Oliver Kautny

Vocal Rhythm in Rap Music

The analysis of the MC’s delivery of rhythm, which is called flow, remains a desideratum. Not only have very few scholars have worked on the analysis of flow hip-hop, but work on hip-hop per se has been limited. However, the past two decades have seen the emergence of a growing scholarly interest in the topic. The groundbreaking study by Adam Krims, which focused not only on the sociocultural but also on the aesthetic dimensions of rap music has proved highly influential. His close readings of various styles of rapping inspired scholars who have developed new approaches to the analysis of flow at the end of the 2000s (Kyle Adams, Oliver Kautny, Justin Williams).
This paper compares two typical styles of flow in rap music. The German rap song Hammerhart by Absolute Beginner (1998), which became a classic in the history of German hip-hop, produces metric dissonances by combining vocal and instrumental rhythmic layers, each referring to different pulses. The vocal attacks remain within the metrical grid, making minimal use of microtiming. In contrast to that, Eminem’s Till I collapse (2002) is strongly characterized by the MC’s “local time shifts”, to use Anne Danielsen’s phrase, which play microrhythmically around the beat of the instrumental arrangement.