Sound barrier in shambles.
On Eminem’s Music To Be Murdered By track “Godzilla,” he closes the track by spitting two-hundred-and-twenty-nine words in thirty seconds. Making short work of his own preexisting world record, Em’s dexterity raised the bar for speed rap to lofty technical heights. Given that he’s currently the fastest rapper in the world, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the evolution of double-time rap, otherwise known as chopping.
In the early eighties, while rappers like Kool Moe Dee and JJ Fad pushed the boundaries of expected tempo with “New Rap Language” and “Supersonic” respectively, Rakim was evolving the art of flow to new heights. Though the legendary emcee attacked instrumentals with more fluidity than ever before, New York rapper Jaz-O, also known as The Originator, stands as a key pioneer behind the “triplet flow.” A student of music theory, Jaz explained that his dexterous approach was the product of necessity. “I had to stuff those words, those extra syllables in the sixteen so it would transform those syllables into twenty-fourths, which became a triplet of an eighth,” he explained. “That’s why I called it the triplet style.”
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That style was on full display on 1990 single “The Originator,” which featured his young protege Jay-Z long before Reasonable Doubt. In his opening bars Jaz is spitting straight up tongue-twisters: “My rhyming and singing technique is applaudable, living in luxury, and it's affordable / no other brother is better than me, the J, the A, the Z.” That’s twenty-six words and forty-one syllables in five seconds. A groundbreaking development, one Jaz picked up from studying blues and jazz. Even the Jigga Man gets in on the action, following the leader with the most dexterous and alliterative verse of his career; he even riffs the oft-memed “lyrical miracle” scheme.
LISTEN: Jaz-O & Jay-Z - The Originator
Meanwhile in Chicago, a young emcee by the name of Tung Twista was on the verge of making history. On April 7th, 1992, Twista dropped his debut album Runnin’ Off At Da Mouth. The titular track ultimately earned him the Guinness World Record for fastest rap, a title he held for a decade. Over some breakbeat production from DJ Rhythm, Twista let fly syllables at an insane rate, notably quicker than The Originators and other aspiring double-time spitters. “Flowing the lyrical magic of mine I be mopping and sweeping, and breakin' 'em up and then makin' 'em break in a sweat,” he spits, after pledging to take a deep breath. “I be makin' 'em jump and then sit up and lift the style, I be kicking and popping the rhythm I'm rocking and pumping.” Though the substance is somewhat surface-level, the sheer defiance of physiology is enough to astound even today. Unlike Jay-Z, who moved way from speed-rap, Twista embraced it as an integral component of his sound -- even to this day.
LISTEN: Twista - Runnin Off At Da Mouth
It’s impossible to discuss the art of chopping without mentioning Cleveland’s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Arguably one of the most influential groups in hip-hop history, Bizzy, Krayzie, Layzie, Wish, & Flesh-N-Bone developed a new take on double-time flow, deviating away from the breakbeat influences and implementing melodic elements. Their first recorded album Faces Of Death (1993) skewed closer to traditional hip-hop of the time, the double-time flows similar in approach to Jaz and Tung Twista. After linking up with Eazy E and signing to ruthless records, Bone Thugs brought a new style to Creepin On Ah Come Up. Alternating between singsong sections and machine-gun bursts, the group’s flow on breakout single “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” earned immediate acclaim. Though their fastest flows would come later on, with 1997’s Art Of War standing out as an absolute clinic, Bone endure among most commercially successful double-time spitters in the game. In hindsight, 1997 was one of the greatest years in speed-rap history, with Bone’s double album and Twista’s classic Adrenaline Rush hitting shelves. The similarities in style were enough to spark a beef over alleged biting, though it was quickly resolved before any escalation.
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While Jay-Z was revisiting his “Originators” origins on the Jaz-O assisted “N***a What, N***a Who,” Kansas City’s own Tech N9ne was in the process of building the Strange Music Empire. His first recorded album The Calm Before The Storm clearly drew influence from Bone Thugs’ gothic brand of G-Funk, and while Tech wasn’t speedy as a general rule, he was more than capable of kicking up the acceleration. As his style progressed, Tech began implementing more fast flows into his arsenal, with 2002 Anghellic: Reparation track “Breathe” solidifying his prowess. Absolute Power tracks like “The Industry Is Punks” showcased his ability once more, but Tech wasn’t always associated with chopping like Twista or Bone; that came later, when he sparked the movement on 2006’s “Welcome to the Midwest” and once more on the spiritual successor “Midwest Choppers.” By the time he arranged his piece-de-resistance in “Worldwide Choppers,” a song many consider to be a crowning achievement in double-time spitting, Tech had all but incorporated double-time into his recurring repertoire of flows.
LISTEN: Tech N9ne - Breathe
Speaking of “Worldwide Choppers,” Busta Rhymes is another integral piece of the puzzle. It began with his scene-stealing introduction on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” a classic that instantly slammed Bus-a-Bus into stardom. Though some current-day listeners may have become conditioned to the idea of Busta as a fast-rapper, his early music skewed closer to Ol Dirty Bastard than Twista. Flirting with quick-tempos as his career progressed, Busta’s emergence as not only a speed-rapper but potentially the speed-rapper was the Dr. Dre-produced “Break Ya Neck.” One of the greatest singles of the early millennium, “Break Ya Neck” received such acclaim that Busta doubled down on the chopping. For a while, his verse on Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” became the pinnacle of modern-day speedom, a Titianesque display of virtuosity. From that point, Busta often brought that high-octane intensity to every guest verse he blessed, the point where many forget he was once the “Dungeon Dragon.” It wouldn’t be surprising for many younger emcees eager to try their hand at chopping to name Busta Rhymes as one of their primary influences.
LISTEN: Busta Rhymes - Break Ya Neck
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It’s impossible to shine a light on everyone. Since its creation in 1973, hip-hop has brought many slept-on fast rappers into the mix. Ruff Ryders rapper Drag-On set fires on the Swizz-Beatz produced “Down Bottom.” Independent QN5 leader Tonedeff set his sights on the syllable record on Extended Famm’s “Velocity.” Twisted Insane brought chopping and horrorcore together to diabolical results. Given the scope of the competition, it’s almost surreal that Eminem has officially claimed the title as the fastest rapper in the world -- again. Especially given his double-time style came, like Busta Rhymes, relatively late in his career. Arguably sparking on “Forever,” Em’s fascination with chopping served as a means of asserting his technical dominance. “Rap God” and Tech N9ne collaboration “Speedom” found him pushing the boundaries even further, with the former’s “supersonic” section securing him the Guinness World Record for speed. Forever in competition with himself, Slim shattered his own record on “Godzilla,” delivering the fastest piece of recorded music ever put on wax. Clocking in at 7.6 words and 11.3 syllables per second, the dazzling conclusion marks the final evolutionary stage of “Chopper Em,” the product of all those pioneers who paved the way.
LISTEN: Eminem ft Juice WRLD - Godzilla