How To Rap Part 1: Cadence and Rhythm

A smooth cadence is essential when rapping. As an emcee you want to ride the beat in harmonious fashion. This requires you to, in a sense, become one with the beat – to harness The Force like Yoda.

What does Cadence mean?

According to the dictionary one definition is ‘Rhythmic flow of a sequence of sounds or words: the cadence of language’.

Complexity in the rhythmic delivery of your raps can add an additional depth to your performance that otherwise would not exist. The cadence of your rhymes has a lot do with the way you structure them in your writing. Get familiar with the term ‘syllabic meter‘– this is the syllable count of your lyrics per line.

The more words you try to squeeze into one bar or meter the quicker your cadence will have to be. The lesser amount of words per bar – the slower your cadence will have to be. Therefore, the way you write and structure your lyrics has a direct, tangible effect on the cadence and delivery of those lyrics when you perform them.

Breath Control

How To Rap - Breath Control

Breath Control is very important in rapping and often overlooked by inexperienced rappers.  I know this because that was something I did.  Always leave yourself enough room to breathe or you will quickly get winded.

Poor breath control usually stems from excessive wordiness in the writing aspect of your raps.  The result will have you trying to squeeze too many words in too little a space – leaving you without room to breathe before you rap your next line.

When writing rap lyrics, I usually treat an inhaling breath as a one-word syllable like (uhhh).  Here is an example of a well written four bar phrase that allows me to easily control my breathing.  The idea is simple – I just left enough space to fit a breath-in at the end of every bar.  The technical term for this is an ‘end rhyme breath’,

it’s fair to say I’m grindin’ and pavin’ the way                   —–     ((breath-in))
And the things you take for granted I’m claimin’ today           —–     ((breath-in))
Won’t you bless me with some luck, I’m breakin’ a leg     —–     ((breath-in))
And if there’s money in the air I’m makin’ it rain            —–     ((breath-in))

Being in control of your breathing is crucial to delivering your rhymes with confidence and authority.  Here is a general rule of thumb for breath control in a rap performance, the more frequently you take breaths in – the smaller those breaths will need to be.

The less frequently you take breaths in, the longer those breaths must be to keep you from getting winded and running out of air.  Keep this in mind when writing your lyrics.


There are an infinite number of ways you can combine word sequences to create different rhythms.  When rapping, I like to think of the voice as a percussive instrument – the rhythms are no different than if you were beating on some bongo drums.

With that being said, you have two variants of syllable annunciation.

  • Unaccented Syllables of a word (unstressed)
  • Accented Syllables of a word (stressed)

For example, lets look at the word grindin’.  When you say the word grindin’ you put much more emphasis on the grind part of the word than the in part of the word, which sort of rolls off of the tongue. Grind is stressed and the in is unstressed.

This stressed VS. unstressed relationship happens naturally and is what creates the rhythm in your raps.  So, if we refer back to the bongo analogy, an accented syllable would be something like a solid hit on the bongo, while an unaccented syllable would be more like a quicker, lighter tap.

Iambic Rhythm

Iambic rhythm is rhythm rising from an unstressed syllable to a stressed one. An example of this, is the phrase ‘the WAY’. The is unstressed, WAY is stressed.

Lets look at the rhythmic cadence of the first two lines from the lyrics mentioned earlier.  Unstressed syllables are represented by (da) and stressed syllables are represented by (duh)

Its FAIR – to SAY – I’m GRIND – in and PAV – in the WAY

DUH  – da DUH  – da DUH –  da  DUH   – da da DUH – da da DUH

and– the THINGS – you TAKE – for GRANT – ed I’m CLAIM – in  to DAY

DUH  –  da  DUH     –  da  DUH  –  da  DUH   –  da da  DUH   –  da da DUH

The rhythmic flow of these two lines is identical, making them mesh together very well.

Experiment with the combination of stressed and unstressed syllables and get creative.  It won’t be long before you’re writing your own quality rhythms.

Double Timing

Artists like Twista and Ludacris made double-timing popular in Rap long ago.  This rhythm is used a lot in southern hip hop music, so it’s worth a mention.  One of the main reasons this technique is so effective in southern rap is because of the slower tempos typically used in this genre of music. The average tempo for southern rap is somewhere in the neighborhood of 72 bpm and it becomes very difficult to double-time anything much higher than 87 bpm.

The double timing concept is basic.  If the tempo of the instrumental you’re rapping over is 65 bpm then you rap at a rate of 130 bpm – you double time it.  This ties into structured lyric writing because it requires you to squeeze double the amount of stressed syllables you normally would in one line.

Rappers who master this skill know how to smoothly transition in and out of their double times with ease – adding depth and dimension to the flow of their raps.

To demonstrate this technique I shot a quick video of a double time performance, so you could see what it looks like.  The beat is courtesy of PlatinumLoops Hip Hop Producer Pack 9.

Half Timing

Half-timing is the exact opposite of double-timing and is more commonly used in songs with fast tempos (fast for rap music).  Therefore, it is more popular in genres like Dubstep, EDM and upbeat Pop music.

If the beat has a tempo of 140 bpm then you rap at a tempo of 70 bpm.  This requires you to squeeze half the amount of stressed syllables you normally would into one line – in effect you half-time the beat.

Samples used in this beat are fromProgressive House Samples V1

Wrap Up

The cadence and rhythm of lyric writing is an important component to learning how to rap.  By creatively structuring your bars, your raps will instantly become more appealing.  To construct different lyrical rhythms, remember to focus on your stressed VS. unstressed syllable ratios.  Playing with the combinations of these ratios will give you different rhythms in your rhymes.  Don’t be afraid to experiment – the possibilities are boundless and people want to hear your skills as an emcee.

Rap is all about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it!

Check out the other articles in this ‘How to Rap‘ Series:

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