Figures of Speech
Or Rhetorical Devices, a unique arrangement or omission of words used to enhance the meaning of a sentence. In Hip Hop we use figurative language for one reason: Entertainment. A uniquely worded rap is more pleasing to the ear. People forget that rap is simply poetry, and poems use figures of speech.
Technique #2: Alliteration
A commonly used figure of speech is alliteration. The repetition of the first letter of each word in a sentence, increasing the urgency of the lyrical content.
“Check out this style that I’ve…/ Soul-stimulated sounds from a stocky/ Semi social, never seem sloppy/ See silly slapping suckers, sorry saps and slouchers/ Straps slamming stouch, macking this mass is savvy/ We see so-so-songs and some shots, so/ Snaps stepping separate, start slowly, go solo/ Set the cassette stereo, sounds diffing/ Stood the Sagittarian, some marriage is a system/ Smoke the joker, three times over/ And owe her, go with the flow/ Or I’m about to yoke a joker.”
-Treach, Naughty By Nature “Yoke The Joker”
The repetition of the “S” sound in these 12 bars by Treach is a shining, smooth, stylistic example of alliteration (when you repeat the “S” sound it can also be referred to as “sibilance”). Alliteration increases the rhythm of a rhyme by the repeated use of similar sounds.
The best example of alliteration is the 1999 single by Blackalicious “Alphabet Aerobics.” The MC, Gift of Gab, uses the entire alphabet from A to Z to create an entire song filled with alliteration. You may have seen the song performed by Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe lol) on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Using alliteration as a concept to build an entire song is a unique idea, and if an MC tries to use this same technique now it will only be compared to the Blackalicious version, and probably won’t be as good, because not only does Gift of Gab use every single alphabet, but the instrumental that Cut Chemist provides increases in tempo every 8 bars or so. This adds another layer of difficulty.
Papoose used the same technique on a DJ Kay Slay mixtape, on a song called “Alphabetical Slaughter.” It’s very impressive and more street orientated than the Blackalicious Song. He even starts to do the alphabet backwards. It’s a technique lyrical rappers can use to show that they have skills.
The first time I heard of the rapper Saigon was on the show Entourage. The song that Turtle plays is called “The Letter P.” Saigon does a whole verse using a “P” alliteration. “I’ll pop a pussy person for purposely perpetrating..” and so on. The Just Blaze beat is amazing, and the song also features Kool G Rap. The way they use alliteration in this song is a good way to practice using alliteration in your raps, by choosing a letter and wearing it out…
How To Practice Alliteration
Choose a letter. Any letter. Instead of using your 20 minutes to write a regular rhyme, spend the entire session on a single letter alliteration. Or, you can change up your letter every few bars. However you decide will be fine, but alliteration is a good technique to add more rhythm to dead spots in bars that are otherwise good.
How Most Rappers Use Alliteration
Eric B. and Rakim’s third album “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em” was one of the first albums to receive 5 mics in The Source magazine. The production by Marley Marl and Large Professor is more introspective and less dance oriented than their first two albums. Rakim started using alliteration as an overt technique on “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em.” But he doesn’t use alliteration in a way that calls attention to itself. He sprinkles alliteration throughout a verse to increase the rhythm of a bar. You probably wouldn’t spot the alliteration he uses in a song unless you were looking for it.
“Up the arsenal, I got artillery lyrics & ammo/ Rounds of rhythm, then I’m ‘a give ’em piano/ Bring a bulletproof vest, nothin’ to ricochet/ Ready to aim at the brain, now what the trigger say/ Tempos triflin’, Felt like a rifle/ Massagin’ melodies, might go right through/ Simultaneously, like an Uzi, nothin’ can bruise me/ Lyrics let up when lady, say don’t lose me.”
-Rakim, “Let The Rhythm Hit’ Em”
This is the best way to use alliteration in a song. Any other way uses the device in an overt way, that is a cause for comparison with the greats who have done it before you. But that is something we will worry about later. For now, practice it consciously at least 20 minutes per week. Alliteration is another tool on your arsenal that you can use to make you a great MC.