BY LEX PRYOR// Think of hip hop as a cul-de-sac. Gangster rappers, mainstream artists,
backpackers, they all have houses in the same neighborhood. Right now JID is making himself comfortable in one of their cribs, rummaging through the cabinets looking for a snack, watching TV shirtless — pretty much whatever he wants. He’ll do that for a couple of hours, get bored with it, and then move on to the next house on the block. It’s not that he dislikes the rap community personally, he’s just here to take all their things.
Now granted there’s no one way to rap well. Some artists use a sped-up delivery to structure their verses, cramming as many syllables as they can into each bar. Others are more paced and methodical, there’s no wasted movement in their rhymes. The best rappers can do both. For JID there are a couple of things that set him apart.
First, is his rhyme scheme. In virtually all of JID’s professional work, he takes advantage of a really dense rhyme pattern. In each bar of a given verse, he’s likely to rhyme up to five different words. That may not sound significant but it is. Some words will rhyme in ways that harken back to an earlier rhyme sequence in the previous bar(s). Others initiate an entirely new rhyme pattern. Take part of his guest verse on Rapsody’s “Iman” for instance:
In line five of the verse, he has three internal rhymes (each in yellow), one that ties back to a previous bar (in purple), and one that starts a brand new couplet (in brown). This type of structure isn’t normal. It’s hard enough to paint a coherent picture while rhyming a single word in each bar, but to do so while simultaneously mixing in different rhyme loops is just special. Rappers can go their whole career without mastering that.
JID is able to construct this type of rhyme scheme in part because he’s just really good at rhyming words. It sounds simple but that’s pretty much half the battle when it comes to creating complicated rhyme patterns. There are some rappers that simply have it — from the moment that they start, they can rhyme. Even if their vocabulary has room for improvement or they struggle at telling a cohesive narrative in their songs, they possess the rap-god- given ability to identify potential rhymes.
Eminem describes this really well in an interview he did with 60
Minutes in 2010. In the interview, the host, Anderson Cooper, asks him about “bending” certain words. Eminem explains that when he writes his raps he identifies words, phrases, or even sounds that he can use to construct a rhyme. He mentions the word “orange” as an example.
“People say the word ‘orange’ doesn’t rhyme with anything and that kind of pisses me off because I can think of a lot of words that rhyme with ‘orange’,” Eminem says.
Cooper, in turn, asks him, “What rhymes with orange?”
Eminem explains “if you’re taking the word at face value and you just say ‘orange’ nothing is going to rhyme with it exactly. [But] if you enunciate it and you make it more than one syllable ‘or-ange,’ you can say like ‘I put my or-ange, four inch, door hinge, in storage, and ate porridge with Geor-ge.”
When Eminem is writing his raps he doesn’t just see words, he sees rhymes. That kind of rhyming ability is rare and while certain rappers can work on it over time, at the end of the day you either have or you don’t. JID does.
The other thing that helps JID’s rhyme scheme is his breath control. Rap may not be an actual sport (please no one tell that to all the rappers selling record label jerseys), but to do it well rappers need to hone their breathing patterns like athletes do. The less frequently a rapper breathes the more frequently they can fit words into a bar. More words mean more chances to rhyme and more space to narrate. JID does this really well. Even when he’s at the end of a breath cycle, he’s able to finish off his words without losing steam. He does it so subtly that a lot of the times it seems like he’s not even breathing. But he is. The trick is that he’s able to take smaller breathes, less frequently than a normal speaker. Look back at the last two lines from the same verse as earlier:
The lines are stuffed with words, but he’s able to rap them all in sequence by taking a quick breath at the end of each line. They’re not full breaths, but because he’s trained himself to speak with less air in his lungs they’re enough to get him through each pile of rhymes.
On top of that, JID is making the type of double entendre’s that are the verbal equivalent of tying someone's shoelaces together while they’re still walking. In his song “Slick Talk" he raps:
Read line three again, it has two meanings. The first is that his lyrical “pen” is “so sharp” that when he raps people think he plagiarized his verses. The second is that his rap “pen” is literally “so sharp” that people think it was “forged” like a weapon. And all of that's in one line.
When a new artist like JID joins a major label, it’s common practice that they’ll receive an endorsement from the star that signed them. Dr. Dre vouched for Eminem after he joined Aftermath Records in the late ’90s, and Jay-Z did the same for Kanye when he signed with Roc-A-Fella in the mid-2000s. Even as some artists may blossom into superstars, at the time, their co-signers don’t actually know what their future holds — they’re just selling them to us. JID is signed to Dreamville Records, a label founded and run by grammy award-winning rapper, J Cole. On “Off Deez,” the second song on JID’s most recent album, Cole makes a guest appearance in what amounts to a three minute long co-sign. In the song he proclaims:
It’s the type of backhanded compliment that’s common in rap circles — the hip-hop equivalent of telling a coworker that “you’re the best... besides me.” Again, this is supposed to be the norm with a new artist, a record label’s reputation is pretty much their only leverage in convincing listeners to support their new signee. And yet this time, in spite of all that bravado, J Cole might actually be right.
Cover image by The Come Up Show courtesy of Creative Commons.