Rapper’s Music Theory

The following video teaches all the music theory a rapper needs to know in order to make good flows. What beats are, how to count them, what syncopation is, and so on, are all clearly explained and taught in this video; the accompanying summary is down at the end of this article:



I also have a video on how to make your flow…, well, flow, here:


As well as one on how to make your raps feel continuous and unified here:


So, how do you get a better sense of rhythm? Basically, just do this: rap along to everything you hear while rapping beats.

Memorize and rap to this increasingly difficult series of songs to become a better rapper:

  1. N.W.A – “Express Yourself”
  2. Eminem – “The Way I Am” (whose raps I’ve also analyzed, in my article here)
  3. Kanye West – “Jesus Walks”
  4. Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize” (who I also just so happened to have analyzed, as seen here)
  5. Mos Def – “Mathematics” (who I’ve also analyzed here.)
  6. 50 Cent & Game – “How We Do”
  7. Busta Rhymes – “Holla”
  8. Eminem – “What’s The Difference” (who I’ve analyzed here.)
  9. André 3000  – “Aquemini,” with OutKast (I also analyzed this song for listeners, not just rappers, on RapGenius here, too.)
  10. Kendrick Lamar – “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (the song, not the entire album…although the whole thing is pretty damn good too! I also have an in-depth walkthrough of his song “Backseat Freestyle” on my site here.)


Don’t get discouraged! Try to make this song of Eminem recording, starting at 3:03, with the same man who raps, “Zoning off of one joint / stopping a limo, hopped in the window / shopping a demo at gunpoint.” He is one of the unquestionable GOATs, but he had to start somewhere:


The accompanying hand-out is below:

Martin Connor is a music teacher & writer from Philadelphia, PA, with a music degree of high distinction from Duke University who is currently studying for a master’s degree at Brandeis University in Boston, MA, while focusing his research on the vocal melodies of the rap genre. He has contributed freelance articles to HipHopDX, Complex, and Pigeons and Planes, and had multiple articles from his website, www.RapAnalysis.com go viral on BET, The Source, XXL, and MTV. He teaches rap lessons online through the music school LessonFace, and has a book, The Artistry Of Rap Music, forthcoming from the McFarland Publishing House, scheduled for release in late 2017, as a follow-up to his 2014 contribution to their anthology "Eminem & Rap, Poetry, Race." He welcomes all comments, compliments, insults, and restaurant suggestions at [email protected].


  1. Hey man this is a fucking AWESOME blog you got going on here, i've recently been interested in the art of rapping, and like everything i do i get some background info on it beforehand. I got here from rap genius: the rapper's flow encyclopedia trying find someone to explain to me what makes a rapper great, and the author of that article did a really good job and later directed its readers to YOUR blog, so i know you know your shit to say the least xD.
    But bro i really couldn't understand fully what you meant in point 2a in your handout about "creating phrases across the bar", and then point 2c about "repeating similar rhythmic figures" only made me more confused because you are mixing in a lot of music sheet talk that i don't understand.
    I'd appreciate it more than you know if you could make it clearer for me in some way, i mainly don't don't understand the difference between rhythmic phrases, rhythmic figures, and characteristic ideas mentioned in the other article that directed me here.

    1. Hey man, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The word "phrase" roughly means "sentence." Just work with that for now. So when I say "create a phrase across the bar," I mean "write a sentence that starts before a bar line and ends after a bar line." A bar is a natural dead spot for a rhythm, because it's where the musical ideas start and end. Because of this, you want your rap to keep the musical flow going right over that rhythmic deadspot by keeping the rap action going in your sentence. To "repeat a similar rhythmic figure" just means to write a sentence/phrase (remember, they're the same thing here,) and then to repeat that sentence's rhythm. For instance, in 'How We Do" by Game & 50 Cent, Game raps this: "Fresh like, UH" "Impala, UH" "Chrome Hydraulics" "808 DRUMS", where each set of quote sets off its own sentence. The syncopated rhythm on each "UH" and "DRUMS" is the same rhythm, so that ties the whole verse again.

      Hopefully this helps man! Thanks for the support too, I always love hearing from my fans.


    1. That's not a top 10 list, that's a list of increasingly difficult rap songs to rap along to in order to get your rhythmic sense down better. But my Top 10 is roughly, in no particular order, Nas, Eminem, Jean Grae, Andre 3000, Black Thought, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and the others are subject to constant change, haha.

  2. I played a couple instruments [poorly] in grade school and took class or two on music theory in college, so the basics are a bit below my level, but thanks for the rap advice I wanna see how my writing works in spoken meter.

  3. Hello,
    Your blog is awesome, major prop.
    I've been following you now for a little bit and I'm upgrading my home studio. I have a quick question about monitors. After tons of listening on different monitors I've decided to go with Yamaha HS8 monitors, but I was wondering how you felt about using the subwoofer (the HS8s). I record and produce in my room and its quite small. Do you think it's necessary to get the sub since its 8 inches? Also, how do you feel about speaker stands? And how far away should I place everything?

  4. Hey bro! I kinda dig your work on this site, as you explain some of the things that make certain emcees unique rhythmic masters in the genre – of course you aren't without faults though. I am a user on RG who breaks down and analyses flow as well from a different approach. I used be a musician, and applied what I soaked up from Theory, Appreciation and Composition.

    I was wondering maybe you could check out who I wrote about, and expand your taste in emcees? Because contrary to whatever ingrained biases you have, the emcees you mostly give praise too (Kendrick, Eminem, etc.) aren't the only ones who have their own unique styles of cadences.

    Anyways, despite my criticisms you do a great job, but it would be awesome to see new pages on emcees who you never really gave a chance or know about.


    Would really appreciate your feedback as that annotation is divided into subsections mostly based on region, as well as some theory being explained.

    I want to definitely see some more thorough expansion on emcees who don't get remarked upon their creative flows, as Rap is often stuck on nostalgia and tradition.

    1. Yeah man! The order of the list isn't based on the simplicity/complexity of rhymes, or poetry, but on how often the rapper uses non-duplet rhythmic subdivisions (putting 5 syllables on 1 beat, for example.) For example, Mos Def only does it a few times, such as at 1:14 or 1:19. By the time we get to André 3000, though, he's putting 5 syllables, or something similar (7, 9, etc.,) pretty much on every beat.

      Thanks for writing man! Hit me up at mepc36@gmail if you wanna know more, like this kinda stuff:

      Peace man!


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