Rapper’s Flow Encyclopedia – Ludacris And Old School Rap

So my editors at HipHopDX
told me that my rap world centered heavily around the East and West Coasts, and
I realized that they were right. I mean, my list of Top 10 rappers is heavily
NYC-centric: Jean Grae…Talib Kweli…Pharoahe Monch….and so on. While I think
it’s for good, justifiable reasons that I’m NYC-centric, I also have a duty and
responsibility to you. The reader.
Yeah, you. Yes, even you,
Greg.
If I’m gonna be your go-to
guy for understanding this rap shit, I gotta be one knowledgeable guy. Can I
really say Jean Grae is a GOAT if I’m not completely familiar with the work of,
say, everyone who comes from Atlanta? I mean, I know OutKast, but what about
their city brethren?
So, like Jordan and Bird in
the offseason, I hit the court and went to add another dimension to my game,
addressing my weaknesses in the process. One of those weaknesses was my lack of
knowledge about Ludacris, another one of André’s and Big Boi’s metropolitan
colleagues.
Oh, Ludacris. You and I have
come such a long way together. From you being the soundtrack to the whitest,
suburbanest grade school “mixers” you’ve ever seen, to you being part of an
Academy Award winning movie, to…The Fast and The Furious…and to you being on
the speed dial of every producer who needs a guest verse, we’ve gone through
our ups and downs. But, once I got past yelling out the closing rhymes of every
line on “Move Bitch,” I can now give you a fair, TCC-Patented rap analysis
look.
Ludacris, along with Big Sean
and T-Pain, might be the most unexpected rap artists that I’m a fan of. I’m not
saying they’re anywhere close to my real Top 10 list, but I’ve been turning my
iTunes to Word Of Mouf and Chicken-n-Beer fairly often recently,
which, along with 30 or so guest verses (comprising only 10% of all his cameos,
probably,) form the basis for my takes on his style here. (A google search of
Ludacris guest verses returns no less than 6 results trying to identify his greatest.)
You might think I’d dismiss Ludacris as easily as, say, Rick Ross, if you’ve
read my other articles, like my one on Biggie here.I mean, Ross’ and Ludacris’ styles are pretty similar. As a simplification and symbol of
their whole styles, but without making me have to get too technical, let’s just
say that both rappers, for instance, have simple, 1 or 2-syllable rhymes that
always come at the end of sentences. But I’m actually a kinda big fan of
Ludacris. Not necessarily because of the technique of his rap, but because of
the persona he portrays.

Now, I don’t talk a whole lot
about delivery or non-musical artistic styles a lot, because they’re harder to
quantify, and because they’re not necessarily what makes my articles unique and
what you come here for. But while dudes are misusing the use of musical terms
like double-time ALL the time,
I figured I’d try to do their job better than they do mine.
I like Ludacris more than I
expected because I’ve recently been really influenced by old school Hip Hop.
I’ve been turning my ears more towards Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, Run-D.M.C.’s Raisin’ Hell, DJ Quik’s Quik Is The Name, E-40’s Mr. Flamboyant, and Boogie Down
Production’s Criminal Minded. If you
haven’t heard those, I suggest checking out any and all of them. I’ve even dug
the new old school, like Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s Black Star album.
I love the music and the
beats these albums have. There’s still no question in my mind that rappers have
gotten better over the decades of rap’s existence — KRS-One couldn’t have
dreamed of the metric transference André 3000 would use on “Aquemini,” as I
explain here.
But what those old school rappers unquestionably do a better job of is having
more varied approaches than rappers today, and they also do a better job
of…having more fun.
They just have more fun than
rappers today.
I mean, dude, rappers today
are so…serious. You ever turn on the
radio? These guys are just way too focused on being the man. I could never
imagine 2Chainz or Waka Flacka making fun of themselves. Could even modern
Kanye pull off a song with the verbal themes of DJ Quik’s “Sweet Black Pussy?” On this song Quik is just talking about how much he loves girls, but not like how Kanye
does on “I’m In It,” from Yeezus. DJ
Quik’s “Sweet Black Pussy” becomes “I’m In It” in Kanye’s
hands. Kanye’s saying, when you get a girl, don’t flirt and enjoy the chase,
you gotta really, grrrrr, grit your teeth and give it to her:
[uh, picked up where we LEFT
OFF] /
[uh, i need you home when i GET
OFF] /
[uh, you know i need that WET
MOUTH] /
[uh, i know you need that
REPTILE] /
*In my lyrical
transcriptions, the rhymed words are capitalized, the brackets [ ] surround
sentences, and the slashes / represent where one bar ends and the next starts.
If you don’t know what bars are, you’ll still understand almost all of what I
say, but you can also learn what they are here*
Kanye’s hard, growling
delivery really makes the difference between him and DJ Quik.
But Quik’s approach isn’t
like Kanye’s. Quik is saying it’s great to have sex and all, but he’s also
saying how girls themselves are great. Just talking to girls at parties is
amazing. Quik mocks himself as a rapper by making fake mistakes, such as when the beat of “Sweet Black Pussy” drops at 2:20, when Quik can be heard flipping through his
pages:
“Aw shit, hold up man, this
the wrong motherfuckin’ page and shit. Awww shit, I need to start on the…Aw,
okay, here we go.”
Then, the beat drops back in, and the relaxed party atmosphere is back in full swing.Even the superficially joking songs of today are actually deadly serious. For
instance, Macklemore makes fun of himself by saying he wears cheap thrift shop
clothing on “Thrift Shop:”

“Dressed in all pink except my
gator shoes, those are green
Draped in a leopard mink,
girl standing next to me
Probably should’ve washed
this, smells like R. Kelly sheets
But shit, it was 99 cents!”
But make no mistake. He’s still the man:
“Fuck it, coppin’ it, washin’
it, ‘bout to go and get some compliments”
Macklemore then backs this up by
saying that his cheap fashion actually makes him cooler than people who spend
big bucks for nicer clothes:
“I hit the party and they stop
in that motherfucker
They be like, “Oh, that
Gucci, that’s hella tight”
I’m like, yo that’s fifty
dollars for a t-shirt
Limited edition, let’s do
some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a t-shirt,
that’s just some ignorant bitch shit”
Ah, gimme a break man. My
life is serious enough — jobs, schoo, girlsl — that I don’t want to listen to songs
anymore and hear about your fucking
problems, or how you’re trying to be
the man.
Quik even has a song called “Tha Bombudd.” It’s not about who can
smoke more than who (“Niggas say smoke me out, yeah, I really doubt it” – Snoop
Dogg, from “Kush”,) or who’s got better weed, (“And I smoke that kill, y’all
blowin’ on begonias” – Lil Wayne, on Birdman’s “Cali Dro”) or not coughing when
you smoke, it’s just about smoking weed, because weed is awesome. Quik also
adopts a fake Jamaican accent for the whole song.
Shit, The Pharcyde even have
an entire song consisting of just “Ya Mama” jokes on their 1992 album Bizarre Ride II
The Pharcyde
. Would Game ever do something like that? Drake? Nicki Minaj?
No, no, and no.
This is where Ludacris comes
in. I see him as a continuation of this more carefree theme in rap. Yes,
Ludacris portrays himself as a gangsta. But he emphasizes the mack aspect of
the gangsta persona, and not the criminal aspect. He says what makes him a
gangsta is just a mindset, not any crime he’s committed and got away with.I
couldn’t find any evidence of Ludacris actually having a criminal record. What
makes him a gangsta is that he’s good with girls. Other rappers will emphasize
how they steal and kill people, or deal drugs, but Ludacris will talk more
about how he’s good with girls, and how he likes to have a good time when he
goes out. He’ll make more jokes, and tell less stories about all of his
supposed crimes.
A representative song of this
style from Ludacris is the 4th track from his Word Of Mouf album, which is called “Cry Babies (Oh No.)” It’s just hilarious joke after hilarious joke:
[so put your belly on a PLATE
and watch your WEIGHT] /
[you frosted like a FLAKE and
ludacris feels GREAT] /
[a drug dealer’s dream] [so
fresh and i’m so CLEAN] /
[i’m a grown ass man and
you’re sweeter than sixTEEN] /
[my cars got big tv’s and
SATELLITES] /
[i got a wheel of fortune ‘cause
i flipped o’s like VANNA WHITE] /
[i’m shakin’ your tale
FEATHERS] /
[i got big balls] [i’m a sac-
king like chris WEBBER] /
[i smell puss from fifty
YARDS] /
[y’all not playin with a full
deck as if i jacked out ya jacks and left fifty CARDS] /
The gangsta persona hasn’t
been in rap since 1978, but puns, jokes, metaphors, similes, analogies, and
humor in rap has always been there. Just check out these lyrics from rap’s first mainstream hit, “Rapper’s Delight:”“Well like Johnny Carson on the late show
Like frankie Crocker in stereo
Well like the barkay’s (?( singing ohly Ghost
The sounds to throw down they’re played the most.”

Ludacris is a throwback rapper like Master Gee, Big Bank Hank, and Wonder Mike in a lot of ways, at least when he’s at his best. Shit, almost more than a verse and a half out of 3 on “Cry Babies” is completely jokes, puns, and double entendres:

[catch me in vegas, SPINNING THE GREEN] /
[i re-up with more chips than a VENDING MACHINE] /
[bull’s-eye][i stunt growth and STOP LIVES] /
[you run with niggas that’s more chicken than POT PIES] /
[i kick niggas in they ass][reboot ‘em like LAPTOPS] /
[and they wouldn’t even BOX if i gave ‘em a FLAT TOP] /
[you punks pucker and pout, bicker and BABBLE] /
[now they all lost for words like I beat ‘em in SCRABBLE] /
[when i KICK and RIP and FLIP an indispensable RHYME] /
[my black ass is so hungry i’ll take a bite out of CRIME] /
[i just bought some new guns] [my mama said it ain’t WORTH IT] /
[but i’m at the shootin’ range just ‘cause practice makes PERFECT] /
Great puns; maybe Top 10, as I discuss below. But this kind of harmless fun is what I get out of
Luda’s rap, because there isn’t much to go on technique-wise. Just like those
songs are excellent examples of Ludacris’ puns, they’re also good example of
his pretty average technique. Just look at the lines I quoted above. Not much change
in phrasing or sentences, which all last about half or 1 bar, unlike Notorious
B.I.G. All of the sentences also start and end with the bar line. Like so many good but not great rappers, Ludacris does one thing really
well, but doesn’t bring the versatility of someone like Eminem or Jean Grae.
Most of Ludacris’ rhymes are
external rhymes that come at the end of sentences, and they’re all 1 or 2
syllables long. For example, “i smell puss from fifty YARDS” rhymed with “y’all
not playin with a full deck as if i jacked out ya jacks and left fifty CARDS,”
or “i’m shakin’ your tale FEATHERS” rhymed with “i got big balls, i’m a sac-
king like chris WEBBER.” That’s far away from Jean Grae’s 8-syllable rhymes on
“Casebasket.” “Cry Babies (Oh No)”
also isn’t an isolated incident; much of what I just said about jokes,
phrasing, and rhymes can be applied just as much to the album’s first first
song, “Coming 2 America,” as to the track we just looked at.
This shows us that Luda
couldn’t begin to think of Jean Grae’s crazy syncopated rhythms, like I say here,
or Notorious B.I.G.’s innovative rhymes schemes like I explain in the article I
linked to at the start. Ludacris, unlike my other favorite rappers, doesn’t
fully utilize the musical systems he sets up for himself. For instance, he
clears out a lot of musical space in his rap, but then doesn’t fill it in later.
Check out his song “Move Bitch” and the big pauses in its opening lines: “oh
no…fights out…’bout to punch your…lights out.” But Ludacris doesn’t go back and
fill in that musical space later to insert some variation into his style.
In a way, it seems like
there’s a lot of untapped potential in Ludacris. On “Coming 2 America,” the Atlanta rapper cleverly flips his initially more laid back flow into a
really quick one for the 3rd verse at 2:52, which fits the slower
beat’s double time really well, and which Big Boi has made almost a whole career out of. But Ludacris doesn’t smartly prepare a transition to a
quicker flow like Kendrick does on “Rigamortis,” where Lamar starts slow and then ends quick. Additionally, Ludacris doesn’t do
this sudden flow change enough on other songs. Like so many rappers, he hasn’t
changed his rapping style over the years, such as how Jean Grae did between her
album Attack Of The Attacking Things
and her Cookies Or Comas mixtape.
While no one could’ve predicted that Yeezus
would eventually come from Kanye after his more traditional College Dropout album, what with all of
its soul samples, I can pretty much guarantee that Kanye will pretty much be
rapping the same way 10 years from now, just with different topics.
So where does this leave
Ludacris, when compared to the greatest rappers of all time that I’ve mentioned throughout this article? When evaluating
rappers as GOAT’s or not, I first grade them on 3 different categories:
Storytelling, Technique, and Puns, as I explain in my 2pac article here.
I’m not an expert on my comedian Top 10, but I’ve got a pretty good handle on
storytelling and a great handle on technique. So from what I’ve heard, Ludacris
is right on the Top 10 Comedian list along with Big Sean and early Kanye West. But
as I said before, his technique doesn’t really pop off the page, and telling a compelling personal
story isn’t as essential to his work as it is for, say, Kendrick Lamar or 2pac.
This means that Ludacris is a really good rapper, as long as you know what
you’re going to get from him: pun, pun, and more puns, without a lot of thought behind them.

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 mepc36@gmail.com.

1 Comment

  1. You're using some of these terms incorrectly –

    "Old school" is everything up until Run-DMC in 1984.
    Run-DMC were the first "new school" group and they ended the old school era.

    The old school guys wore flashy clothes and had disco beats, and Run-DMC then came in wearing street clothes and had hard drum machine beats, and that became the "new school" style.

    So none of those groups you named are "old school" hip-hop, they are mostly "golden era hip-hop" from 1986-1995.
    And there is no such thing as the "new old school".

    This details the transition from old school to new school pretty well –
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_school_hip_hop

    And this is a decent explanation of the golden era –
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_age_hip_hop

    Though get the book "Yes, Yes, Ya'll" for a lot of information on old school/new school.

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