Most days after work, I chill at a homie’s crib, light up some trees, and listen to some ‘golden era,’ ‘underground music.’ My dudes make fun of me, that I’m stuck in the past listening Wu-Tang, Nas, MF Doom, J Dilla and the like. They always try to put me on to some new song that I curve at first because, honestly, it sounds cornier than some Hallmark greeting cards. One day, though, while driving around the city, my boy Sam played “Dis Ain’t What U Want” by Lil Durk. When the track finished I ordered Sam to “Bring that shit back!” The melody hit me.
It might have been the infectious hook, or the soul of the melody, but something about that song made me feel something. And it wasn’t the same feeling I usually get when I hear one of Method Man’s metaphors or Jay Z’s double entendres. What I felt was passion through his distinctive delivery. In one line, Durk says: “I can’t do no shows cause I terrify my city…they say I terrify my city.” When he repeats the line, there is an exaggerated emphasis that evokes a different emotion from the first, allowing the listener to interpret that he really means that shit. That same kind of emphasis was applied by 2pac on “Ambtionz Az A Ridah,” Pac crooning out, “I won’t deny it, I’m a straight ridah you don’t wanna fuck with me.” Now I guarantee the second you hear that shit like I did, (and you might not even be a Pac fan), you know every single word and sing right along with him.
Rap’s musical roots stems back from a number of genres such as R&B, jazz, reggae, funk, soul, and the blues. Some even know that certain elements can be traced back to old Negro spirituals and African influences such as call-and-response chants. Most of these genres and components include different musical structures like tonality, melody, and harmony. When you break down rap to its most imperative and raw elements, lyrics and delivery are the foundation. A rapper’s delivery or “flow” can be either straightforward and direct, relying solely on wordplay as the driving force of a song; or they can take a melodic approach, in which they concentrate on the flux of their voice, a peculiar annunciation of words, or chant-like vibe.
Hip hop has always had sub genres. “Backpack rap” deals with socio-political issues and is typically adopted by underground or independent artist. “Mafioso rap” has gangster rappers using underlying themes of Italian mafia culture within their music. “Trap music” is an ever-evolving soundscape of rapid drums, hypnotic stings, and heavy bass, which started in the south and has been adopted by other regions and genres like EDM.
Regardless of what subcategory you prefer, rap’s origin is from the streets, the ghetto, or as most refer to it, the hood. Most “gangster rappers” usually reflect about life in the hood and social conditions such as poverty, which leads to drug dealing and violent confrontations. This is why, contrary to popular belief, the hood and its lyrical representation does have feeling. In between lines about dope dealing and gun busting there is an opportunity and a need for artists to pour out those feelings, right? They called it G-Funk on the West Coast; French Montana describes it as “the wave,” I prefer to dub it “Hood Harmony.” Now I’m not talking about those pictures where a guy with a red bandanna daps up a homie in blue; I’m referring to a musical approach where rappers emote the negative or honest qualities of hood life through an interpretation of melody. The following artists are great examples of this style:
Artist: Nate Dogg
Style: Instant recognizable voice, possessed a lower-bassed style of timbre.
Best Known For: Warren G’s “Regulate”, Ludacris’ “Area Codes”, and Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode.”
Artist: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Style: Fast-paced rap over slow-tempo instrumentals, double time.
Best Known For: “1st of tha Month”, “Thuggish Ruggish Bone”, and “Tha Crossroads.”
Style: Poetic and passionate portrayals of street life. Used voice inflections and strong emphasis on words to emote.
Best Known For: “Ambitionz Az A Ridah,” “Hail Mary,” “Dear Mama”, and this list can literally go on forever.
Artist: Ja Rule
Style: R&B thug ballads through a mixture of rapping, singing, and a lot of screaming in-between.
Best Known For: “Holla Holla” “Put It On Me,” and “Always On Time.”
Style: A hybrid of sing-rap mixed with a midwest twang.
Best Known For: “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” which is an interpolation of the popular children’s hand game and melody, “Down Down Baby,” but instead includes Range Rovers, street sweepers and Mary Jane (“light it up, take a puff, pass it to me now”).
Artist: 50 Cent
Style: Making chart smashing hits with catchy melodies and infectious hooks.
Best Known For: “21 Questions,” “In Da Club,” “Magic Stick,” and “P.I.M.P.” 50’s singing skills were also acknowledged by ASCAP when they awarded him the Rhythm and Soul Songwriter of the year award in 2003.
Artist: Max B
Style: Creator of “The Wave,” Max approached tracks with a melodic rap style touching on various hood themes, such as drug dealing, and the trials and tribulations of the streets.
Best Known For: “Try Me,” “Life Is A Movie” and various collaborations.
Artist: Kid Cudi
Style: The lonely stoner really owned the sing-rap style, combining a low-pitch delivery with an off-key melody. Truth be told, he was Kanye’s spirit guide for 808’s And Heartbreaks.
Best Known For: “Day ‘N’ Night,” “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Girls.”
Artist: French Montana
Style: A prodigy of Max B, French infuses “The Wave” into his music combined with a slurrish vibrato and lackadaisical attitude
Best Known For: “Pop That,” “Freaks,” and my personal anthem “Ain’t Worried About Nothing.”
Style: Club and street anthems built from off-key melodies about his drug dealing past, double-cup sipping, and instructions to turn up.
Best Known For: “Honest,” “Turn On The Lights,” and “Shit.”
Artist: A$AP Ferg
Style: The self proclaimed “Hood Pope” uses his baritone voice to create unique melodies over abstract instrumentals, as he puts on for Harlem and fucks other peoples bitches.
Best Known For: “Shabba,” “Persian Wine,” and “Work.”
We all love rap music. I spent my life learning and forming who I was through the words of Nas, Outkast, Eminem, Biggie, 2Pac, Wu-Tang, and others. These poets have added to the blueprint and structure of our beloved culture. When you really break down the method to their madness, it’s more than just putting words together lyrically, it’s also the sonic shape of that content. Sometimes it’s not about what you are saying, but more about how you’re saying it. Not everyone can limit their inner Luther Vandross to the shower, so they bring it to the booth. Don’t get me wrong either; I’m not saying rappers got to start putting out ballads and shit, but sometimes a player just wants to sing!
Delve into some more “Hood Harmony” and listen to our selects on our custom Spotify playlist right here: