Last week, I asked several members of our editorial team to answer the following question: what makes a rapper great?
The answers ranged from originality and natural born gifts to relayed lived experienced and comfortability on the mic. Out of the seven attributes that we highlighted in the article, the most debated among our readers was the inclusion of "voice."
"The voice is a powerful tool that can be the most crucial element in making sure lyrics, flows, wordplay and delivery are savored by listeners," explained Yoh, keying in on the impact that a quality vocal can have on every single element of a rap. One measured vocal component that Yoh didn't mention, however, is cadence, which is the modulation or inflection of the voice (adjusting the pitch of the vocal), along with variation in speech tempo (changing the speed/flow of the vocal).
Having a unique voice for rapping is vital as it pertains to entertaining an audience, but in order to keep that audience entertained an artist must also be captivating. The best way for an artist to do this is to alter or change up his or her regular cadence, converting their vocal into an instrument.
Outside of Young Thug, whose repertoire of vocal pitches and flows is currently unmatched, artists like Nicki Minaj, Danny Brown and Chance The Rapper have all seen tremendous success employing a wide range of cadences. Few can hold a candle to what Kendrick Lamar can do with his larynx, though.
Don't believe me? Just ask Robert Glasper. The veteran record producer and keyboard player—who worked extensively with Lamar on his GRAMMY-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly—was a recent guest on HardKnockTV alongside Terrace Martin, another frequent Lamar collaborator, and he explained what makes Kendrick so special.
"With Kendrick, on To Pimp a Butterfly especially, every track he's changing his voice," said Glasper. "And he's changing his flow. And he's changing cadence—the way he's rhyming. Most rappers that are dope rappers, or your favorite rapper, you know their cadence. They kinda have one cadence. And you know what that is. But Kendrick, he has so many cadences. He can go so many places. That's what so dope about him."
A recent example of Kendrick's mastery of vocal manipulation can be heard on his guest contribution to Travis Scott's hit single "goosebumps," which, in less than 60 seconds, finds the TDE emcee rollerblading between rapped and sung bars across a wide range of vocal registers.
Possessing a rare and special voice is a necessary component of rap greatness, but it's what you do with that voice that makes all the difference.