Is It Okay To Use A Rhyming Dictionary ?
For rap music? No. But, not for the reason you are thinking. The thought that using a rhyming dictionary somehow makes you wack, or you are cheating, is bullshit. That is closed-mindedness. And all great artists are open-minded.
The reason why you wouldn’t use a rhyming dictionary for rap music is because it is a waste of time. I’ll explain.
Technique #8: Unorthodox Rhymes
“You ’bout to witness hip hop in its most purest/ most rawest form, flow almost flawless/ Most hardest, most honest, known artist/ Chip off the old block but old doc is/ (Hot!) Looks like Batman brought his own Robin/ Oh God, Saddam’s got his own Laden/ With his own private plane, his own pilot/ Set to blow college dorm room doors off the hinges/ Oranges, peach, pears, plums, syringes/ (riiin riiiiiin!) Yeah, here I come I’m inches…” – Eminem “Business”
Eminem rhyming the word ‘orange’ is getting played out. Nothing rhymes with orange blablabla.. But it does prove a point. They say there is 10,726 rhymes in the english language. But if this narrow number is true, but Eminem has found at least 11 words to rhyme with orange, then a little creativity multiplies that number into the millions.
Let’s examine these 10 bars in the example above. Flawless/ Honest/ Artist. Do these words all rhyme? Not exactly. They definitely wouldn’t end up in the same category in a rhyming dictionary. Em uses words that shouldn’t rhyme and bends them to make them sound the same. Robin/ Laden. This makes a rhyme the most creative and unpredictable it can be. That is why he can rhyme ‘oranges’ and ‘syringes.’ He changes the stressed vowel in the word. From “oranGES” to “aRINges” to rhyme with “syRINges.”
Why Not To Use A Rhyming Dictionary
A rhyming dictionary will provide you with ‘perfect rhymes’. Perfect Rhyme: two words where the stressed vowel sounds are identical. High/ Sky/ Fly/ Why/ Die. They all have the ‘i’ sound.
Perfect rhymes are predictable. The audience will know how you are going to end your sentence and it robs them of surprise. Perfect rhymes are good as internal rhymes and when combined with other words to make multi-syllable rhymes. But you must end a payoff bar on a unorthodox (preferably multi-syllable) rhyme.
Q: Unorthodox Rhyme? Why Not ‘Slant Rhyme?’
Or “imperfect” or “near-rhyme.” Or whatever.
A: The reason I have made a new category of rhymes is because lyrics where stressed vowels change are more exciting, but are more difficult to pull off correctly.
A ‘slant’ rhyme implies that the stressed syllables match, but the consonants do not. “Federal agents, mad ’cause I’m flagrant/ Tap my cell, and the phone in the basement,” for example.
What is wrong with a slant rhyme? Nothing. In fact, it is preferable over a perfect rhyme. But an unorthodox rhyme may not have identical stressed syllables, it is only bent to sound the same. The stressed syllable in a word is changed to a different syllable to make it rhyme, changing it’s pronunciation. That is how Eminem is able to rhyme the words ‘pilot’ and ‘college.’
Q: But Isn’t That Less Effective Instead of More Effective As A Rhyme?
A: Maybe. To people outside of hip hop who don’t understand. The squares who like their pronunciation precise, their beer light and their sex missionary. Hip hop isn’t for people like that anyway.
Seriously folks, the reason why unorthodox rhyme is more effective is because for someone to come up with the same rhyme as you, “the chance is.. slimmer than that chick in Calvin Klein pantses..” It’s more original, more surprising and harder to achieve.
How To Make Unorthodox Rhymes
Choose multi-syllable words. Choose whole phrases that rhyme with each other in an interesting way. Change the stressed vowels. Go from ‘Jewels’ to ‘jewELLS,’ it rhymes with ”do well.’
Shakespeare did the same thing. That is why people say he talks funny. Shakespeare had to make his verses metrical, meaning to fit a predetermined pattern. But, instead of being boring and making every phrase exactly iambic, he bent the english language to his will. Instead of using the word ‘cursed,’ which isn’t iambic, he put the stress on the ‘e’ making it into a two syllable iambic word, ‘cursED.’
Creating unorthodox rhymes should be the primary focus of your rhymes from now on. Up to this point I told you to focus on single-syllable rhymes. We did that because if you only focus on multi-syllable rhymes and unorthodox rhymes your vocabulary will be severely reduced, as most rhymes in the english language are one and two syllable words. So, practice this technique from now on, but make your internal rhymes single syllables and make your payoff, end rhymes, into multi-syllable unorthodox rhymes and slant rhymes.
Frequency of Rhyme
A rhyme makes a line of poetry more rhythmic. That is why it sounds so good to the human ear. Increasing the amount of rhymes in a line makes it sound even better. It also makes a line harder to write. So it requires practice.
“I appear right here and scare and dare, A mere
musketeer that would dare to compare, put him in
the rear, back there he can’t see clear,
Get a beer, idea or near stare. Yeah.”
Technique #9: Internal Rhymes
An Internal rhyme is a rhyme that falls in the middle of the bar, on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd beat, instead of at the end of the bar on the 4th beat. The rhyme used at the end of a bar is called an ‘End Rhyme.’
“Dead in the middle, of little Italy/ Little did we know that we riddle to middlemen/ Who didn’t do diddly” – Big Pun “Twinz (Deep Cover 98)”
This Big Pun rhyme is the most famous instance of internal rhyme in hip hop. Pun disrupts the flow of the rest of his rhyme to end the verse with a rapid fire pattern, to hook the listener and compel them to listen to the entire song.
Pun uses the “-iddle” rhyme as an internal rhyme and “Italy” as an end rhyme. Since they both contain the same syllables they sound related and make the rhyme more complex. It makes the flow bounce around like a ball until the payoff at the end.
Up until now I have asked you to practice using single-syllable end rhymes. Now, I want you to practice making your rhymes complex. That means rhyming multiple syllables together with a intricate rhyme scheme.
The pattern of rhymes that occur throughout a verse. Rap music differs from poetry because rappers try to cram as many rhymes in a verse as possible, and poets generally rhyme once or twice per line and are not beholden to rhythm and cadence as much.
Often, when rappers use internal rhymes they stick to the same scheme as the end rhyme, so they have the same rhyme multiple times in one bar.
“I’m right in front of my front steps thinking of a plan / Looking like raggedy Ann, no dough in hand kicking a can/ Thinking of a plot to pull some bank in, Because I’m/ dead and stinkin’, Soles on my shoes winkin’, t-shirt is shrinkin’…” – Kool G Rap
In the example above, Kool G uses the same rhyme for two bars then changes. He tries to fit in as many instances of that rhyme in the two bars as possible, while still being able to tell the story. He keeps the pattern of two bars with as many rhymes as possible consistent throughout the entire song. That is the rhyme scheme.
“Soon I see some thighs and my eyes open wide/ Quick, who’s that with you, chick? Bill Blass my sidekick/ What’s up, black? give his hand a smack/ Up pulls a Cadillac, yo baby we’ll be back/ Jumped right on inside, not too many people saw us/ Thinking about who gotta get robbed because the mob got a job for us…” – Kool G Rap
What many great MC’s will do is establish a pattern of rhymes, then they will disrupt that pattern to create tension in the listener, then they will return to the original rhyme scheme to break the tension and give a sense of finality.
The first two bars are a classic example. He rhymes the ‘i’ sound several times in the first bar, then quickly changes to the ‘ick’ sound in the second bar. Then when it comes to the end of the bar he combines the ‘i’ and the ‘ick’ sounds with ‘sidekick’ for the end rhyme.
Different Internal Rhyme Scheme
Sometimes rappers will make their internal rhymes different from the end rhyme of the bar. It makes the bar a little more complex. It breaks up monotonous sections that use the rhyme in a predictable way.
The end of the quote I used before is a good example. “Not too many people saw us/ thinkin’ about who gotta get robbed, because the mob got a job for us.” Kool G breaks up the “us” end rhymes with a “rob” internal rhyme scheme. It takes the story in a new direction and it comes as a surprise because you are expecting the same rhyme scheme as the end of the bar.
Common Rhyme Schemes
AABB Rhyme Scheme
The song I referenced previously, “Ill Street Blues” by Kool G Rap, is a good example of an AABB Rhyme Scheme. The AABB rhyme scheme is the most commonly used rhyme scheme in rap music. It is the standard way to write rhymes. One bar, and one to rhyme with it, then move on to a new rhyme, repeat the process.
Nas used the AABB rhyme scheme exclusively on his first album, Illmatic.
“It ain’t hard to tell, I excel, then prevail/ A
The mic is contacted, I attract clientele/ A
My mic check is life or death, breathing a sniper’s breath/ B
I exhale the yellow smoke of buddha through righteous steps/ B
Deep like The Shinin’, sparkle like a diamond/ C
Sneak a uzi on the island in my army jacket lining/ C
Hit the Earth like a comet, invasion/ D
Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazing” D
AABB rhyme scheme is so common because of the way most rap beats are made. The beat doesn’t change until every 4th bar. So, to avoid blending in too much with the beat the rapper changes patterns every 2 bars.
AAAA Rhyme Scheme
Using the same end rhyme for 4 bars straight, then changing to a new rhyme.
“I remember syrup sandwiches and crime allowances/ A
Finesse a nigga with some counterfeits, but now I’m countin’ this/ A
Parmesan where my accountant lives, in fact, I’m downin’ this/ A
D’USSÉ with my boo bae, tastes like Kool-Aid for the analysts/ A
Girl, I can buy yo’ ass the world with my paystub/ B
Ooh, that pussy good, won’t you sit it on my taste bloods?/ B
I get way too petty once you let me do the extras/ C
Pull up on your block, then break it down: we playin’ Tetris/ C
A.M. to the P.M., P.M. to the A.M., funk/ D
Piss out your per diem, you just gotta hate ’em, funk/ D
If I quit your BM, I still ride Mercedes, funk/ D
If I quit this season, I still be the greatest, funk/ D
My left stroke just went viral/ E
Right stroke put lil’ baby in a spiral/ E
Soprano C, we like to keep it on a high note/ E
Its levels to it, you and I know…” E
The AAAA Rhyme Scheme means you have to come up with more rhymes per section, with internal rhymes and all. Plus, there is more of a chance that a section will be monotone if you don’t add some variance to the rhyme.
Kendrick deals with these problems by adding more internal multi-syllable rhymes, different rhyme schemes within the bar, unorthodox rhymes, and bars with animated voice tones and heavy emphasis (“my left stroke just went VI-RAL!”).
Complex Rhyme Scheme
The best strategy to apply to writing rap lyrics: Be unpredictable.
Ha! sicker than your average
Poppa twist/ cabbage off instinct
Niggas don’t think shit stink/ Pink gators,
My Detroit players/
Timbs for my hooligans in Brooklyn/
Dead right, if the head right, Biggie there ery’night/
Poppa been smooth since days of Underroos/
Never lose, never choose to, bruise crews who/
Do something to us, talk go through us/
Girls walk to us, wanna do us, screw us/
Who us? Yeah, Poppa and Puff/
Close like Starsky and Hutch, stick the clutch/
Dare I squeeze three at your cherry M-3/
Bang every MC easily, busily/
Recently niggas frontin ain’t sayin’ nuttin’/ so I just
Speak my peace, keep my piece/
Cubans with the Jesus piece, with my peeps/
Packin’, askin’ who want it, you got it nigga flaunt it/
That Brooklyn bullshit, we on it.”
Biggie weaves in and out of bars seamlessly. Changing rhymes every 2 bars, 1 bar, half a bar. This is the master level of rhyme scheme, something only rap music can achieve. We will address how to make your rhymes complex in this way later.
How To Practice Rhyme Scheme
Since we are not at the point where we are writing completed verses just yet, we only have one option for writing internal rhymes and rhyme schemes: try to rhyme one word as many times as you can.
2 bar rhyme scheme packed with internal rhymes. 4 bars. 8 bars? If you can rhyme a syllable for longer than 8 bars with internal rhymes, that’s amazing. It will be hard to come up with as many bars of rhymes the more syllables you choose to rhyme together.
Multi-syllable rhymes add another degree of difficulty onto your rhyme, because often you will have to change pronunciation of certain syllables to make words rhyme better. That will often be the only way to rhyme certain phrases together. It requires much creativity.
Technique #10: Multi-Syllable Rhymes
“Son I’m way past the minimum, enterin‘ millennium/
My rap’s will hold a gat to your back like Palestinians/
Ancient Abyssinian, sure to hold the Gideon/
Official b-boy gentlemen, long term, never the interim/
Born inside the winter wind, day after December 10/
These simpletons they mentioned in the synonym for feminine/
Sweeter than some cinnamon from Danish rings by Entenmann’s/
Rush up on adrenaline, they get they asses sent to them/
Gentlemen! you got a tenement, well then assemble it!/
Leave your unit tremblin’ like herds of movin’ elephant/
Intelligent embellishment, follow for your element/
from Flatbush settlement, skin possesses melanin/
Hotter than tales of crack peddle-in’, makin’ em WOOP!/
like blue gelatin, swing like Duke Ellington/
Broader than Barrington Levy, believe me/
The hot Apache who burn down your chief teepee/
You see me?”
The greatest use of multi-syllable rhyme in Hip Hop. Mos uses multi-syllable rhymes for 14 bars straight, with internal rhymes that follow the same rhyme scheme. That’s 30 unique multi-syllable rhymes (he uses ‘Gentlemen’ twice) he had to think of in the course of writing this part of the verse.
To really see what Mos Def is doing in this verse, we need to analyze the lyrics on a micro-level.
The space within a bar looks like this:
| —————— 1 Bar ———————– |
| 1 ο ο ο 2 ο ο ο 3 ο ο ο 4 ο ο ο | and repeat.
Each number represents a beat.
Each “ο” represents a sixteenth note of a bar. A representation of time and rhythm.
The rhymes will fall on the beat, the 1, 2, 3 or 4.
But not specifically the rhyme itself, but the stressed syllable in the rhyming word.
Let’s choose a bar and break it down…
“These simpletons, they mentioned in the synonym for feminine.”
4 multi-syllable unorthodox rhymes in one bar. But each one falls on the beat. It reveals the structure of the words Mos Def needs to make the words fit together. He needs rhyming words with the stress on the first syllable, that end with an “in” sound. But let’s back up. What exactly is a stressed syllable?
Every multi-syllable word has one syllable that is emphasized more than others. ‘BULLet’ has the stress on the first syllable. In poetry they call this type of word a ‘Trochee.’
The word ‘aWAY’ places the stress on the second syllable. In fact, any word with the prefix “a-” will have the stress on the second syllable. aBIDE, aGAINST, aLARM. You can hear which syllable is stressed when you really emphasize a word. I’m so aPPALLED…
In poetry a word with the stress on the second syllable is called an ‘iamb’. Those are the words that Shakespeare used. ‘to BE or NOT to BE, THAT is the QUESTion.’ Shakespeare didn’t always follow the pattern exactly. But, this sentence shows how stress works in most sentences. Words that are meant to join two phrases together lose their stress when combined with a word that holds the ‘content’.
‘to BE,’ is an iamb, “to” is a conjunction, it joins two sentences together, therefore it loses it’s stress. “Be” desribes something that exists, therefore it gains a stress when combined with a conjunction. “To be or not to be.” Can you hear it?
Back To Mos Def…
The rhyming words Mos Def uses are 3 to 4 syllable words with the stress in the first syllable that end in the sound “-in.” SIMPletons. MENTioned in. SYNonym. FEMinine. Even words that don’t fit as well but can be bent to fit. INterim. SENT to them. Within these guidelines is a lot of room for creativity.
The reason why Mos needed the stress on the first syllable is to stay on beat. The syllable that falls on the beat needs to be emphasized. If the stress falls on an off-beat it’s just that, off-beat.
Another reason is because Mos Def uses the maximum amount of syllables you can fit into a bar that isn’t double time. 16 syllables. So the way measures are structured means the beat falls at the beginning of a measure, so the words need to have a stress there too. I’ll show you:
These SIMP-le-tons they MENTioned in the SYN-on-ym for FEM-in-ine *breath*
>>ο | 1 ο ο ο 2 ο ο ο 3 ο ο ο 4 ο ο ο |
The bar actually starts “behind the beat,” meaning the first syllable falls before the first beat. It’s really common for good rappers to do this and it’s almost imperceptible, but still makes the flow sound better.
In a regular flow you can only fit 16 syllables in a bar, because each syllable will be a sixteenth note in length. In a double time flow syllables vacillate between 16th and 32nd notes in length, making the flow much faster.
The bar in the above example is exceptional because Mos Def fills every available space within the measure with rhymes. It creates a regular rhythm that makes the bar more musical. That is what “flow” means.
Patterns of Emphasis
A “flow” is simple: the same patterns of emphasis in a phrase repeated through, at least, 2 bars. In this case, Mos Def’s flow revolves around the multi-syllable rhymes he uses. The repeated emphasis and cadence makes his verse “flow.”
That is the importance of a multi-syllable rhyme. The more space within a bar your rhyme takes up, the more symmetry your bars will have, the better your lyrics flow.
To show how that applies to ‘RE:Definition’ I will provide a graphic of the patterns of emphasis used in the second verse:
“/” denotes a syllable outside of the rhyme scheme. “A” denotes a syllable that matches the flow pattern. “A” shows where the rhymes stressed syllable lies. “B” denotes an alternative rhyme scheme. “_” denotes a note that isn’t used, a blank space.
# | 1 ο ο ο 2 ο ο ο 3 ο ο ο 4 ο ο ο |
1 | / / / / A A A _ A A A A A A A / |
2 | B / / / B / / B _ / A A A A A _ |
3 | / / A A A A A _ / / / / A A A / |
4 | / / / / A A A / / / / / A A A _ |
5 | / / / / A A A / / / A A A A / |
6 | A A A / A A A / A A A / A A A _ |
7 | / / / / A A A / / / / / A A A _ |
8 | / / / A A A A / / / / / A A A _ |
9 | A A A/ / / A A A / / A A A A _ | (He overdubs the rhyme on the first beat, changing the timing, but gets it back on track)
10| / / / / A A A / / / / / A A A _ |
11| A A A A A A A _ / / / / A A A _ |
12| / / / _ A A A _ / / / / A A A _ |
13| / / / _ / / / _ A A A _ / / / _ |
14| B – _ / / A A A _ / / / _ A A A _ | (The “woop” takes up more than one beat)
15| / / / _ / / / _ B B _ B B B _ / |
16| / / / / / / / / _ / B B B _ / |
17| B B
One thing this pattern shows is Mos Def’s mastery of accented syllables. The accented syllables fall perfectly on the 2nd and 4th beat most times. The three syllable words fit easily because they are accented on the first syllable, followed by two unaccented syllables. GID-e-on, EL-e-phant, EL-e-ment. so all he has to do is make sure these words begin on the 5th and 13th beat within the bar.
It gets more complex when he uses words that still follow the pattern, but are more than 3 syllables. Because that means the stress falls within the word, not the beginning. in-TELL-i-gent em-BELL-ish-ment. Pal-es-TIN-i-ans. A-bys-SINN-i-ans. The fact that he still manages to rhyme these words, and make them fall on beat, proves to me that he is aware of stressed syllables and uses them to write his lyrics.
Do We Need To Write Rhymes Like This?
No, not at this point in our practices. But, it pays to be aware of how advanced rappers think, because eventually I will teach how to write rhymes mathematically and the intricacies of flow. It will come in handy when you are writing a rhyme and a certain word seems not to fit so well, it may clue you in to the most likely problem: bad placement within the bar, or words that have a stressed syllable in a different place then the rest of your rhyming words.
From now on in your daily writing, make your end rhymes 3 syllables or more, make your internal rhymes 1 or 2 syllables (unless they are the same as your end rhymes). Try to rhyme a word as many times as you can, writing as many bars of the same rhyme as possible. You will find that this will naturally make your flow sound better.
Make your rhymes slant, or unorthodox by changing stressed syllables in the word. Don’t worry if your rhymes are on beat or not. Because, at this point we should still be writing lyrics to build our vocabulary, not to make finished verses. Soon, we will be taking these rhymes that we write apart to build completed verses.
For now, just know that a lot of what you write won’t be at the quality that you will want others to hear. But, that is okay, now is the time to make your mistakes so you can become better. If you focus on the skills I just taught you, your lyrics should be better than even most rappers who are already making a living performing for crowds or recording music.