Abstract hip hop is a genre that eschews many of the conventions found in typical hip hop. Lyrically, these songs tend to focus on more abstract ideas such as existentialism or social institutions.
In addition to rapping, DJing and hip hop dance, abstract artists also use graffiti writing as well as other expressive practices. These expressive practices have been associated with various societal issues such as violence, promiscuity and bad language.
Abstract hip hop is a subgenre of alternative hip hop that differs from other types of hip hop largely in the content of the lyrics. It’s often a bit more provocative (no pun intended) than gangsta rap and deals with topics that aren’t immediately associated with hip hop culture.
One of the most important things when writing rap lyrics is to focus on showing instead of telling. This is a great way to make your song more interesting and memorable for your listeners!
For example, if you’re writing a song about drugs, it can be much more impactful to describe actual drugs rather than just saying “Yo I woke up late after doing a ton of drugs last night”. This will help your listeners to understand what you are talking about and it can also give them a better idea of your lyrical style.
In addition to this, if you are writing a rap about someone else’s life, it can be more impactful to show them what they are going through rather than just say “Yo I was in a bad car accident last night.” This will help your listeners to relate to what you are talking about and it will also be easier for them to identify with the lyrics.
The main themes that are recurring in many hip-hop songs are drug dealing, conflicts with the police and lost opportu- nities. All these topics are connected to urban environments.
This is why it is important to consider the reality of urban spaces when analyzing hip-hop songs. It is also necessary to examine the ways in which those spaces are depicted in music, as well as the role they play in influencing the themes of music.
For instance, in the case of rap lyrics referring to New York City, it is crucial to examine how each space is related to the other and the different aspects of their social interaction. For this purpose, the following three rap tracks were chosen:
The first of them is a rap track by Nas called “N.Y. State of Mind”. In this song, Nas describes the reality of his city as a whole and focuses on a variety of issues pertaining to his space, including drug dealing and the lack of opportunities for young people in the city. He also reminisces about his past and how he was forced to defend himself against his enemies. He also mentions how there will always be a person who thinks about joining the gang in his neighborhood, and that even cheap objects can be stolen. These are some of the key elements that are incorporated into his song and illustrate his reality in his particular space of Queens, New York City.
Flows are the musical patterns rappers use to weave their lyrics together into a coherent whole. They often involve metric and rhythmic stratification, but also incorporate features of melodic expression, such as rhyme patterning and accentuation.
Rappers can employ a variety of techniques to sculpt their flows, including exaggerated declamation, pitch-based rhythmic layers, and sung interjection. Some of these methods are fairly obvious, while others are more subtle.
One method involves rapping over a track’s backing beat to form a new rhythmic layer. This technique is called “sung interjection,” and is most commonly seen in a song by the rapper Nelly (example 16).
It’s possible to find similar instances of pitch-based rhythmic layering in other genres, such as jazz. But it is less common in rap, perhaps because MCs are typically more concerned with delivering a narrative than creating a cohesive melodic structure.
Another flow practice that straddles the balance between co-ordination and stratification is conversational timing, which closely mirrors rhythms of speech but musically anchors them against the beat. It is a style of rapping that originated with the rise of gangsta rap and has since been adopted by many other forms of hip-hop.
Several MCs, including Noname (example 10) and 2 Chainz (example 2), employ this approach in their rapping. They stratify the rhythmic surfaces of flow and beat layers to accentuate their respective melodic qualities.
While this type of flow is a common feature of many rap songs, it can be difficult to detect with the untrained ear. Nevertheless, music theorists may be able to identify its presence with the help of a sonic analysis of the track’s beat or by plotting density functions of phrase and line endings within the measure.
This technique can be a good way to determine whether a rapper has adopted an expressive approach to timing. This is because a MC’s expressive flow rhythms will be interpreted differently by listeners than their groove-based counterparts.
Expressive flow timing is not limited to the syllable or phrase-level, but can encompass the entire metric of the rap performance. It is a technique that many MCs employ, though it remains an elusive quality of some rap performances.
Abstract hip hop eschews many of the conventions of the genre, both lyrically and musically. It has been a fixture of the underground hip hop scene since the early 2000s.
In lyrical content, artists typically focus on more abstract ideas such as existentialism or social institutions rather than everyday problems and braggadocio. They also tend to avoid the more upfront, visceral language of typical hip hop and instead prefer extensive metaphors and symbolic word choice.
Musicians who produce this style of rap often use unconventional beats to complement the lyrical content. Some of these beats are created by drum machines like the TR-808 and others are sampled from existing recordings.
Other artists utilize digital samplers such as the Akai MPC series and Ensoniq ASR-10. These digital tools have become popular among contemporary hip hop producers due to their affordability and ease of use. However, some musicians disagree with the reliance on these computer-generated drums and claim that these beats lack identity and are less high quality than traditional drum kits.
The most common type of drums used in modern hip hop are samples. The most commonly used drum kit is the analog Roland TR-808, which has been used for decades. Other drum machines, such as the E-mu SP-12 and SP-1200, and the Akai MPC series, have also been used to create sampled drum kits.
While most sampled beats have a relatively limited range of articulations, some beatmakers specialize in creating extremely complex, intricate patterns. This can be achieved by combining multiple samples into one rhythm, using a computer to improvise and re-arrange the drums or by layering sampled sounds with the sounds of other instruments.
This type of production can be very creative and often requires a great deal of time and effort. Some of the best abstract hip hop musicians are also talented beat makers.
These beats are often paired with complex and detailed lyrics to create a synergistic effect. While some artists prefer to use this approach, others find that a more straightforward arrangement is the most effective method of capturing the emotions of their audience.
The visuals of abstract hip hop are often a major part of the music’s appeal. Unlike more mainstream hip hop, which tends to focus on everyday problems or braggadocio, abstract artists tend to focus on broader ideas such as existentialism or social institutions. They also tend to avoid the more upfront, visceral language that is common in hip hop, preferring extensive metaphors and symbolic word choice.
In addition to the lyrics, abstract hip hop is often characterized by unconventional beats. These beats are akin to those found in experimental hip hop, but abstract artists also often feature more conservative elements of rap such as classic dub-drops and dirty cuts directly sampled from vinyl.
Abstract hip hop has been linked to visual culture since its beginnings, and has even made significant appearances in contemporary art. The genre’s representational strategies have popularized approaches to visibility among black youth, highlighting the optical effects of light and shiny reflection, as well as the hypervisibility of blackness in consumer culture. Studio artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Luis Gispert draw on these methods to create works that emphasize the effect of being seen and being represented, especially in relation to race and the visual language of hip-hop.
For example, Timeboy’s installation Inflection is a multimedia experience that uses abstract visuals to project onto a large screen, twitching and dissolving as the music plays. Audience members also feel the music’s vibrations in their bodies.
Despite its many differences from more mainstream hip hop, abstract hip hop can still be an intriguing and addictive form of music. Whether you’re just starting to listen to this genre or have been a fan for years, there are a few essential albums to start with.
The top abstract hip hop bands on this list are ranked best to worst by votes from actual fans of the genre. Click on the band names to see more information about them, and to vote for them if you think they deserve to be at the top of this list!