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Dr. Strange Rap or How You Need To Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Empty Beat.

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

I’m not saying that every single time when a recording artist does this that it’s necessarily bad, but it never helps the live set sound BETTER and 85% of the time it sounds worse! What I’m getting at is that the majority of the time a rapper performs over the fully produced mastered version of the song it sounds absolutely muddy, distorted, and ruins the experience of the song because the song wasn’t meant to be heard with such a doubling of sound most especially an unaffected raw live vocal paired with heavily autotuned on the record vox effects.

It just doesn’t make any sense. Think about it.

Music wasn’t meant to be created so that when you hear the live version you’re hearing a live voice over the same voice from the record, doubling and distorting the original version. If you’re trying to curate memorable timeless musical experiences, the record needs to remain as the record, and in my personal opinion, the live performance should be a version of what the record sounds like…but it shouldn’t be the same thing. And you should never just perform over the fully mastered version, it’s lazy.

Honoring the past and roots of hip hop is a big reason for staying true to the craft of emceeing, rapping, and performing live. There are also practical reasons such as your audience will immediately feel the organic nature and authenticity of your sound. When you perform your vocal parts without backup on the record or sparse help, you set yourself apart from the recording artists that just rap over their tracks.

I don’t feel or think this debate has much to do with being a purist as it does wanting to keep the art form and craft elevated. Rap should be something that takes an amount of skill to achieve, not something so easily accessible that it dumbs down the reputation of rap and rapping as a whole. It’s not a bad thing that rap has become so universal that it’s essentially available for anyone to try, a lot of contemporary music utilizes elementary aspects of rap to get by with composing a song. And there’s nothing innately wrong with that, but it does somewhat destroy the mythos of rap being difficult to achieve a high level of technicality. So I guess when it comes to your own personal approach to the art of rap; maybe that’s something to keep in mind as you carve your own path.

I’ve seen a lot of live rap acts in my short time. The emcees that could do it raw and organically are emblazoned in my mind. From the local Chicago rising stars to legendary New York City acts, real emceeing and a well curated live set will always stick out over the artist just turning up to their mastered record. Beyond a list of pupilist reasons for rapping over empty beats with no hooks or no ad libs; once you feel the difference yourself, the drug of rocking your songs live from the strength of your own voice will become more addictive than any upper or downer.

At the end of the day, my voice as a white guy in hip hop and black culture is ultimately diminutive in comparison. But I do believe one has to leave an art form better than when they found it, and when I found it, your rap skill MATTERED.

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