Slant Rhyme in Hip-Hop
The basis of rap is rhyme, and an emcee is just a painter creating a picture with rhyming words, a poet with flow.
It might sound obvious, but one of the best ways you can excel as an emcee is by picking better rhyming words.
It’s all like Rakim says on “I Know You Got Soul”:
"I start to think and then I sink
Into the paper like I was ink,
When I’m writing I’m trapped in between the line,
I escape when I finish the rhyme."
Reread that. That right there is the dopest, most
beautiful summary of what it is to be a rapper. You go
into your own mind and sink into the paper. You’re
using words, but they trap you like bars in a jail cell
unless you conquer them with rhyme.
It’s rhyming that sets the emcee free and gives him control over his raps.
It’s rhyming that lets the emcee rock the microphone, and gets a crowd jumping.
It’s rhyming that forms the foundation of your flow.
As Rakim demonstrated, however, we’re not talking
about “Hickory Dickory Dock.”
In rap, not every rhyme has to be at the end of a line. Rhymes don’t have to be in a certain order or a certain word length.
In fact, some of the most prevalent types of rhyme in hip-hop don’t rhyme perfectly at all. That’s called
“I used to write poetry; that’s how I started writing rhymes... I have rhymes, I have books of rhymes from years back, but that’s because I had nothing else to do. I was chillin’ in school and when I was supposed to do my work in school, Iwas writing rhymes.” — Remy Ma
Slant Rhyme vs. Perfect Rhyme
Here is the definition of perfect rhyme from the American Heritage Dictionary:
Perfect Rhyme Definition:
Rhyme in which the final accented vowel and all succeeding consonants or syllables are identical, while the preceding consonants are different.
Examples: cat, hat, bat; cake, bake, fake.
They do not need to be spelled the same:
Examples: great, late,freight;
Examples: height, fight, cite.
And the words don’t have to be the same length:
Examples: rider, beside her;
Examples: dutiful, unbeautiful.
Perfect rhyme will work fine in a lot of situations.
But hip-hop innovators (and poets before them) found it too limiting.
Rappers began using slant rhyme to allow themselves more freedom to express themselves. Here is the definition of slant rhyme from the American Heritage Dictionary:
Slant Rhyme Definition:
A partial or imperfect rhyme, often using assonance or consonance only. Also called half rhyme, near rhyme, oblique rhyme and off rhyme.
In the Rakim line quoted earlier, he rhymes the word
“rhyme” with “line.” Those words don’t perfectly
rhyme with each other.
“Rhyme” rhymes with “time,dime, mime, I’m, and crime.”
“Line” rhymes with “mine, pine, whine and tine.”
But the two words sound remarkably close. So Rakim uses slant rhyme to “finish the line.”
**To hear how not to use slant OR perfect rhyme, take a look at what some consider to be the worst rap demo tape of all time.
When Slant Rhyme is a Must
When should you use slant rhyme? Anytime. But there are moments when using slant rhyme isn’t an option; it’s a must.
A) If the word has no perfect rhyme
There are lots of words in English that don’t have
perfect rhymes. Here are a few:
orange, silver, purple, month, angst, sixth, breadth, ninth, pint, wolf, opus,monster, dangerous, marathon, napkin, hostage, discombobulate and many, many more.
As you’re writing raps, if you ever wanted to rhyme with any of those words you couldn’t. Not unless you used slant rhyme. That’s exactly what Nas does in “NY State of Mind.”
The rapper Nas uses the word “dangerous,” which has no perfect rhyme, but he makes it flow anyway, rhyming it with
He also slant rhymes “prosperous” with
“hostages,” all to get his point across.
Pro Example Part 2
Click here to watch and listen to Nas use Slant Rhyme (Lyrics below)
Lyrics (red words are slant rhymes):
Or the legal luxury life, rings flooded with stones, homes,
I got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane,
Life is parallel to hell but I must maintain,
And be prosperous, though we live dangerous,
Cops could just arrest me, blamin’ us, we’re held like hostages,
Nas, “NY State of Mind”
Questions to think about...
What is the rhyme scheme?
What are the perfect rhymes if any?
What are the slant rhymes if any?
What does the rap say?
What effect do the perfect rhymes and slant rhymes have?
(See Rhyme-Ski below for help)
B) Avoid Tired Rhymes
The other time when slant rhyme is really crucial is when you’re dealing with a rhyme that is really stale and played out.
For example, how many times have you heard the word “knowledge” rhymed with “college”?
People overuse that rhyme like skeezy businessmen use too much cologne. In order to avoid that, use
Slant rhyme allows you to tap into people's emotions, as you defy their expectations of which words they think you will use.
The great thing about slant rhyme is that it helps you avoid one of most dangerous pitfalls for beginning emcees: obvious rhymes.
If a listener can tell what you’re going to say before you say it, that’s almost always a bad thing. It basically means that you’re not being creative, you’re just repeating tired rhymes. So
use slant rhymes to avoid falling into that trap.
Listen to Rhyme-ski below...
For example, instead of rhyming “money” with “funny” or “honey,” try using slant rhyme:
Example words: gin rummy, Sunday, dummy, crumbly, Tony, blunt be, hunt me, some tea, plenty.
Some artists use line after line of slant rhyme, but
because of their flow and the way they pronounce the
words, you don’t even realize that they are slant rhymes.
Slant rhyme allows him to build such a sick verse because he’s able to rhyme “options,” with “robbers,” with “partners.” Since he has more words to choose from, it allows him more freedom to determine the content of what he’s saying, and it makes his lines innovative and creative.
We New York, the narcotic,
Strength in metal and fiber optics
Where mercenaries is paid to trade hot stock tips
For profits, thirsty criminals take pockets,
Hard knuckles on the second hands of working class watches,
Skyscrapers is colossus, the cost of living is preposterous,
Stay alive, you play or die, no options,
No Batman and Robin, can’t tell between
The cops and the robbers,
They both partners, they all heartless,
With no conscience, back streets stay darkened,
Where unbeliever hearts stay hardened,
My eagle talons stay sharpened, like city lights stay throbbin’,
You either make a way or stay sobbin’
Mos Def, “Respiration”
Homework for tonight...
2. Choose one option below:
A. Write a few bars using some very obvious rhyme words (“cat, hat, flat”).
Then go back and replace the rhyme words with slant rhymes and rewrite the verse. See how it changes your verse.
You may work with a partner for this assignment, since emcees often have DJs and vice-versa.
Post your written verses to the googledoc wiki here, and we will then perform the raps in class. Choose a rap to perform tomorrow before class. You should not choose your own.
B. Research your favorite hip-hop artist, and bring back at least 8 instances of slant rhyme that the artist performs. Be prepared to discuss what you find interesting in the slant rhyme patterns.
C. Imagine you are a record executive and you are getting ready to sign up and coming hip hop artists to your label. Make a mix tape no longer than 3 minutes of your favorite artists and "sell us" on why your artists should be signed to your label.
D. Develop a unique mash-up (from the internet) of music videos that shows some aspect of slant rhyming being used. The mash-up should be between 90 seconds and 3 minutes and it should use at least 4 sources.