Lyricism in Hip-Hop | Rhyming Syllables, Not Words

For the majority of casual music listeners out there, they’d be able to finish this line: “Now, what you hear is not a test…” If you don’t know it just say, “I’m rapping to the beat.”

“Rapper’s Delight,” by Sugarhill Gang may not be the first song with rapping in it, but it is the first hip-hop song to reach the Top 40 in the USA, way back in 1979. So the importance of this song cannot go unnoticed, but the quality, and lyricism of this song is just the foundation of what rhyming can be like in hip-hop. Here are some of the most recognizable lyrics from the song:

“Now, what you hear is not a test I’m rappin’ to the beat,
And me, the groove, and my friends are gonna try to move your feet
See, I am Wonder Mike, and I’d like to say hello,
To the black, to the white, the red and the brown,
The purple and yellow

You see, I’m six foot one, and I’m tons of fun
When I dress to a T,
You see, I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali
And I dress so viciously.”

Rapper, Black Thought, co-founder of The Roots

The song flows at a steady pace and it’s easy to follow along. The rhymes are at the end of each sentence and you come to expect it after each phrase. But fast forward 40+ years to today and you can see the complexity (some) rappers have now in how they write, and say, their words. Take a look at these lyrics from one of the best rappers alive right now:

“I’m so stubborn, the government won’t govern
That brother you spoke of, it just wasn’t as dope, was it?” -Black Thought

But let’s break down the rhyming SYLLABLES, not words.

  1. I’m SO stubborn, the government WOn’t govern
    That brother you SPOke of, it just wasn’t as DOpe, was it?
  2. I’m so stub-born, the gov-ernment won’t gov-ern
    That broth-er you spoke of, it just wasn’t as dope, was it?
  3. I’m so (1)stub (2)born, (3)the (4)gov (5)ern (6)ment won’t (1)gov (2)ern
    (3)That (4)broth (5)er (6)you spoke (1)of, (2)it (3)just (4)was (5)n’t (6)as dope, was it?

Read that last part again, and just sit in awe of the poetry that you just witnessed. Between every rhyming word, there are exactly 6 syllables. And on top of that, we get internal rhymes from stubborn, govern, brother. This is from the song “Yah, Yah,” by Eminem feat. Royce da 5'9", Black Thought, and Q-Tip.

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Rapper, Logic

Another example is from the song “ISIS,” by Joyner Lucas feat. Logic. It’s during Logic’s verse when he rhymes the vowel sound AH.

“It’s Logic, it’s obvious, just ask the audience
I’ve come to body this” -Logic

Reading it straight off the page doesn’t seem special, but saying it with some slight inflection in your voice you’ll hear:

“It’s L(ah)gic, it’s (ah)bvious, just (ah)sk the (ah)dience,
(ah)’ve come to b(ah)dy this”

Logic is known to ride the beat on songs better than almost any other rapper right now. So in the song (I highly recommend listening to this one) you’ll see his flow switch mid-verse to start rhyming syllables and then flip right back to being very wordy, seamlessly. But that’s why this is so noteworthy, because it’s unique, and creative, and purposeful.

The difference between Rapper’s Delight and Yah, Yah and ISIS is that rap was still new back then. Almost all hit song melodies rhyme at the end of each phrase. But then to have people who aren’t even singing, on the radio, of course there was no chance to break out of elementary rhyming. But now, with such evolution in hip-hop the brain is basically fully unlocked for some artists such as Black Thought and Logic to write verses like on these two songs.

Passionate about People.

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