The recent ascent of L.A. rapper Blueface has left plenty of people confused about his unconventional flow. Any viral tweet, video or article featuring the rapper is sure to contain plenty of comments from users who just can’t stomach his offbeat flow or high-pitched voice.
But as Blueface continues to grow in popularity, collecting co-signs from the likes of Drake, Ice Cube, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kendrick Lamar, he is adamant that we’re the ones behind. “They say I’m offbeat, but I wrote the songs to the beat," he said in a radio interview. "They gotta listen to what I'm saying more."
He’s not wrong. Those who know their West Coast cadences know the flow of Blueface is a familiar one, one that throws the concept of it out the window altogether to create a new rhythm. Flow is all about rhythm and technique, with plenty of skilled rappers daring to leave the pocket to explore new sounds. The offbeat flow is a California trademark, evident in rappers like E-40, Suga Free, Lil B, Snoop Dogg and YG but it has found its way through the Midwest via G-Herbo and Big Sean, ended up in the South from Outkast, Mystikal and Silkk the Shocker, and even came upon the waters of the East Coast thanks to rappers like MF Doom, Busta Rhymes, RZA and Pharoah Monch.
Today, we look at offbeat rapping, with the help of the five songs below. Chime in with your opinion on rapping offbeat in the comments.
Suga Free - “Why You Bullshittin’”
Suga Free was the original slick Cali pimp, an outsized personality with a flow so loose it almost slips off the beat. His rapping always seems to run parallel to whatever beat he’s on, but his debut album Street Gospel reveals just how deliberate and precise Suga actually was. DJ Quik, who helmed the production for Street Gospel, originally made the “Why You Bullshittin’” beat for 2Pac but right away, Suga claims it entirely as his own. A dexterous technician with a great sense of humour, Suga is vintage West Coast. Only a man like Suga could pull off a schoolyard freestyle and still sound cold.
Outkast - “Aquemini”
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Andre 3000's verses on Aquemini are the stuff of legends, but it’s his first one, coming in right after Big Boi’s dense but relatively straight-laced verse, that draws attention for its spacey, stream-of-consciousness feel. Three Stacks would play off Big Boi’s strengths well; complimenting both his flow and the feel of the beat with his own syncopated rhythms as he takes each word and makes it fall in a different part of the bar. It’s a technique he would later use to great effect on songs like “International Players Anthem” or “A Life In The Day of Benjamin Andre,” choosing exactly when to fall off the beat before pulling himself back in to create something so distinctly ATLien.
Big Sean - “Paradise”
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The Midwest is no stranger to the concept of avoiding the beat, with rappers like G Herbo gaining notoriety for his unorthodox flow. But Big Sean is a strange case; his rapid-fire delivery has a hit and miss ratio, equally capable of sinking a verse on a great song as it is capable of elevating it. On “Paradise,” Sean raps like he’s cramming his entire verse in a narrow flow that just happens to miss the top and bottom of the measure. Besides making “Paradise” feel much shorter than its 2:36 runtime, Big Sean flows with a breathless pace that just about succeeds by sheer force of will.
MF Doom - “Vomitspit”
There’s rapping on-beat and then there’s MF Doom. “Some musical rhythms can fuck with your head.” he once said. “Different sounds affect the body in different ways.” For Doom, these rhythms were his secret weapon. His off-the-wall flow, built up of dizzying internal monosyllabic rhymes, tends to run in and out of meter a lot, an approach that either leaves you dumbfounded or completely turned off. The dense verbiage found in “Vomitspit” is an example of prime Doom, tossing off quotables like tiny diamonds. They rarely land on the beat but that’s the charm of Doom – he’s unpredictable as he is mad.
Blueface - “Respect My Cryppin’”
In Blueface's world, the beat goes on his accord. While he’s only been rapping for a year, his sense of timing has roots in classic West Coast rap. While he’s perfectly capable of rapping in a conventional manner, he’s far more interesting rapping in an offbeat style. Like Suga Free, Blueface delights in the absurd, painting his graphic street writing with jokes like "mop the floor, hide the wet sign just to catch him slippin'” all the while riding a flow we’ll only understand two years from now. The question is: will we catch up?