Speak On It: Jamall Bufford of The Black Opera On The Art of Rhyming

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing written series called “Speak On It.” It features an artist as a guest writer for our site. The artist picks a topic they’re passionate about and then pens an in-depth piece. It’s about time to give the power and voice back to the artists.

This edition features Jamall Bufford of The Black Opera explaining detailing his love of rhyming and those who’ve inspired him.

Rhyming as an art form can take on many different configurations. Many think true rap artistry lies only in the complexity of the words used, or the amount of syllables used, but that’s not always the case. Certainly, a rapper that can let off rapid fire big words and high volume syllables deserves kudos, but the true art, in my opinion, is how well it’s executed, how clear and coherent it is, how much sense the rap makes. 

My favorite rappers are the ones that make their rhymes sound like conversations, conversations that just happen to rhyme. There’s nothing wrong with rhyming for the sake of rhyming. But my personal favorites don’t sound like they sat and thought of a ton of words that rhyme first, then tried to convey the concept or message later, or not at all. And though I love rowdy rap, my personal biggest influences didn’t need to raise their voice or utilize any extra antics or theatrics.

Jay Z, Andre 3000, Nas, Common, Black Thought, Ice Cube, Tribe, GZA (just to name a few), artists like these had the biggest impact on who I wanted to be when I started rapping 20 years ago. I never felt like they would rhyme “architecture” with “garden texture” just to get a four-syllable rhyme off, or just because it sounded cool. And I never felt like they used extra unnecessary words to get their points across.

I love Twista, I love Bone Thugs N Harmony, and many of the rappers of this generation employing double-time fast rap. But the reason I didn’t pattern my style after theirs (aside from the fact it’s not that easy to do) is that most people in everyday life having conversations don’t talk like that. It’s also difficult to say exactly what you mean when you’re squeezing words and syllables into a bar. Often times rappers say a lot of filler words that don’t make sense or have relevance to the rap, just to keep a pattern going.

There’s so many different skill sets that can make up a dope rapper or even just one dope rap. My favorite rappers may not even be in your top 50, and who you love may not have any replay value for me, and that’s totally fine. Different rappers do different things, it doesn’t always mean one is less or more dope than the other. Similar to comparing a dope point guard to a dope center, Zeke and Shaq did totally different things on the court, but they’re both Hall of Famers.

Many rappers are very skilled at certain things that I may try to stray away from as a rapper, some of them I enjoy listening to more than others. A lot of it is just personal preference, subject matter, how their voice sounds, etc. In my opinion, Royce Da 5’9 is an expert at rapid fire multiple syllable flows, while still making perfect, cohesive and understandable sense with his train of thought. And that style may not even be his particular lane or claim to fame, that shows his versatility and greatness. I also enjoy how Smino employs this style, I think he does it brilliantly while also incorporate sonically appealing melodies.

Then there’s someone like the late legend Prodigy of Mobb Deep, who kept it “simple”, and played with rhyming in a way that made him a one of a kind; “I used to bust shots crazy, I couldn’t even look because the loud sound used to scare me”, “crazy” and “scare me” don’t really rhyme in a technical sense, but for someone like Prodigy it’s not all about technicality. It’s about emotion, feeling, the realness that had you stuck. Some may view a style similar to P’s as simple, but don’t let someone’s delivery lull you into overlooking the vocabulary, and more importantly how that vocabulary is used. P’s word choices, among other things, made him a favorite of mine.

That brings me to flow. The flow is just as important (if not more important at times) as the actual words and rhymes used. Snoop has the flow and cadences, Drake has flows and cadences, Kendrick has flows and cadences. You can be saying the most important thing in the world but if you sound like a robot saying it, chances are I won’t listen to what you’re saying much in the future. That’s just me though. I’m also someone that doesn’t think “mumble rap” is really a thing, I think some people just don’t understand southern drawl. But I digress.

The beautiful thing about rap and the many different rhyme styles that exist is that there’s something out there for everyone.  It’s almost like finding a mate. It may be difficult, you may not find someone for you on the first try, it may take some effort to find, but if you search and do your due diligence you can find something out there for you.

Check out The Black Opera’s latest work 80z Babiez To The 2Gz 2 here.

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