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How to Rap Part 6: How to Stack & Polish Vocals to Make Them Shine
This is a 6 part series on How to Rap  

- How to Rap - Introduction
- How to Rap Part 1 - Cadence and Rhythm
- How to Rap Part 2 - Confidence, Delivery, Energy
- How to Rap Part 3 - Become a Better Freestyle Emcee
- How to Rap Part 4 - How to Write Great Rap Lyrics
- How to Rap Part 5 - How to Record Rap Vocals
- How to Rap Part 6 - How to Stack and Polish Rap Vocals

Author: Slik Nixin
Published: April 2011

There are several ways to polish rap vocals.  The concepts I am covering will show you how to creatively breathe life into a rap performance. These techniques were used to record our popular sample packs Hip Hop Vocals V1 and Pop Vox Acapella Samples.

First things first, you have to be setup for a quality recording.  For info on this please refer to part 1 of this article.  Moving forward…

Stacking The Lead Vocal

Build your own vocal booth

Depending on the vocalist as well as the nature of the song you may want to double or triple that lead vocal performance.  Artists like Geezy take it even further and stack the lead performance five to eight times before moving on to adlibs.   The amount of stacking can also change based on a particular part of the song.  Typically, you stack more on the chorus than the verse – but stacking is common on both. 

There are certain tonal characteristics you can expect when you stack a vocal performance.  It will sound warmer and fuller but not quite as crispy or intimate as a well mixed single lead performance.   I always experiment with both.   Most of the time I like the lead stacked, however that is not always the case.  The cool thing is you can shape the tonal characteristics by playing with the volume-to-volume levels of the performances you stack.

Here’s an example of a single lead vs. a stacked lead vox:

Single Lead

Stacked Lead

If you decide to stack your lead performance be prepared to do more editing.  If you stack three lead vox then be prepared to go through all 3 of those takes and make sure there aren’t any pops, clicks, or other noise artifacts that will deter from the performance.  You will also need to decide which take is the best and make sure the other two mesh well with it. 

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Doing this the right way can be an involved process if your vocalist shows up unprepared.  You will know this because he or she will have trouble dubbing a good lead performance and your engineer will be stuck trying to piece it all together. 

One of my favorite tools to use in stacking lead vocals is Vocalign.  Although it’s expensive it will save you a lot of time and it yields great results WHEN UTILIZED PROPERLY.  In simple terms, Vocalign will instantly help you line up your dubs to your lead vox – enough said!

The Wonderful World of Adlibs

Before moving forward it’s important to say I didn’t quote these definitions from Websters Dictionary although I should probably contact them and coin these phrases.

Adlibs are like toppings on a pizza.  They can add a lot of flavor and color to a rap vocal performance.

There are 2 common types of adlibs.

Reinforcement Adlibs

Reinforcement Adlibs occur when a vocalist dubs/reinforces certain phrases of a lead vocal passage – particularly the rhyming words.

For example lets take a look at this hip-hop vocal phrase:

“… That ain’t why I’m so fresh on the new scene
I’m just the first white boy to keep his shoes clean..”

If we were recording Reinforcement Adlibs the vocalist would dub/reinforce the phrases “fresh on the new scene” and “keep his shoes clean”.  By supporting certain phrases like rhyming words and/or punch lines you can add a certain amount of depth and flare to a lead performance that otherwise would not exist.  

Spatial Adlibs

Vocal Adlibs

Rather than define what I think a Spatial Adlib is let me refer back to the king of Spatial Adlibs -  Geezy.  We’ve all heard him say “Aaaaaahhhh” in the background of his songs a million times.  His Spatial Adlibs are so good he can use the same ones over and over on every song he does.  

 This type of adlib caters well to his style because he has a slower delivery and takes longer pauses.   He uses these adlibs strategically to fill in any dead space and make his passages sound more complete and well put together.

I work with an artist that utilizes both types of these adlibs very well.  His name is N.B. and he makes great music!  Certified produced the track.

Lead Vox With No Adlibs:

Lead Vox With Adlibs

In my opinion, the verse with the adlibs has a lot more character to it!

 Get creative with these two concepts and your performances will sound more professional.  However, don’t over do it!  Overkill is an adlib “no no”.  Be smart and spend some time on the strategic placement of your adlibs – it will pay off!

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Editing Out Explicit Language

Explicit language is notorious in hip-hop music but not everybody likes to hear f*** this and f*** that in every song.  Often times you will need to find creative ways to edit out potentially offensive language.   

The easiest thing to do when editing out explicit language is to simply remove the offensive word from the passage and leave dead space in its place.  However, there are more creative ways to go about it.  Let’s take a quick look at these ideas.

Instead of leaving dead space in place of the offensive word try removing the explicit lyric and adding a ¼ or1/8th delay to the word before it.

For example, if we were editing out “sh*t” in the vocal passage “I hate this sh*t”, we would remove the word “sh*t” and add a delay to “hate this”.  This will fill in that dead space smoothly and remove the offensive word.

You can also try reversing the offensive word for a weirder effect that sounds cool sometimes.

A new and popular way to edit out explicit language is too use a pitch drop on it.  This simulates the effect of a turntable dj slowing down the turntables.  It’s really cool and a creative way to edit offensive language.  You can easily accomplish this in most DAW’s like Ableton or Logic.  In Ableton select the clip and draw in a pitch bend on the envelope.  In Logic just apply a ‘slow down fade’ to the offensive word and you can easily achieve this effect.

Here is an example a pitch dropped radio edit:

(vocals courtesy of N.B.)

Summary

There are many ways to polish a rap vox performance but the ideas mentioned in this article should be enough to get those creative juices flowing.  Always experiment and remember that getting a great recording of a great performance is a must! 
This is a 6 part series on How to Rap  

- How to Rap - Introduction
- How to Rap Part 1 - Cadence and Rhythm
- How to Rap Part 2 - Confidence, Delivery, Energy
- How to Rap Part 3 - Become a Better Freestyle Emcee
- How to Rap Part 4 - How to Write Great Rap Lyrics
- How to Rap Part 5 - How to Record Rap Vocals
- How to Rap Part 6 - How to Stack and Polish Rap Vocals

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