I listen to a lot of rap music. I even spent a few of my teenage years jotting down lyrics of my own and performing them at various open mic sessions. The thing that amazes me the most about rap music is the skill certain rappers have to describe everyday life, the extraordinary people they know or their superior skills on the microphone with melody and high definition clarity. I must quickly make the clear distinction between a rapper who simply lines up rhymes and catchy choruses along a beat and the emcee alias M.C. a.k.a. the Master of Ceremonies a.k.a. The Mic Controller who is more of an orator with a message that carries more importance and substance that a simple call to dance. A lot of people can use complicated metaphors and technical rhyme structures in their lyrics, but the true masters of the art form are the emcees that talk to you without you realising they are rapping. The descriptions and attention to detail reach a point where the listener almost forgets about bars and hooks and simply listens to what the mic controller has to say. Flow is critical for a good emcee, but the real skill is when they can match words so naturally that any other combination or syntax seems illogical. There is no need for repetition, ad-libs or proverbial mannerisms. The emcee talks and you listen.
On a side note, I remember having heated debates with friends about the real talent of 90’s duo Group Home. My peers adored their album Livin Proof, but I had difficulty listening to Lil’ Dap and The Nutcracker rapping their tales of inner city life because the lyrical clout just wasn’t there. That said, Lil’ Dap had one of the most recognizable nasal deliveries and DJ Premier’s beats and production are what really place Group Home’s album among the classics of a bygone era in Hip Hop. Maybe it’s because I wrote some of my own rhymes and felt I had an idea of how difficult it is to lace lyrics together, that I saw through the strength of a good instrumental.
Here are a few verses from the Nineties that still have me in awe. The rhymes, metaphors, delivery and flow come together to create some of rap music’s strongest lyricism to date. The first is Nas with New York State of Mind – the opening song from his debut album “Illmatic”.