Rap: The Rhythmic Delivery of Rhymes
Rap music is dependent mostly on rhyme and complex rhythmical patterns. Rapping is the rhythmic delivery of rhymes. It can be delivered over a beat or a cappella - without accompaniment.
Aside from a rhythmic delivery, the only other central element of rapping is rhyme. In classical poetry, rhymes that span many syllables are often considered whimsical, but in hip hop, the ability to construct raps with large sets of rhyming syllables is welcomed. Rapping can contain any and all forms of rhyme found in classical poetry. Rappers are known for their style of rhyming (Juelz Santana, for example, often avoids full rhymes in favor of assonance, consonance, half rhymes, and internal rhymes; Eminem, on the other hand, often focuses on complex and lengthy rhyme schemes; gangsta rapper South Park Mexican often uses multiple words on each rhyme).
In addition to rhyme, however, there are several techniques that distinguish a rapper's style and ability. Beats (though not necessarily raps) in hip hop are almost always in 4/4 time. At its rhythmic core, hip hop swings: instead of a straight 4/4 count (pop music; rock 'n' roll; etc.), hip hop is based on an anticipated feel.
So, rap songs are usually four beats in a bar and musically they follow a repeated four-bar phrase. The introduction often involves bringing in the instrumental parts, with the rapper giving introductory expressions or freestyling. During the verse, the artist has to follow the basic structure and rhythm as closely as possible, giving the sense of an accent or change of rhythm at the start of every cycle or rep (repetition, i.e. the four-bar phrase). The chorus leads smoothly into the next verse, and so on until between two and three verses have been performed. An outro is then usually included, often repeating the instrumental parts as they fade out.
Though it is important to remember that the rap itself is rhythmical rather than tuneful and some foundations of a vague melody should be present. Rappers adjust the rhythm of their rap based on the rhythmical structure of the backing track, indicating that the instrumental parts are often written before the rap is. New rappers considered to have a versatile cadence, because of the ability to rap over variously styled beats equally well. The chorus of a rap song often uses the same four bar phrase as before: the melodic foundations, bass parts and chord progressions are normally continued through the chorus and onwards, while new parts are introduced.
Instrumentally, rap music is almost always in four-four time and tends to rely on the repetition of a sequence called a four bar phrase. It provides a sturdy and secure background while the artist rhymes freely over the top. The best moments from rap music often come from unexpected pauses in the instrumental part, which seem to put a spotlight on a particularly intricate or intelligent section of the rap itself - actually stopping and starting certain instruments (not usually all) at rare, but appropriate times can have a brilliant effect.
The best raps usually make some kind of statement expressing the views of a character, or describing an event that happened. The character is almost always described in the first person (to be convincing it is often best to create a persona who is an extreme version of yourself, giving yourself a pseudonym or alias).
A simple approach to rhyming in a rap song is simply to introduce a rhyming word at the end of every statement: a single statement in its simplest form is usually the length of a bar. But it is unwise to use this simple method too frequently in a serious rap. Try using several rhyming words together or any number of different approaches (the possibilities are almost endless: half rhymes and alliteration (where the start of a word sounds the same as the start of a preceding word: bottle of beer, etc), two statements where the rhythm and rhyming patterns are the same or very similar).
Enunciation in rap is sometimes exaggerated, which is often considered a sign of skill. Breath control is an important skill for a rapper to master, so that he can take in air without interrupting their delivery and making unintentional pauses. Breath control is intertwined with a rapper's flow, speed, and delivery, and is especially important for live performances.
Controversy has always been closely associated with rap music. The artists usually rap about specific occurrences that never really happened or, at least, never happened to them. Delivery and wordplay can be indicative of a rapper's skill, but the subject of a rap is equally, if not more significant (a rapper who has an excellent delivery but lacks substance is frequently perceived as less skillful than a mediocre rapper who has a message or story).
The most common themes in popular rappers' lyrics are love and sex. Bragging raps about one's skills, popularity, and wealth existed before hip hop. Rapping about partying is a staple of mainstream hip hop music so as crime-raps are currently central to the lexicon of it. The topic of drugs occupies an important place in the subject matter of modern hip hop (west-coast rappers helped popularize drug-related songs). Sociopolitical commentary expands rapper's focus beyond personal issues and partying. A number of hip hop songs have a spiritual or religious focus.
There is a lot of slang in hip hop, from international to local/regional slang. Some artists, like the Wu-Tang Clan or Snoop Doggy Dog (he adds -izz to the middle of words so that "shit" becomes "shizznit") developed their own slang terms.
Hip hop has probably encountered more problems with censorship than any other form of popular music in recent years, due to the use of sexually and violently explicit lyrics. The pervasive use of curse words in many songs has created challenges in the broadcast of such material both on television stations such as MTV, in music video form, and on radio. As a result, many hip hop recordings are broadcast in censored form, with offending language blanked out of the soundtrack.
Freestyle rap is the improvisation of rapped lyrics. While freestyling, some rappers inadvertently reuse old lines, or "cheat" by preparing segments or even entire verses. Therefore, freestyles with proven spontaneity are valued above generic, always usable lines. Battle rapping, which can be freestyled, is the competition between two or more rappers in front of an audience. The winner of a battle is decided by the crowd and/or preselected judges.