How to Find and Improve Your Rap Flow
Learn what “flow” is in rap and how to find and improve yours.
Last Updated: May 2023 | Article Details: 2518 words (13 – 15 minute read)
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When you hear people talking about a rapper’s flow what they’re referring to is a rappers ability to fluidly and smoothly “flow” on a beat/instrumental.
It’s the way they say the words – the rhythmic patterns they use to spit their bars.
In this article we’re going to show you how to find and how to improve your rap flow if you’re having trouble.
Flow is one of the most important parts of your ability to rap. And it can also be one of the most elusive things for people who just start rapping.
So let’s get right into it.
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What Does Flow Mean in Rap?
Flow is the rhythm or movement of your words as you say them. Where do they sit alongside the rhythm of the beat/music?
If you nod your head to your favorite song and count “1-2-3-4” for each time your head nods you’re counting music beats in the different bars/measures of that song. You’re counting 4 beats for every 1 measure (or bar) of music. That’s the most common way popular music is structured.
But those beats can also be sub-divided in a bunch of ways. For example, you could count that same amount of “musical time” above as “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and.” Now we’ve got 8 different sub-beats, within those 4 main beats we counted at first.
So then, FLOW refers to what beats (and sub-beats) each word or syllable that the rapper spits falls on (or between) when counting out that music.
Ask the question “how do the words wrap around and glide across the overall drum pattern of the song?”
Also think of it as the performance aspects, more generally, of your lyrics. Even things like vocal inflection and pitch can impact your flow.
A Basic Example of Flow
If you’re still unsure what “flow” is when you’re rapping, think of it this way – a very basic flow would be saying one of the words you’re rapping on every beat of a bar of music – “1-2-3-4.”
For example, if your lyrics were “one, two, three four” and you rapped them exactly the same way you’re counting the music in your head, that’s a type of flow. It’s a boring and basic flow, but a type of flow nonetheless.
Flow is the rhythm of your words and how/where you’re saying them.
As you probably already know, that rhythm can get pretty intricate with some rappers (think of Eminem). But it doesn’t have to be super complicated, either, to sound good (think of early 3-6 Mafia stuff).
How to Find Your Flow
Now that you have a better understanding of exactly what flow is when rapping, now you can start figuring out your own flow.
This is definitely a difficult thing for beginners, but it’s essential to really think about it and try and make your flow unique and your own.
The truth is, when you’re first starting out with rap your flow is going to be almost an exact copy of your favorite rapper(s). When I first started rapping you could tell I was mimicking Tupac, because he’s the rapper that inspired me the most. I still sound a little like Tupac, truthfully, but I’ve also found a flow style that’s a little more unique to me.
Study the Rap Greats
To find your own flow, the best thing to do is listen to a lot of different rappers and really study their flow. Pick you 5-10 all-time favorite rappers and then listen to their discographies.
But don’t just listen to the music passively. Pay attention to 1) the beat of the song and how it moves, and 2) the way the rapper is saying his/her lyrics.
What beats and sub-beats are they saying words on? How are they riding the drum pattern of the song? What’s the interplay between the drums, the bass and the lyrics?
Rap is a very rhythmic style of music, so pay special attention to the all the rhythmic elements of the song and how they interplay with each other.
The more you listen to and study the songs you love, the more ideas you’ll have internalized for your own flow.
— Related Content: The History of Hip-Hop Culture and Rap Music —
Watch Out Though…
Be careful… Sometimes, certain flows can end up sounding REALLY dated and old. And if you’re wanting to release new music in a mainstream context, that isn’t the best idea. So choose your study guides wisely.
Think of rap from the 1980s – the early days. The flow (the way rappers rapped their words) was VERY different to what you’d end up hearing in the 90s, which became much more complex. Then the 2000s and 2010s saw things become simpler than the flows of the 90s, but still not as simple as the flow from the 80s.
It’s the 2020s now and popular flows and styles of rap are still evolving.
Mimic Your Favorite Rappers
When you’re first trying to find a good flow, there’s no harm in simply mimicking your favorite rappers.
Just keep listening to your favorite songs with the lyrics by your side (just go to Genius.com), and learn the verses so you can rap along with them as close as possible.
The more you just rap along with your favorite songs, the more you’ll internalize good flows in rap.
Do this with several different artists and you’ll synthesize a bunch of flow characteristics in your brain and find something that suits you.
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Write Lots of Your Own Raps
Finally, it’s a good idea to just PRACTICE rapping. Write some lyrics and spit them on a beat. It doesn’t matter if the lyrics suck or if your flow sounds exactly like a well-known rapper.
Remember, this is practice.
You just want to get used to rapping on top of beats. The more you listen to and mimic others, and the more you try writing your own raps the faster you’ll find your own flow that is dope and unique to you.
And to be real, your flow does not have to be 100% unique. It’s ok if your flow is a little similar to another rapper’s flow. Just don’t straight up copy a flow patterns exactly. (I mean… that happens a lot in music, but… whatever).
And, of course this is also a great way to practice other aspects of rapping like wordplay.
How to Improve Your Rap Flow
Now that you have an idea of how to find your own flow when you’re rapping, let’s talk about working to improve it.
This really is about you becoming more and more comfortable with the overall idea of rhythm in music. And there’s lots you can do to improve rhythm. Take dance classes, or start playing drums…
You need to have GREAT timing to do either of those things. But here’s a couple of rap-specific ways you can improve your ability to flow.
Spit Your Favorites Over Different Beats
So up until now you’ve been learning the lyrics to your favorite songs and rapping along with them as you listen.
That’s a great exercise, but if you really want to improve your sense of rhythm when rapping then you want to spit those lyrics without listening to the song.
As a matter of fact, you want to spit those exact lyrics on top of a completely different beat. This can be a popular instrumental, or a new beat you find on BeatStars or YouTube.
It’s a good idea to choose a similar style of beat at first, and then rap the lyrics on that beat by yourself. But eventually you should also try rapping those lyrics on a totally different style of beat as well.
You’ll find that with a different style of beat you actually have to alter the way (or when) you say words to make it sound smooth/good.
That’s a great exercise in improving your rhythm and flow. I highly recommend doing this a lot.
Rap someone else’s lyrics on a beat that’s not from the original song.
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Experiment with Word Placement
Building off the last exercise, you can also just try experimenting with word placement. If you’re using a different style of beat like mentioned above, then this can happen naturally.
But you should also just try rapping those lyrics you memorized differently. What if you said this particular phrase faster or slower? Does it work or does it make you sound off-beat? What if you break this single syllable word up into 2 distinct syllables and pronounce it differently?
Just mess around with the lyrics and the way you spit them over the beat until you find something that’s different but still sounds really dope. If you do this enough, you’ll have such an improved sense of rhythm that you’ll be able to use experimental flows in your own songs.
Write Lots of Verses to Different Types of Beats
And of course the most important tip for learning how to improve your flow in rap is to just write lots of rap. Practice is the only way to improve your skill in any area. So get writing. And keep writing. Over and over and over again.
But more than just writing verses, you want to try writing on different types of beats. If you normally write to trap beats, cool, keep doing that. But every now and them grab a boom bap beat or some house style beat or maybe some dancehall or R&B.
Get out of your comfort zone and try different things. You’re going to feel embarrassed but it’s all good because guess what… You don’t have to put everything out there for people to consume. Sometimes you can just make a bunch of shit for yourself. Either for enjoyment or for practice.
So practice a lot by writing a lot and try different shit to help improve your versatility. That will make your ability to flow insanely better.
How to Change Things Up
When you’re writing songs, it’s important that they stay engaging to listeners. That’s why changing up your flow when rapping – even if it’s slight – is an effective and commonly used technique in rapping.
Within your verse, it’s a good rule of thumb to change something up every 4 bars or so.
What that means is that every 4 bars you want to give the listener some type of novelty in your flow. That could be as simple as changing up the rhyme scheme you’re using, to changing the way you’re flowing entirely.
For example, if your first 4 bars are very fast-paced using lots of staccato syllables, the next 4 bars could be more laid back and legato. That can sometimes be too drastic of a change and sound off, but other times it sounds great.
But if by “changing up your flow” you’re meaning you have a flow and don’t like it so you want to change it up altogether, that’s a different story. In that case all of the tips you’ve read in this article so far are a great way to help achieve that.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Flow isn’t rapping exactly, but it is an important characteristic of rap. A rapper’s flow is the distinct rhythm of the lyrics being said. Rhythm is related to time in music. It’s all about how and when notes are played rather than what notes are being played. So flow in rap is how and when a rapper spits their bars across time. For example, Eminem is known for his rapid-fire flow – i.e. he says lots of words/syllables very quickly in succession. That’s his flow.
This is a subjective thing. Some people like the dense, lyrical, rapid fire flows of rappers like Eminem while other people like the simpler triplet flows of 3 6 Mafia or the Migos. At one point, Blueface’s signature flow was entirely off-beat, and people thought it was kinda dope. So a good flow is whatever fits you as an artist. It’s often going to be influenced by your favorite rappers, but at the end of the day all that matters is that it sounds good to someone – even yourself.
The question of best flow is VERY subjective. There can be no objective answer because not everyone agrees on the criteria you would judge that by. What’s more important? Mathematical precision in your flow, or the vibe and feeling you get from the flow? Some people would say The Notorious B.I.G.’s precise and mathematical flow was the best, but other’s said Tupac’s emotional story-telling and enunciation was the best. More recently, people would say Eminem’s flow was best because of his ability to fit so many words and syllables into his verses. But at the end of the day, it’s not about who has the all-time objectively best flow, it’s about who you personally enjoy the most.
When you’re trying to find your cadence, change up your flow or perfect it, don’t let yourself get frustrated and dis-heartened.
When it comes to making art you need a LOT of incubation time. You need a LOT of practice.
You need to try and try and fail a lot so you can succeed a bit.
If you’re new to rap, you should think of the first 100 songs you write as the EARLY, pre-practice stage.
The first 100 is just you getting a lay of the land and figuring out what’s what. After that you’ll start to really improve and get a handle on things.
So just keep writing and trying to get better.
Thanks for reading our complete guide on what rap flow is, how to find your flow as a rapper and how to improve it!
Hope it was helpful.
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