A great delivery will make your career. Sounding like you want—no, need—to be spitting will endear fans to you quicker than an infectious hook or a dope bar. No matter how clever your schemes, tangible your concepts, or punchy your humor, if your performance doesn't include the proper delivery, your career will peter out. Hip-hop may be vested in the poetic arts, but it's still an aural form. If the ear is not pleased, or if the lyrics don’t sound of-the-soul to some capacity, fans will tune out.
Mastering the art of delivery is a surefire way to win fans for life. If you sound hungry to make it, have a sharp voice, and a spotless technical ability, listeners will be more inclined to press play than if you drop bars without a second thought. No one method of delivery is better than another; hip-hop implies options and range.
Over the past two weeks, three artists have nailed each major pillar of rap delivery and given their projects the necessary oomph to become rotation mainstays. The passionate Lou The Human, the crisp Black Milk, and the technical YBN Cordae all delivered albums that rested their respective laurels on their mic skills. It’s never enough to write a great verse; you have to perform the written word artfully to make an impact. These artists have their technique down; we feel them.
Lou The Human’s belts are undefeated. On his latest album, Painkiller Paradise, Lou raps with a dogged fervor. We hear him quite literally rapping until he’s red in the face. Every bar has a kick, and we can feel Lou’s love for the craft. We can feel the weight of every lyric; every story told means the world to him. Few rappers in Lou’s class can deliver a track like “Blur,” a seven-minute odyssey into the perils of drug abuse native to Staten Island. He spends a majority of “Blur” blaring out his lyrics and letting his voice crack.
With biting lines like “Too many kids die way too young,” and “We was in the crib levitating / Facing death, but we hesitating for the thrills,” “Blur” is a masterclass in leaving your heart on wax. These are the lyrics that will leave fans’ throats reddened from screaming at concerts; these are the lyrics Lou The Human brings to life with his caterwaul. The truth of his environment is the truth of so many places, but Lou makes his Staten Island struggle all the more potent by spitting with near-manic energy.
The power of a passionate delivery is in its immediacy. We feel the urgency and sincerity of every bar; we believe Lou when he wails about Painkiller Paradise. When he raps about death and drugs, we feel for him. In barking out his most pertinent bars, Lou The Human endears himself to us. In sounding like he’s rapping for his life, we quickly become invested in Lou’s tales and woes. Though his content has a penchant for the dramatic, we don’t write him off as simply “emo rap,” because his conviction sells us on the narrative. This profession is everything to him, and we have no doubts.
Detroit rapper-producer Black Milk has one of the cleanest flows and crispest deliveries in hip-hop. We hang on his every word because he cuts through his at times airy, at times thick, at times astral production. Black Milk’s voice never gets lost, even at his most deadpan. In employing a crisp delivery, he gives us the impression he took his time parsing out his every word. Black Milk wants to make sure his language is perfect and jabs into us. There’s not a word wasted on his latest project, DiVE.
An EP with range, DiVE vacillates between Black Milk’s saber-like vocal and wonderfully woven instrumentals, dizzying the ear before stupefying us. It’s the clarity of Milk’s voice that gives bars like “This life is filled with landmines, could be your last steps / That makes me stomp even harder” off opener “Save Yourself” a chilling undertone, despite the warmth of the production. The languid quality of Black’s music juxtaposes nicely against his steely voice. His tempered speech leaves us with the notion Black Milk speaks only in truths. Sounding wizened from track to track, DiVE lets us know that no amount of material wealth can satisfy the soul.
Black Milk’s clarity and measured approach make us believe him and believe in him. Where Lou’s passion is at the forefront of his yelps, Black Milk sounds passionate by way of his presentness. We never have to strain to hear Black Milk; he redefines the terms of easy listening. As a result, his dense meanings and messaging are always at the forefront of his music, making him one of the most thoughtful rappers currently working.
YBN Cordae spits with careful precision. His technical ability is the talk of his career, and it belies his passion and crispness. We know Cordae cares for rap because he takes every step to showcase his status as a student of the game. As opposed to cries of clarity, Cordae secures our confidence in him by way of inventive rhyme schemes. From his tightly woven delivery, we get the impression Cordae pores over every word, every metaphor, and pays special attention to his themes. Not to mention, hearing a technically sound rap—a collage of multis and punchlines that stack up just right—just feels good. It feels like the essence of hip-hop.
Everything about YBN Cordae’s The Lost Boy feels pristine. Songs have body and weight. Themes are well-constructed and persist throughout the album. The loose concept envelops us instead of feeling faint or threadbare. Cordae’s technical ability engages the ear and makes his storytelling feel a touch more complex than the bars reveal. By stacking his syllables and weaving punchlines in with traumatic incidents and anthemic repetition, Cordae proves he can make records. He’s a natural spitter with an ear for the craft.
It’s easy to appreciate his technical skill and praise Cordae for his sheer rapping abilities. Before we hear what he’s saying—well developed, to be sure—we hear how Cordae constructs his rhymes to enthrall us. He understands the nature of the one-two-punch that is hip-hop: Hit ‘em with the delivery on the right hook, then come around with the lyrical pursuits on the left. Cordae doesn’t busy himself with sounding fly, but rather, with sounding practiced. He’s a rapper, and The Lost Boy imprints that unto the listener.