The Modern Rap Fan’s Guide to Rhyming

I have a minor obsession with poetic techniques, rhyme schemes and suchlike. I also love wordplay. This gives me a whole new level of joy when listening to rap music. I’m always like, ‘Fierce internal rhymes’ and ‘Did you hear the enjambment on that?!’ The fun never ends in my house. This is my quick guide to poetic techniques that are in vogue in the educational medium we call hip hop music. You’re welcome. drake

  1. The Drake: Actually reputedly invented by Big Sean (who is actually medium sized for an adult human), the technique is to throw something on the end to be the rhyming word or phrase – a word that isn’t integrated into the previous sentence. See ‘Forever‘:
    She insists she got more class, we know
    Swimming in the money, come and find me, Nemo
    This makes every line a punchline; it can be witty, irreverent, and is a good way to slip in a topical reference (perhaps to a clown-fish-based Disney film).  Kanye-Creative-Genius
  2. The Kanye: The key is to find as many words as possible that rhyme with your own name and insert them as end rhymes in an A-A rhyme scheme. See ‘Famous‘:
    For all the girls that got d*** from Kanye West
    If you see ’em in the streets give ’em Kanye’s best
    Well I’m Kanye impressed. This technique is self-referential, perhaps self-mocking, and a way to marry braggadocio and punning in a meta society. Also, it’s an entertaining way to practise rhyming – look up your own name in a rhyming dictionary and go to town.
  3. The Gambino: This chap did not invent the rhetorical question; he’s not even the most famous proponent e.g. What’s a goon to a goblin? or Can I get an encore? However he often combines the rhetorical question with anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, to have a cumulative, powerful effect: See ‘Heartbeat‘:
    Are we dating? Are we f****ing?
    Are we best friends? Are we something…
    See also ‘Bonfire‘:
    You want to see my girl? I ain’t that dumb.
    You want to see
    my girl? Check Maxim.
    And ‘III. Telegraph Ave.‘: 
    Can we just roll with the feeling?
    Can we just roll for a minute?
    Choose a start to a question then vary the ending to have a hectoring, bold effect.
  4. The Minaj: Go full meta and just announce what rhyming couplet you’re aiming for and hope the populous are happy to go along with it. See ‘Only‘:
    My man full, he just ate, I don’t duck nobody but tape
    Yeah, that was a set up for a punchline on duct tape
    She’s actually great at assonance (no pun intended), consonance and internal rhymes, but her ‘I’m going to include something about this because it rhymes with this’ speaks to what we all know poetry really is.
  5. The Kendrick: Mix every linguistic technique with extraordinary realism, conscience and a bit of free jazz and be king of everything.

Of course these clever souls use a vast array of techniques; I’ve just picked out a few that I think you should all try to employ in the rhymes (or poems or novels) you’re secretly writing in your bedrooms. You know who you are.

Are there any other rap or poetic techniques that are tickling your brainboxes at the moment? Share please!


1 Comment

Filed under Poetry, Writing, Writing Advice

One response to “The Modern Rap Fan’s Guide to Rhyming

  1. Ian Luck

    Thanks for yet another fascinating post. I must come straight out and say that I don’t really rate any of the rappers you mention. For true lyrical dexterity, listen to material by Young MC, from the early nineties. The greatest rapper of all time (and this was quantified by other rappers), was, and is, Rakim. Originally teamed up with DJ Eric B, Rakim’s rhymes were typical, being about money, girls and being better than other MC’s. Then he and Eric made ‘Follow The Leader’, which has some of the most dextrous rap ever, and is full of simply astonishing imagery, and I find it strangely moving. It is about making yourself a better person, and that whatever you think you know, you can always know more. But it’s the imagery used, that is eye opening, and the flow of words is relentless – no swearing, by the way, and as I have found to my cost, there’s no point trying to rap along to it, even if you have the lyrics to hand – you can’t. Other rappers who I have records by, and are worth a listen, are, in no particular order, are: KRS-1, EPMD, Kool Moe Dee, Def Jef, Paris, East Bam (who raps in Lithuanian tremendously fast, and when I used to DJ, used to lead to a big cheer); Mos Def, whose track with Massive Attack, ‘I against I’, is simply astonishing, containing lines like:”A door where death never come”. I also like the early material by NWA, the Samoan rappers Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., and the weird early albums of Ice-T, which were profane and profound in equal measure. You can tell, that, behind the violence, and misogyny, there was great intelligence, which always troubled me slightly. Last, but not least, are the great Public Enemy. Saying what had to be said, and still saying it. No modern rap act will ever have their staying power.


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