In the early days of hip-hop, including the first few years after the release of “Rapper’s Delight”, no one ever talked about the music and its creative community with the word “science”. Dropping science and wanting to discuss said science didn’t come until later, it was all about fun, wanting to dance, hear good music, and being thrilled with an exchange of rhythmic wordplay. 30 years after “Rapper’s Delight”, Paul Edwards has come up with a book that discusses that rhythmic wordplay in a very comprehensive book called How To Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC (Chicago Review Press).
When I was growing up, I would often hear naysayers talking about how “it’s just talking” and “that crap isn’t going to last another year”, and even when it became a billion dollar industry, it seemed people were more in doubt that something as simple as talking over music became such a success. What How To Rap does is look at the vocal and lyrical aspects of hip-hop, specifically the role of the rapper, the MC in a way that has never been properly discussed or considered worthy of discussion. What Edwards does is look at some of the MC’s in hip-hop and ask them questions on everything from breathing techniques to songwriting structure, the art of understanding the mastering the recording studio, to taking your skills to the stage. These were things many rappers simply did from observing and listening, so to have a book like this with all of the trade secrets, which weren’t really secrets, but simply information no one thought was “scholarly”.
The section I enjoyed talked about the relationship between the MC and the producer, and how a rapper should have a role in how their song is sculptured from start to finish. As a producer and as someone who made failed attempts at rapping (and I did it because I wanted to share what I was writing, but in a musical fashion), that relationship between MC and producer is an important one because a lot of MC’s think that they can get thrown a beat or track and magic will happen. The producer, specifically a good or great producer, can turn an ordinary beat into that magic you’re looking for, understanding how a song is arranged and how to fully utilize your voice, along with understanding the recording studio and available technologies. It doesn’t get too deep into technical jargon, but you’ll go away understanding the role of the producer as more than just the guy who knows obscure funk or can play three chords on his Casio.
Depending on who you speak with, the current era of mainstream hip-hop is either devoid of music or devoid of hip-hop. How To Rap truly takes it back to the essence and finds meaning to what has never been accurately define, to read what was previously unwritten is something that is very much of value not only amongst hip-hop, but anyone who makes music and wants to know if the music is much more than rhyming “frog” with “log”. A lot of people think it’s that simple, and it may seem like a good portion of today’s music is based on that philosophy alone. A lot of people who call themselves MC’s should read this, so they’ll understand their craft a bit more and create better music. As a guidebook, it will not turn everyone into overnight Rakim‘s or Buckshot‘s, but it will be added ammunition for those who take to the music and honor it as an art form.