How can you tell is someone has great flow? Simple: you take away the beat, and if you can still feel the pulse without the drums blasting behind you, you’ve got some killer feel.
Any rapper worth their weight in gold likely gained some of these skills through battles, freestyles, and other impromptu performances where backing beats weren’t always a given. You can go however fast or slow you like, but if you speed up or slow down in the wrong ways, it’s going to throw everything off. Just like in comedy, timing is everything in the rap world.
If you want a great example of how to keep the beat without the beat, check out Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg laying down their verses during the 2001 track ‘Still D.R.E.’. Snoop and Dre had an almost psychic connection with each other, able to weave in and out of phrases without any stress or strain. They could finish each other’s sentences, add inspired ad libs, and pump each other up when it mattered the most.
Dre famously didn’t write most of his own verses, and although Snoop was a fully capable lyricist, a ringer was brought in to prove that Dre was still on top of his game. That ringer was a doozy: Jay-Z, who gets sole songwriting credit on the track. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like much more than a few verses of bragging, but the beauty was in the fact that no one bragged better than Shawn Carter.
Take one of the most iconic lines: “still not loving police.” It would have been much easier for the line to be “still hating police”, but it wouldn’t have had the same lyrical and playful flow to it. To say that Dre didn’t love police is an understatement, and that’s what made his line reading of Jay-Z’s words to much fun to listen to. If nothing else, Carter shows off just how much he knows about Dre, paying homage to his influence while elevating him to another level.
Checko out Snoop and Dre’s isolated raps on ‘Still D.R.E.’ down below.