

            2. The consonant sounds after the vowel (if any) have the same sounds

            3. The rhyming syllables begin differently

A family rhyme is the same except for that second point:

            2. The consonant sounds after the vowel are phonetically related

Frog/dog would be an example of a perfect rhyme, while rich/wish and fun/sung would be examples of family rhymes. They rhyme, but you can tell they don’t perfectly match up. In the above example, compliments and confidence are perfect rhymes while accomplishments and consciousness can be considered a family rhyme, especially since the syllables -ments and -ness don’t rhyme perfectly. Eminem (and a lot of rappers in general) utilizes a lot of family rhymes in his songs, which allows him to rhyme together a wider selection of words and syllables. I’ll go into more depth on his use of family rhymes in a later segment.

Let’s look at another rhyming style that is a bit harder to implement but is still popular. This verse is taken from Lil Wayne's “She Will”:

"Niggas is jealous, but really I could care less
I'm in Hell's Kitchen with an apron and a hairnet
Devil on my shoulder, the Lord as my witness
So on my Libra scale, I'm weighing sins and forgiveness
What goes around comes around like a hula hoop
Karma is a bitch? Well just make sure that bitch is beautiful

Lil Wayne’s specialty is not his technical ability to rhyme, but let’s take a look at the rhyming scheme here. As you can see, he’s rhyming the last two syllables in each line (with the exception of jealous and careless in the first line), whether those syllables are contained in one word or two. This is also a very popular style in rap and isn’t too difficult to do. Let’s now look at another Lil Wayne verse that is a bit more complex, from the song “A Milli”:

“A millionaire
I'm a Young Money millionaire, tougher than Nigerian hair
My criteria compared to your career just isn't fair
I'm a venereal disease like a menstrual bleed

See the way he uses two words (nigerian hair) to rhyme with millionaire? The -gerian in nigerian is a family rhyme with million- while hair  rhymes with -naire as a perfect rhyme. He also switches it up in the next line:

"My criteria compared to your career just isn't fair”

Criteria compared is at the beginning of the sentence yet is a family rhyme with nigerian hair which comes at the end of the last sentence. Let’s look at some other lines from this song to highlight another important style:

"I go by them goon rules if you can’t beat 'em then you pop 'em
if you can’t man 'em then you mop 'em
if you can’t stand 'em then you drop 'em
You pop 'em cause we pop 'em like Orville Redenbacher” 

See how man ‘em and stand ‘em both come at the beginning of the second and third line while mop ‘em and drop ‘em both come at the end? This style really differentiates an amateur rapper with a more talented rapper, but is nonetheless still quite common in rap.

Now let’s take a look at an Eminem verse to see how he utilizes these different techniques. This is part of a great verse on the song “Bitch Please II”:

"Gimme the mic, let me recite til Timothy White
Pickets outside the Interscope offices every night
What if he's right
I'm just a criminal making a living off of the world's misery
What in the world gives me the right
To say what I like, and walk around flipping the bird
Livin' the urban life, like a White kid from the burbs
Dreaming at night of screaming at mom, scheming to leave
Run away from home and grow to be as evil as me”

First of all, take a step back and look at how many words are italicized: a FUCK TON. This is actually a good song to compare different rhyming styles because 3 other rappers are featured in the song. Okay, let’s begin to analyze this verse:

The words mic, recite and white all rhyme. So do give me, let me and Timothy. He says the words so fast that you can basically look upon them each as one word containing 4 syllables each.

Gimmethemic
lemmerecite
timothywhite”

Out of 13 syllables, 12 are part of the rhyming pattern. Then he takes a breath for 11 syllables and finishes off the rhyming pattern with every night and if he’s right. Let’s call this rhyming scheme Pattern A:

Pattern A:
Gimme the mic
let me recite
Timothy White
Every night
If he’s right”

Pattern A is not done yet. We’ll add to it after we analyze the next line, line 4:

"I'm just a criminal making a living off of the world's misery”

At first it doesn’t sound like anything in this line rhymes, but pay close attention to criminal and living off: they’re a family rhyme. Look at them phonetically, cri-mi-nal and li-ving of, they fit the rules of a family rhyme, although they are not part of Pattern A. Let’s refer to them as Pattern B, even though this pattern doesn’t show up again in the verse. Then in the following line, he returns back to Pattern A with the words gives me the right. Eminem (and rappers in general) insert rhyming patterns in between other rhyming patterns to make the song flow better, and it also allows them to rhyme the majority of the words in the sentence without being limited to one specific pattern of rhyming syllables.

"Gimme the mic (A), let me recite (A) til Timothy White (A)
Pickets outside the Interscope offices every night (A)
What if he's right (A)
I'm just a criminal (B) making a living off (B) of the world's misery
What in the world gives me the right (A)
To say what I like (?)”

Look at the last line. I like doesn’t fit in perfect with Pattern A; only the last syllable -ike seems to fit. He does this purposefully for two reasons:

            1. He can end off Pattern A without you realizing it and transition into a different                         rhyming scheme

            2. He can create a new rhyming pattern that holds a remittance of Pattern A                              (because he keeps the long i syllable going)

Let’s name that last rhyme Pattern C and look at the next few lines:

"To say what I like, and walk around flipping the bird
Livin' the urban lifelike a White kid from the burbs”

He started another rhyming pattern here, which we will call Pattern D, with flipping the bird, livin’ the urb-, kid from the burbs. He also carries on Pattern C with like, life, like, white. 

"To say what I like (C), and walk around flipping the bird (D)
Livin' the urb (D) an life (C)like a White (C) kid from the burbs(D)”

By intermingling patterns like this he can insure that almost every word in the line is part of at least one rhyming pattern, if not two. This contributes to his flow, which I will discuss in the forthcoming segment of this analysis. Notice how the word urban is split into two to fit into two rhyming patterns? Livin’ the urb- is part of Pattern D while -an phonetically rhymes with i in I like and a in a white. These are the two patterns split up. 

Pattern C:
"I like
-an life
a white”

Pattern D:
flipping the bird
livin’ the urb-
kid from the burbs”

Let's finish up with this verse and analyze the last two lines:

"Dreaming at night of screaming at mom, scheming to leave
Run away from home and grow to be as evil as me”

These lines are a bit more difficult to analyze. We can see a few patterns emerging here, some which intermingle with previous patterns and some that are part of two patterns. 

Pattern D:
a white (from the previous line)
at night”

Pattern E:
Dreaming
screaming
scheming
evil”

Pattern F:
home
grow”

Pattern G:
leave
me"

Those are all the rhyming patterns I can point out except one, which I’m not even sure would be considered its own rhyming pattern. See how scheming is a family rhyme with evil (Pattern E) and leave rhymes with me (Pattern G)? Technically those words can be put together and placed in their own rhyming pattern:

Pattern H:
scheming to leave
evil as me”

Do you see how much work and thought goes into nine lines of a verse? And Eminem does this pretty much consistently in all of his songs, utilizing these intricate patterns and weaving them together in a beautifully flowing fashion. I suggest you give this verse a listen and pay attention to how well it flows.

The next section of this analysis, coming out in a week or so, will analyze Eminem's rap in terms of aspects that have to do more specifically with flow as it's strictly defined.

Thanks for reading!

-Steven Bruno is a 22 year old author from Toronto Canada who writes short scary stories, you can find his work on his blog Blood In My Pen.”