Rap Music Analysis – Importance Of The Rap Team

“Kanye first, then I’m coming after.”

So goes Big Sean’s lines on his awesome “Supa Dupa Lemonade” song. He might be paying his proper dues to his mentor here, but what he says also simply isn’t true, as well-intentioned as it might be. The real situation of Big Sean’s clique (clique…clique…clique…) is, “Big Sean first, then Jay coming after, and Ye coming after, and maybe Chains last, sir.” These lines would illustrates much better the important of the rap team, which goes beyond any particular crew or group that a rapper might be in.

Just check out the order of rappers’ appearances on these Kanye-affiliated mega singles.

1. Big Sean
2. Pusha T
3. Kanye West (at beat change)
4. 2chainz

“Ni**as in Paris:”
1. Jay-Z
2. Kanye West (at beat change)

1. Big Sean
2. Jay-Z
3. Kanye

“New God Flow:”
1. Pusha-T
2. Kanye West (at beat change)
3. Ghostface

“No Church In The Wild:”
1. Frank Ocean
2. Jay-Z
3. Kanye West

What’s the pattern here that holds almost all the time? The newbs open the song (Big Sean, Pusha T, and Frank Ocean.) Then, Jay-Z always comes right before Kanye, if he’s on the song, and usually in the middle of it. Then, Kanye West comes in at the end, usually right when the beat changes.

This is how it works artistically: Big Sean is the appetizer that whets your appetite, and gets you pumped. I think they figured out that Big Sean might not give you a great verse, but it won’t be BS, and it will perfectly fit the party rap goal of the album. Then, Jay-Z is the entree that they try to hide between two better courses. People generally remember the beginning and the end of a song the most, and this places his middle verse in the background. And then Kanye always comes in and kills it at the end, usually right when the beat changes. A great recipe, as the huge success of these songs shows.

But the best example of the importance of the rap team is how 2Chainz fits into all this. 2Chainz, bereft of both good verbal content (Guru’s saving grace) and tight technical approaches (MF DOOM’s saving grace,) simply can’t hold a song down by himself. His single “I’m Different” shows this perfectly. You only need to change a few of the words slightly and 2Chainz’ petulant, protesting delivery comes across as what a little child might say when throwing a temper tantrum.

But on a song like “Mercy,” 2Chainz’ chanting cadence finds it’s perfect place in the rap painting. His up and down rhythms stand in contrast to the other 3 rappers’ syncopated flows that float around the beat. The 16 bars Chainz raps are the perfect length for him to make himself heard; as we’ve seen, those 3 verses and chorus of “I’m Different” just ask too much of him. But when 2Chainz isn’t asked to carry a song, and just support other rappers, then we see how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a hierarchy here: Big Sean gets the promo he needs, Kanye gets the main spotlight, and 2Chainz both amps it up and brings us down to prepare us for the end of the song.

A rap team that doesn’t work quite as well is the Hot Boys, which is made up of Turk, B.G., Juvenile, and Lil Wayne. They simply step on each other toes. They seemed to know this themselves, as B.G. has his own solo song “Help,” Lil Wayne has his own “Clear Tha Set,” Juvenile has his “Ya Dig,” and Turk has “Bout Whatever.” Even on the song on which they’re constantly trading bars it doesn’t all come together, as they run into each other’s lines verbally during “We On Fire.”

Their problem is that while they’re each pretty good individual rappers, Lil Wayne and B.G. especially, they don’t work well together, and certainly not on the level that Kanye’s clique does. This is because while they were trying to reconcile everyone’s ego so that they all feel equal, GOOD Music recognizes the clear hierarchy of popularity and puts it to use for them.

Hopefully other rap teams can learn from this. Take it from well built NBA teams: have a superstar, one or two supporting guys who set the table, and then some role players. Maybe the Hot Boys should take a page out of their own hometown Pelicans playbook…nah. But the Spurs for sure, though.

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].

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