If you ever need proof that rapping is hard consider the fact that the Internet exists and people are still bad at it. There are a host of available web resources that can help a struggling rapper become better at rapping, and they’re easy to access with a quick click and a few keystrokes. The magic lies in algorithms. A Google search can reveal any number of useful tools for rappers that can do everything from gauge the metrics of a rhyme to completely generate a multisyllabic scheme. For evaluation and reasoning there’s RapScript, for internal balance there are sites like RapMetrics, Bits2Lit, and WordCalc, and for pairing rhyming words there are sites like Freesyl.in, B-Rhymes, Rhymes.net, and a host of others. No tool can make someone’s raps listenable, but some sites can flesh out the verses of MCs just on the cusp of being proficient technicians, ones that simply need a little polish.
Ghostwriting apps are all over the Internet, and they can be broken down into categories based on purpose: some focus on the cognitive process (particularly sharpening memory, evaluation, reasoning, and computation skills), some are built to improve overall structure, and—most commonly—many are built just to help amateurs figure out what rhymes with what. According to RapMetrics founder Liban Ali Yusef, most of the core principles of rap structuring can be generated by a machine with algorithms, and a strong foundation can help differentiate a struggling rapper from some of his peers. It alone won’t turn someone into the next Jay Z overnight, but it can help expand their rhyming vocabulary with a databank far more spacious than the human brain.
If you read some computer-generated raps aloud fast enough it’s almost like trying to recite Aesop Rock verses with a brain hemorrhage; computers are very capable rappers—deft, even—but they simply lack the consciousness necessary to string thoughts and ideas together. Take this one from the Rap Metrics Robot Boards: “Alpha a holly grove all day you’re born in Marshall/My passenger semi auto toner a mud pit absorbing oral/High when I diss cause the rep polish marble/It’s rock sticky thumbs up when I’m performing martial.” It’s not very coherent, sure, but it’s passable. The lines are balanced and chock-full of appropriately placed slant rhymes. Many rhyming tools deconstruct the algorithms used by computers to isolate and highlight certain qualities of good verses, and those functions, when used as standalone devices, can be instructional for rappers at any stage of the developmental process.
Many rhyming tools deconstruct the algorithms used by computers to isolate and highlight certain qualities of good verses, and those functions, when used as standalone devices, can be instructional for rappers at any stage of the developmental process.
The most conventional method a rapper can take to enhance lyrics is using a rhyme dictionary. It is like a PED for syllabics. The dictionaries “break down words into their pronunciations based on a standard and then compare the major stressed syllables in your search word(s) with things in the database that have similar vowels and consonants in the same place based on whatever algorithm you decide on,” Yusef said. Most modern rhyme dictionaries have a unique facet that separates them from competitors like a different pronunciation key, a specific database, or a distinct focus on individual pairings of stressed syllables. Calling cards make some sites specialists in areas that only certain types of rappers would find useful—MF DOOM and Juicy J would use different sites to accommodate different styles—but it’s easy to find a rhyme dictionary that caters to nearly every rap style imaginable, whether it’s single syllable single word, multi-syllable single word, or multi-syllable multiple words.
Liban Ali Yusef is one of the architects making resources that help to better understand just what’s so special about rap writing and how to replicate it, and he does so analyzing data in chunks. As a young rap fan, he loved the work of Ludacris (“He’s structurally pretty consistent with his bar length and whatnot.”) and eventually got into alt rap as a teenager. “I moved to a backpacker phase in high school, listening to lots of Rhymesayers and Def Jux,” he said. “I think backpacker bros get lots of undeserved credit writing-wise, but for example, I still listen to Eyedea whenever I go walking.” Yusef spends his free time studying the mysteries of rap writing and debunking ideas about technical superiority, and he does so with a universal appreciation for the genre. These days his favorite rapper is Chief Keef.
RapMetrics is primarily an analytical site created to measure rap from a statistical perspective, and it is currently the most comprehensive rap data site; unlike Rap Genius, which only logs data, RapMetrics catalogs data and makes sense of it. Yusef created the site to satisfy a personal curiosity using his technical background. “I guess I started RapMetrics because it made sense to me to merge the technical skills I was developing [as a chemical engineering student at the University of Waterloo] with something interesting in my life, and doing it in rap stuff was cool because it made me think in ways I found satisfying about problems that were difficult and fun,” he said. A lot can be learned about rap just from browsing his site. The blog portion of the site dissects rhyme myths (like this one about Cassidy being skilled), proves theories, and comes to conclusions based on data compiled from various rap verses, songs, and artists. (In one post, he makes a case for Waka Flocka Flame over J. Cole.) The rhyme generator that accompanies the site codes perfect rhymes, general rhymes, and alliterations by color to help a user visualize the difference, which is useful in itself, but the most interesting wrinkle is a feature called the couplet analyzer.
The analyzer is a script with specific qualifications regarding bar length and rhymes per bar that must be met in order to pass and make the site’s rap board. (An example of a qualifying couplet from the accepted user submissions would be: “I spend my weekends getting plastered/Master of procrastination chronic masturbating bastard.”) The user inputs two completed lines (using words generated by the rhyme dictionary), and the lines must meet the established criteria. According to Yusef, the algorithm is built on word count (>10) and rhyme density. Though not a perfect system, the analyzer is a rather basic way to judge the structural merit of a rhyme based only on factors key in raps. “The criteria is based on there being enough rhymes in the bars so it is not just a hokey sentence input. [It has to be] actual stuff that has been written with the intention of rhyming,” Yusef said. The couplet analyzer is useful for any rapper who follows the aabb or aaaa structural format for schemes. 2 Chainz and Young Jeezy would both find this input useful. The opening bars from “Feds Watching” is a good sample: “Dreads hang on designer everythang/Mr. Comme Des Garcon, Mr. Alexander Wang (aa)/Mr. Chainz, pinky ring, flow insane, ho insane/Man these shoes I got on are the hardest I done seen (bb).” Each couplet meets the RapMetrics criteria despite the fact that the rhymes are heavily dependent on regional pronunciations. The couplet analyzer lets you know whether or not you’ve written actual rap bars.
Most of the other rhyme generators are far less complicated in their functionality. Take, for instance, Rhymes.net, which has a less pinpointed focus. STANDS4 LLC CEO Yigal Efraim, who runs the site in conjunction with a series of others, made it clear that the site is built to serve a rather general need. “Rhymes.net was created for a very specific and targeted reason: provide rhyming words to a given search query,” he said. He did, however, invite musicians to take advantage of the entire services suite to “help them compose better work.” Rhymes.net can be utilized for more straightforward, generic rhyming. It isn’t particularly effective for compound words, but its strength lies in consistency: all of its results rhyme with the input. A scheme from Gucci Mane would best fit the capabilities of single syllable rap dictionaries. Search results for “chick” and “kit” match perfectly with every rhyme used in the first verse of The State vs. Radric Davis’ “I Think I Love Her” (“thick,” “brick,” “dick,” “stick,” “bit,” “fit,” “shit”).
More complex rhymes require different algorithms and databases. B-Rhymes is a less traditional rhyme dictionary that takes into account words that don’t technically rhyme but still sound good together. It scores these words on a points system based on how closely the pairing of sounds match. For instance, a query for “landscape” would produce results like “pancake,” “mandate,” and “handshake” with “handshake” scoring the highest. A word like “standpipe” (2252) scores higher than “lactate” (2161) despite the latter sounding closer because of the placement of the incongruous syllables: the hard c and t sounds. In contrast, a Rhymes.net search for “landscape” produces words like “videotape,” “shape,” and “cape.” While it operates efficiently for one-syllable words and singular sounds, a rapper would be better off using B-Rhymes for composite words with multiple sounds. A great way to demonstrate how B-Rhymes distinguishes itself from Rhymes.net is to put both to the test generating results for Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones.” With an input of “cold,” they both produce results for “behold” and “gold,” but with an input of “soul” only B-Rhymes generates the same results. Neither generates “road” because of the position of the vowel sound, but only B-Rhymes produces “repent” and “extent” as a result for “exempt” because of the internalized e sound and the hard t at the end. When trying to generate a more knotty rhyme, B-Rhymes is a go-to for its ability to catalog and link words that are almost rhymes.
The more complex the rhyme, the more useful rhyme generators become. Yet, some rhyme dictionaries don’t service the most difficult rhymes, linguistically speaking. The most complex rhymes in English are multisyllabic, and while B-Rhymes scratches the surface of multi-syllable structuring it is incapable of replicating results when using two or more words as inputs. A little hole-in-the-wall site called Freestyl.in is the best multisyllabic rhyme generator on the web right now. Its creator, Yat Choi, designed it specifically for rap verse, a significant distinction. While traditional rhyme dictionaries account specifically for perfect rhymes or words with exact matching syllable sounds, Freestyl.in mostly takes into account imperfect rhymes and similar-sounding words because slant rhymes are far more prevalent within the genre. It is the very core of a lot of great rappity rap. You can write a whole Joey Bada$$ verse if you pack enough Freestyl.in results together into a single sentence; it is specifically designed for the Your Old Droogs of the rap world.
You can write a whole Joey Bada$$ verse if you pack enough Freestyl.in results together into a single sentence; it is specifically designed for the Your Old Droogs of the rap world.
The site is pegged as the “ultimate rap rhyme resource,” and it just may be given how thoroughly it catalogs composite sounds. This tool is built for a generation of rappers who grew up admiring Eminem. The functionality is rather comprehensive. If the input is “landscape,” which has been our constant for rhyme dictionaries thus far, it produces all of B-Rhymes’ slant rhyme results plus some very interesting alternatives: “Amway,” “Nandaime” (a municipality of Granada), “Transkei” (a Bantustan of South Africa), “translate,” “trans way,” and “Ramsay.” Just looking at these outputs, it’s easy to see what separates Freestyl.in from the others: It knows rappers have the tendency to change vowel sounds to match patterns, and it takes that knowledge into account when churning out results. It’s also worth noting that Freestyl.in generates more proper nouns than any other rhyme dictionary tested, an underrated aspect of its capabilities since namedropping is a rap staple.
Outside of rhyme dictionaries and rap generators there are some tools built with the purpose of connecting rhymes; the function is less about producing raps and more about creating a fluid thought process. RapScript is one such software, and it may be the only software on the web that can help rappers become fundamentally better at rapping.
Rap Script is a software program designed to improve a rapper’s ability to freestyle or to produce rhymes while requiring less cognitive function—in layman’s terms, it’s built to develop a rapper’s rhyme reflex. The program was created by Michael Hulfenhaus and Roman Gille, who coded RapScript after they began rapping with the group VZK in 2001, and it can help improve a rapper’s response time when jumping from one idea to another. “The concept is that the software shows random words in a defined time interval,” Gille said. “The rapper now has to build upon these words and use them to create a freestyle rap live in the moment. The main goal is to build a consistent story with the words.” Rap Script can improve a rapper’s adaptability and improvisational skill, which lends itself both to adlibbing live performances and becoming a more conceptually sound songwriter.
The two German code writers first took interest in rap in high school. “We started listening to rap music in the late ’90s and began rapping ourselves with the crew VZK,” Gille said. “We did a lot of freestyle rap live shows where we always tried to interact with the crowd. We were already doing coding projects for school, and eventually Michael did the basic RapScript script.” The final script was born out of necessity, according to Gille: “Initially, it was just a script running on Michael’s laptop in order to get inspiration when freestyling at home. Then he was asked to do a freestyle show at his university [University of Osnabruck], so he styled the output in a way that works on large screens.” The ensuing performance garnered positive feedback, and as a result, RapScript ended up on the web.
Hulfenhaus and Gille are advocates of tech tools being used to make rappers more proficient, but they heavily stress that the tool is just an instrument used to help achieve the final result, not a crutch. The relationship is similar to the relationship between a poet and literary tools—you can use a haiku syllable counter to correctly format your haiku, but that doesn’t make it great poetry. It just makes it functional.
The relationship is similar to the relationship between a poet and literary tools—you can use a haiku syllable counter to correctly format your haiku, but that doesn’t make it great poetry. It just makes it functional.
Some general literary tools are adaptable to rap too, though they don’t translate seamlessly. One very underrated aspect of rapping is maintaining balance, and literary tools are very helpful when it comes to establishing the equilibrium of lines and verses. They can be very useful when evening out the syllables per line and finding a matching scheme.
Literary tools improve structuring and how a verse sounds. Unbalanced lines and stanzas produce clunky rapping and the best way a computer can help written raps transition to cadence is through the use of scheme generators and sentence analytics. The Bits2Lit Rhyme Scheme Generator is a simple function, originally created for use with poetry, that’s easy to use: the user simply selects the number of lines and the site generates a scheme at random. A tool that can be used in sync with Bits2Lit is WordCalc, which measures the syllables per sentence and the average syllables per word. Together they can help ensure a rhyme’s stability; if the raps are too dense, the final product will just be a lot of verbiage.
Using any of these tools, an able-bodied rapper can cobble together more competent rhymes. Here are examples of raps I—an amateur—was able to create in five minutes:
A blundering clown writing words, plundering accounts (13 syllables)
Hunkering down until my nerves become a puncturing crown (15 syllables)
A visionary dignitary exploring rhyme dictionaries (14 syllables)
Playing Pictionary amidst thundering clouds (11 syllables)
(Freestyl.in, Bits2Lit (aaba), WordCalc)
Metrics and semantics, phonetics and mechanics (13 syllables)
Aesthetics are ceramics when exploring rap dynamics (14 syllables)
(Rap Metrics, B-Rhymes, Word Calc)
All things considered, those are very technically sound bars—albeit not incredibly entertaining—and they display that these tools do work in principle. The latter even met the established criteria for Rap Metrics’ couplet analyzer (which I failed to beat several times on my own). The first stanza utilized Freestyl.in multisyllabic rhyme generating and the Bits2Lit generator selected an appropriate scheme for a rap of this length. The second couplet used the sound pairing algorithm of B-Rhymes to generate slant rhyming pairs. Both raps used Word Calc to keep the syllables per line in the 10-15 word range. The Internet helped me become a rapper. It’s important to note that these aren’t the only tools out there; there are countless others that can be just as useful. Without premeditation and careful thought computer-generated rhymes can still become empty words, but it’s hard to question that this can work given the results.
Even with the now abundant technical resources available to rappers today, there’s evidence that suggests rhyme metrics aren’t as important to a rap as the human element. Young Thug is flourishing right now, and he ignores many fundamental rap rules of the boom bap era. As Yusef so eloquently put it, “[Rap generators and rhyme dictionaries] could make someone better at rapping and perhaps make somebody more technically competent. But it won’t make their writing interesting.” That said, both aspects do have merit, and purists will always place value on a technically savvy rapper, and a technically savvy rapper will always have a place in rap. The game will always have its Bishop Nehrus and its Action Bronsons to fall back on. Web resources may not make someone a great storyteller (yet), but they certainly can help someone get the core construction and mechanics of rap verse down, and a well-executed rap verse is poetry in motion. You don’t need a ghostwriter anymore; you have a computer.
Sheldon Pearce is a writer living in Washington, D.C. Follow him @jiggyraps.