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Monday, July 29, 2013

Rap Music Transcription - Rock, From Heltah Skeltah

Below is Rock's rap rhythms transcribed from the song "Hellz Kitchen." It is the sheet music for his words.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Web Hosting for Rock Analysis on Rapgenius

Rapper's Flow Encyclopedia - Heltah Skeltah, Rock Rap Music Analysis

There are some musical artists that encapsulate and perfectly represent their eras.

The Beatles and the British Rock Invasion of the 60s.

Prince and the excess of 80s synth rock.

K$sha’s grimey, dance-rap of today.

Although these artists might move on artistically from their origins, they will always leave their influence on the years in which they came up, and those years will do the same to them.

Another one of those groups is Heltah Skeltah, coming out of Brownsville, New York, in the 90s. They’ve been getting professional love since 1995, on Smif-N-Wessun’s album Dah Shinin’. Although they’ve progressed since then, some elements of the New York rap scene around that time have never left, especially for Heltah Skeltah member Rock. On the Evidence-produced Heltah Skeltah song “Hellz Kitchen,” it’s pretty clear that Rock’s flow, while also being substantially different, is similar to none other than The Notorious B.I.G.’s flow on another song we previously have taken a look at, “Hypnotize” []. Note that the direction of influence might flow in either direction, as the two acts — Biggie and Heltah Skeltah — started working around the same time. Recently, Rock has made the move to the legendary W.A.R. media record label that also includes Jean Grae and fellow GOAT Pharoahe Monch. Managed by Satori Ananda, I personally can’t wait to see what he comes out with next. My pipe dream is a W.A.R. media compilation…we’ll see what happens!

But the bone-crushing force of Rock’s rap comes primarily from his overbearing, strong delivery on the mic. You can definitely hear it on the Heltah Skeltah song “Hellz Kitchen:”

When he tells you, “Leave you feeble fuckers in puddles,” you feel like he’s talking right at you more than some other rappers when they use the 2nd person form of address. How hard he comes is a really good illustration of a concept that GOATs Jean Grae in her interview and Talib Kweli in his interview talked about. Take it away, Jean:

“What doesn’t work for one rapper might work for another. You have to get to know your voice as if it was an instrument. Know what you can get away with – how you sound, almost what the frequencies of your voice are….For instance, if you change the rapper of a verse, but keep the rhythms and words the same, the feel of the verse completely changes.” - Jean Grae

And Talib:

Composer’s Corner: You were saying you flow the best when you’re free with it. Do you mean with where your place your rhymes, how long your sentences are, the words you use, or stuff like that?

Talib Kweli: All of that, but also how relaxed it is. Even if it’s a loud beat and an aggressive rhyme, the more relaxed I am when I’m performing it, it just flows better. It melds into the track better.”

Now, there is no question that Rock knows his voice like an instrument, inside out, and knows what flow fits his voice, as Jean and Talib describe. He comes across so convincingly, as truly believing what he’s saying, that you have to be crazy in order to not feel him. Just like Talib knows to relax when he flows, Rock knows to come hard.

But those overall descriptions don’t quite capture the force of Rock’s work technically. I’ve never used this internet-speak before, but smh man, smh…Some dudes get. slept. on. And people don’t even know. I more deeply address why some rappers who aren’t very good technically might get popular while other emcees who are better rappers don’t get radio play at this article here at Rapping Manual.. The gist of it is that if you only stick to radio, or even the top Hip Hop blogs/magazines (The Source, XXL, etc.,) you’re missing out by getting to hear only one type of rapper. The abilities and technologies you need to rap nowadays are simply so widespread that there are probably thousands of mic rockers out there who are super talented but who people will never get a chance to see. Everyone’s got mics, everyone’s got some kind of access to music and the Internet. So get out there! Go to Myspace, select your geographical location, and just browse. And when you find an act you like, you can really help them out to bring more people their music. Those acts will actually return the love to you, and it will mean a lot more to them than it would for Drake or Wayne.

So for those class clowns out there who didn’t do your rap homework, you might have otherwise found out earlier about a awesome dude like Rock. Now, what have you been missing out on?

Like I said before, the strongest thing about Rap’s game is his strong delivery. That’s not only in the way he talks, but the rhythms he uses as well. Towards the end of his opening verse on “Hellz Kitchen”, after he’s laid down a few bars of pretty steady rhythms, he starts shooting all over the beat. It matches up perfectly with his boasts of gunplay. Check out, for instance, these bars:

Even if you can’t read music, just look how different that representation in musical notes of Rock’s verse looks from his first few lines: 

If you’re going to read the music above, there are a few things you need to know. Those black circles on the lines are the musical notes, and there’s one for each syllable Rock raps. Those curved lines under the noteheads, such as from the syllable “lis-” of “listen” to the “-in’” of “bitchin’” represents a full grammatical structure, like a sentence. Those squiggly lines in between the black, circular noteheads, like between “night” and “don’t,” are called rests, and those just mean that Rock isn’t rapping anything right there. Also, the rhymed words in every sheet music example are capitalized. If you’re still confused about the notation, just watch the video demonstration of Rock’s rap rhythms at the end of this article and your ear will sort things out for you.

Between the two images, you’ll notice that the 2nd notation looks a lot simpler. In that one, there aren’t any crazy numbers over the noteheads on the lines like there are in the first notation sample. For example, there is the number 9 over “wanna dance with the devil save” or the number 7 over the words “I’m quick.” That just means Rock has opened up the verse with a lot more regular rhythms, seen in the second image, that are easier to understand. This is a good idea to do if later you’re going to get more complex like Rock does. It gives the listener a reference point and doesn’t lose them by being too all over the place.

The complex rhythms Rock uses are called quintuplet, septuplets, and noctuplets. Those numbers just mean how the music is divided: into 5, 7, or 9 units. These complex rhythms put him into some rarefied company. The songs and rappers that we’ll be comparing and contrasting Rock’s rap against are Talib Kweli, MF DOOM, Notorious B.I.G., 2pac, and Busta Rhymes. Now, from the above list, only MF DOOM made use of rhythms that were as complex as Rock’s. The rhythms of Kweli and Busta Rhymes would be right behind him in terms of complexity. The other musical symbols we defined before, such as sentences, can also be used to compare and contrast Rock to the above rappers.

For instance, in this verse, Rock raps 212 syllables in the musical space of 16 bars. A bar is simply a musical time unit that occurs over and over in rap music. Because it always lasts the same amount of time between any rap song, we can use it as a fixed reference point to measure rap in certain ways. For instance, Rock’s 212 syllables in 16 bars means there are 13.25 syllables per bar. And the 23 sentences Rock has makes it mean that there are 1.44 sentences per bar. I also measured syllables per sentence, syllables per word, and % of syllables rhymed. Check all of Rock’s stats out below all the way to the right, and see how they match up against B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, MF DOOM, 2pac, and Talib:

Now we see how Rock was formed by his era, and how he formed it himself. Rock is most similar to Notorious B.I.G. in his stats, out of all the other rappers there. The percentage of syllables that Rock rhymes, 33%, is close to Biggie’s 38%. Rock’s 33% rhyme rate is close to Busta’s 30% and Talib Kweli’s 28% rhyme rate as well, but those two rappers are much wordier. They have, on average, Busta’s 11.85 and Talib’s 12.76 syllables per sentence, while Rock has only 9.21 syllables per sentence. That 9.21 is close to Biggie’s 7.25 syllables per sentence, DOOM’s 9.18 syllables per sentence, and 2pac’s 9.32 syllables per sentence. But DOOM has a much higher rhyme rate, with 45% of all syllables rhymed, and he is maybe the most wordy rapper ever, having about 1.75 syllables per word. Meanwhile, Rock’s rate of 1.37 syllables per word is close to Notorious’ 1.30 rate, as well as 2pac’s rate of 1.21 syllables per word. Rock’s 1.37 syllables rate is also similar to Kweli’s 1.47 syllable per word rate, but Kweli has much longer sentences. Kweli has 1.11 sentences per bar, while Rock has 1.44 sentences per bar. That 1.44 rate is much closer to Biggie’s 1.38 sentences per bar rate than Kweli’s rate.

In fact, Rock’s style is more similar to 2pac’s than Kweli or MF DOOM, even though Rock came up on a whole different side of the country from 2pac. What matters is that they were from a similar era. I also don’t think it’s an accident that Rock’s style is more similar to Busta than DOOM or Kweli, because Rock came up in the 90s along with Busta.

(I also did analysis articles on all of those rappers. You can find the MF DOOM one here, Talib Kweli here, Busta Rhymes here, 2pac here,, and B.I.G. here here.

But Rock is also different from Biggie in some important ways. He uses much more complex rhythms than Biggie’s regular rhythms, as we see from some B.I.G. rhythms below:

You can see that there are no prime numbers like 5, 7, or 9 above the numbers. You can also listen to how Rock’s complex rhythms sound different in the video demonstration at the end of this article, or in the Biggie analysis that I linked to above.

Furthermore, Rock’s rhyming is more complex in certain ways. For instance, he is more willing to put a number of rhymes consecutively, rather than just the 1 or 2, or at most usually 6, in a row that Biggie might do. For instance, Rock raps:

In those first 20 syllables, there are 17 rhymes, and at one point, savagery to mashery, there are 13 straight rhymes. So although Biggie has a higher rhyme density, it is because his rhymes are more evenly spread out than Rock’s. Rock also makes use of consonance, or the repetition of a consonant sound. Above, the consonance is on the “m” of “motherfuckers / monster mashery…” I consider consonance to have the same function as rhyming, in that they both place emphasis on the syllable on which they occur. Thus, I treat them both the same.

Also differently from Biggie, Rock uses longer rhymes of 3-syllables. B.I.G. in “Hypnotize” has no 3-syllable rhymes, but Rock rhymes on savagery/mashery/battery. He also uses more 2-syllable rhymes than Notorious, who was more about 1-syllable rhymes.

Below, I notated Rock’s rap rhythms in music notation and play it back through a computer instrument, a MIDI triangle. I put the underlying beat to the song underneath so you can feel how complex Rock’s rhythms are:

If you liked this song, check out another one of Rock’s songs called “Rockness Monsta:”

So there. You were maybe missing out on a dude who flows like Biggie, and who might be even better than him in some respects.

Now go do your damn homework!

Friday, July 26, 2013

The 5 Most Unbelievable Stories of 2013 As Told Through Tweets

Lucky for us, Twitter acts as an immortal showcase of the stupid things we do and say. That goes for rappers too. (I'm just saying, I hope no one ever does a story like this on me. It will probably start with asking why I re-tweet Jean Grae lyrics at 10 PM on Fridays.) But the math behind this article is easy: people do and say crazy shit/rappers especially + Twitter saves it = here are the 5 most outlandish rap stories of the past year as told through Tweets:

Normally, a rapper would want you to find out about them through their music, and not because of something wildly inappropriate they did. Unfortunately, the second scenario was the case for when I heard of French Montana, and kinda made his music hard to take after that. On February 29 this year, Montana performed at the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia a.k.a. PHIL-TOWNNNN!!! (Okay, no one calls it that.) And as it happens someone got shot and died outside of the concert. Police later stopped Montana to question him about the incident. Montana responded with the above tweet and an instagram photo of him looking pissed off, clearly not going anywhere. Came off as rather dick-ish. Whatever, let's go to a less harmless egotistical rapper act instead:
When this story broke, I had to explain to my non-rap fans, all of who were still familiar with Kanye's antics ("George Bush doesn't care about black people," "Beyoncé had one of the best music videos of all time," etc., etc.,) that this was actually a real story. To promote his recent Yeezus album, Kanye broadcast a music video all across the world at the same time. The video largely consists of Kanye's own face, over dozens of feet of square area, rapping his song "New Slaves." Check it out:

 Only Kanye could think of something like that. To be clear, I'm a huge fan of the man. If he is one of the few people in the world with almost endless resources at his disposal for advertising and publicity, why not do something completely outlandish? I am going to have definitely disagree with Kanye's recent characterization of the 2nd verse of "New Slaves" as the greatest verse in the history of music, as he recently proclaimed on music. I'd expect nothing less from Kanye, though.

 I'm not gonna give you any context for this one. Just sit with this reality for a while, a quote which hopefully they engrave on Lupe's tomb:

"Dear God! I didn't get kicked off Twitter for talking about Karl Marx! Jesus Fucking Christ....who said that?" - Lupe Fiasco, Born 2/16/1982
On a recent song, "U.O.E.N.O.", Rick Ross has the following lyric:

"Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain't even know it
I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain't even know it"

Understandably, there was a lot of outrage over Ross' apparent glorification of date rape. Ross felt the pain in not just his public image but his wallet as well when he lost an endorsement deal with Reebok worth millions of dollars. However, the message may not have hit Ross right away, as he offered up the above lukewarm apology. Maybe he just meant apologies are awesome with the #boss tag?

The outcry over Ross' lyrics is similar to other public debates over rap lyrics that have taken place recently, such as over Lil Wayne's "Emmett Till" lyric and Kanye West's recent lyric about "keeping it shaking like Parkinson's". While being a sign of current problems in rap's lyrics, the fact that these debates are taking place at all is a good sign. This is because they can eventually lead to change. Rap has had lyrics like this for years, but as rap matures, it is time to move on.

Tim Dog's tweet from 2009 seems damn near a premonition now. In 2011, Tim Dog pleaded guilty to grand larceny for conning a woman. Facing a long prison sentence and having to pay back tens of thousands of dollars to the victim of the scheme, TD reportedly died of complications from diabetes. However, none of the usual events surrounding a death were found: an autopsy, a funeral, or death certificate. An arrest warrant has now been issued for him in Mississippi. As he says on a song off his "Do or Die" album, he may have "Skipped To His Loot" one too many times.

So, what's the equation answer? If you, as a rap fan, are not on Twitter, I highly suggest it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ca$his Interview

In my internship with HipHopDX, I recently got the chance to interview Ca$his, a California rapper by way of Chicago.

He's most known for his Aftermath Associations, being signed to Shady Records and working with Eminem. Here's one of his popular songs, from the Shady Records Re-Up album:

Check out the interview here. Although I asked questions about everything - how his kids affect his music, the new album, etc. - I also got to ask him my patented rap analysis questions. They're excerpted below:

DX: When you rap, do you come up with the words first, the rhymes first, or both at the same time?

Ca$his: Together, at the same time. I let the beat play.

DX: So you always have the beat first?

Ca$his: Yeah, I always hear the beat first, unless I do something a cappella. I let the beat play, and I freestyle. It may hit me but certain words are chopped off. It’s incomplete for a minute. I get the pattern, then I vibe to it. I might write it down sometimes because I can catch myself better. Sometimes having more focus is better. I sit there, and I turn the music up, and I smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke. As it keeps looping and looping and looping, I’m ready. Maybe 10, 15 minutes I got the whole record down. I’m a one-take jake, man.

DX: Say you’re writing a verse that’s 16 bars long. Do you start from bar one and go all the way through 16, or do you keep a book of rhymes and maybe take two bars here, three bars there, and fit them together if they work?

Ca$his: Nah, I don’t really know how to do that. I’m not good at taking records from other songs of mine and putting it in there. I just come with the bars. I just go through it. I get the verse, two or three bars I have a pattern on how I wanna do it. And once I have the pattern, it’s all good. The only thing that changes is if the beat changes or if there’s any drop-outs.

DX: Say a beginner rapper comes to you and they say, “Ca$his, you’re sick. Give me some advice on how to be a better rapper.” What’s the first thing you tell them?

Ca$his: I’d tell them to remember the rhyme. That’s the most important thing in rapping. That’s what made it, rhyming. Some of the new artists forget about rhyming. But the classic, true artists don’t. Jay-Z always rhyme, Nas rhyme, Em always rhyme. The biggest artists, DMX, they always rhyme when they do their rap. People need to pay attention to that. If you stay rhyming, and build your vocabulary and confidence, you’ll be alright.

DX: Can you think of any artists who forget to rhyme?

Ca$his: I don’t listen to too many people. I have my few artists that I listen to that I’mma fan of. Like I said, Jay-Z, I bump some of the Wayne joints, I bump 50 joints. I bump Twista. There’s not a whole bunch of people. I listen to some songs from Kurupt. Like I said, I bump a lot of Snoop Dogg. I bump 2pac, I bump B.I.G. I bump a lot of Beanie Sigel. That’s pretty much it, I don’t really bump too many artists because I’m always working. I don’t ever want to sound like other people. Treach is one of my favorite artists, my uncle bumped a lot of Treach. Kurupt was the artist I sat with that really put me up on game, and who I pattern myself after. Because he can freestyle forever and he can rap forever. He just knows rap. So he’s one of my idols in rap.