RoQ Riffs!!! Ya’ll good??
So..I went to a pretty promising Hip-Hop show and was left disappointed by the egregiously low standard of emceeing. So, I decided to come up with an easy to read guide you can refer to as The MC Rulebook. Follow these rules and you’ll help cultivate a scene where people don’t flee at the sight of a less-than-famous rapper on stage.
RAP TIPS :
- STOP RAPPING OVER YOUR OWN VOCALS. Seriously. I don’t know why this is still a problem in Hip Hop. There is literally no excuse for not coming up with a quality show mix that gives you the room to perform to the best of your ability. Do not rap over your own voice! If you want to include some BACKUP vocals behind your hook or some adlibs, fine, but THAT IS THE LIMIT. Some people cite various reasons.. and I’m here to debunk all of that crap:
- “I don’t know my lyrics.” No. You’re lazy. Memorize it or skip it.
- “I can’t hype the crowd.” You’re lazy. If you can’t engage the crowd, look in the mirror.
- “You can’t afford to have a show mix in time.” Always have it created at time of recording.
- If you CAN’T do that, then rap over the instrumental you recorded to!
For the non rappers who want a clear comparison of what I’m referring to…
- ENGAGE THE CROWD. There is nothing worse than watching a performance where the emcee pretty much raps to the invisible crowd two feet above the heads of the actual audience. You are a Master of Ceremony. You go out there and captivate people. Look them in the eye, even if you’re antisocial like me. Shake hands. Give dap. Respond to them grooving to your music. If they aren’t, make them. Put them on the spot. If they have a camera out, make it a personal experience by dedicating a moment of your performance to their lens. Make as many of them feel special at a time. Even if you look in a general direction of the crowd, the height difference will make the audience member feel as if you’re looking directly at them. TALK TO THEM. Don’t just go from song to song. **DON’T TALK TRASH TO THE CROWD!! EVER!!**
Unless you’re DMX, because this shit is absolutely GLORIOUS
- DO NOT DO ALL INDUSTRY BEAT SETS. This isn’t 2007. If you want to switch it up every now and then by adding a beat to pay homage to or give your DJ time to showcase his/her abilities, fine. But don’t bring your Datpiff.com Instrumental Playlist to the stage. People PAID MONEY to be entertained by some groundbreaking, original artwork. If they wanted to hear Rick Ross, Game, Dilla, or G-Unit, they’d listen to Rick Ross, Game, Dilla, or G-Unit. SOUNDCLOUD AND BANDCAMP ARE YOUR FRIENDS, CULTIVATE AND UTILIZE THOSE FRIENDSHIPS.
- WORKING WITH DJs (GET ONE). It’s almost as if some of these so called rappers forget DJs exist until that “should’ve had a V8” moment when they’re on stage looking like someone stole their bike, because the DJ didn’t know when to properly transfer to the next song. DJs are CRITICALLY CRUICIAL to Hip-hop and we wouldn’t have the culture without them. As a rapper, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be acquainted with DJs, as you need them to break your music anyways, right? No excuses. Whether you’re new, haven’t proven yourself to a specific set of DJs, or can’t afford someone… With the advent of CDJs, Serato and the like, there are a great deal of start-up DJs on the same tier as you who need the opportunity to spread their wings, as well. So, no excuse. EVEN STILL, there’s DJs at the weekly/semi/monthly/open mic that you go to. BUILD WITH THEM. If you still can’t manage to do anything to forge a relationship with a reliable DJ.. you’re still performing at a show Here are a few tips for building with DJs at shows:
- Send them the music prior. This will give them the time to do everything they need to make sure you’re taken care of and the harmony between you two on stage is as solid as possible (provided you follow the rest of the rules provided in these tips).
- If you cannot give them the music prior, show up early enough in the show to give the DJ time to load up the set music and make sure everything is acoustically even and one track isn’t louder than the next (trust.. more on THAT in a second).
- DO NOT GIVE THEM CDs. I swear , if I were a DJ and you handed me a CD, I’d consider snapping it in half. Why? CDs skip. CDs scratch. CDs warp in the sun. CD players malfunction. Some macs don’t even have CD players. This isn’t the 2000s. When was the last time you burned a CD, anyways??
- BRING FLASH DRIVES INSTEAD. I said DRIVES as in multiple. Always have a backup on deck. Make sure your folder is easy to find and your songs are in order. If you have a laptop, bring It with you in case you need to make last minute adjustments. Seriously.. make sure your songs are in order. You can literally name your songs in the order you’d like.
WORK with your DJ, he or she is your best friend. Never lose your cool on the DJ, your audience is intelligent to know who’s fault it is.. or if it’s anyone’s..
While this is hilarious to watch, I want to remind the viewer that the main culprit in this incident is actually the sun; it’s not your DJ equipment or vinyl’s best friend.
- READ THE CROWD. While you are the “Master of Ceremony” you still must always be mindful of the collective attitude of the crowd. Yes, we have the power to lead them in whatever emotional direction we see fit, through music.. BUT.. you are not GOD. Meaning, if you can’t keep them entertained, they will let you know. If you see more people talking to each other or.. you know.. doing anything in their phone which does not involve taking pictures.. DO SOMETHING. The last thing you want to be is the asshole rapper who thinned the crowd because you couldn’t take a hint. If they start leaving , it’s time to “wrap that shit up, b.” You can solve this by understanding people generally have the attention span of a socially deprived gerbil, myself included. This means we don’t typically want to hear you play the same beat for 4-5 minutes unless you are damn near resurrecting white Jesus AND Marvin Gaye at the same damn time. On a positive note, not every person standing there motionless and staring is disinterested. You could be captivating the hell out of her/him and not even realize it. With me, unless I’m already familiar with the song I like which is currently being played, I tend to concentrate on digesting the lyrics and beat more than I can express it. Basically, learn how to read the crowd and fast, because no crowd is the same (unless you’re only rapping for rappers which applies to a few people reading this, I’m guessing) . ** AGAIN!! DO NOT TALK TRASH TO THE CROWD!!! EVER!!! **
You know, I can’t even front.. although the absolute antithesis of “lyricist” (nicely), watching culture appropriator and “whitest mantan alive”, Stitches, throw fake cocaine at a crowd of ex juggalos and college drop outs, who smell like what I’d assume to be the guest bathroom of the Sausage Castle… is far more entertaining than witnessing 35 year old local backpack Nazis fumble through lyrics as if auditioning for the role of a drunken auctioneer. So, here’s the former:
- NEVER APOLOGIZE. Nothing is your fault. Even if it is. You are a beacon of a confidence on stage. The last thing we want to hear is you copout as to why something didn’t go as well as you intended. Do not admit to ANYTHING.. Nobody cares if:
- You’re “new”
- “You forgot your lyrics” ( gthoh )
- “This is your first time performing this song”. ( No, we won’t give you a pass for forgetting )
- You loaded the actual song on accident instead of the show mix. (Seen it. Done it. Play it off.)
- “You’re sick.” ( J Dilla and Pun removed every single excuse ya’ll could EVER have. Get out there and rock. If you voice works, you can perform. )
- LEARN HOW TO FREESTYLE EXCEPTIONALLY. Why do you even rap if you cannot freestyle? You’re useless. Go home. There are a multitude of reasons why you must know how to freestyle. What if you forget your lyrics? What are you going to do, not rap that part of the song??? NO!!! You FREESTYLE! Save yourself!! Don’t be that asshole who flashes that embarrassed grin because you forgot a part of the song and don’t know what to do. Freestyling gives your show equilibrium. If you fall off, the innate ability to freestyle will save you. Seriously. Don’t look like an amateur because you don’t know how to create lyrics on the spot.
Don’t be like this guy…. C’mon bro.. on SWAY’s show?? You knew better. Below AVErage..
- MIC CONRTOL – DON’T CUFF THE MIC!!! This means don’t cover the mic with your hands. Don’t “funnel” the mic with your hand. You know improper usage of microphones is at epidemic levels when there is an actual eHOW instruction manual on how not to sound like you’re yelling through a cheap motel wall.. You’re not “cancelling the outside sound”, you’re distorting your voice and sounding like you’re imitating a kidnapped rapper.. which you probably should be, at this point. Make sure the microphone is close enough to your mouth to be able to capture your words. If you have to project a little higher than you feel comfortable, that may mean your sound isn’t on point from the soundman’s perspective. Which leads me to another point..
- SOUNDCHECK – SOUNDMAN . What the hell..? Why is this still an issue. Even on the road, I’ve noticed a LOT of folks still don’t soundcheck. Why? Seriously, the first thing you need to do is locate the soundman and establish communication with them. Respect them, as they can either help or hinder your performance inadvertently or purposely. Soundcheck your set and make sure your levels are up to par. How do you expect to win? Preparation is half the battle. Make sure you do your best to build a relationship with the soundman.. he is the Alfred to your Batman. Even though I’m Batman.. but that is a whole other conversation.
- SHOW MIX QUALITY. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t include this earlier on. All three of these last points tie in to each other. This can make or break you, seriously. From experience, most DJs prefer 320k MP3s. Itunes allows you to convert files. You’re welcome.
- KEEP YOUR BOYS OFF THE STAGE!!! Seriously, it’s a cliché , at this point. Why the hell do you have your boys on stage with you?? What purpose does that serve? I’m not a fan of hype men but I GET IT. Multiple people, though? Get all of those fools off stage and place them in the crowd or backstage where they belong. It’s insulting. You’re here to push this culture forward through your own art, heart, and soul. Why do you need your entire entourage on stage with you? Everybody jumping around, reciting lyrics out of sync. I don’t care how far back yall go.. they better stay as “far back” from the stage as humanly possible. Be professional. Which leads me to yet ANOTHER point..
- BE PROFESSIONAL. Meaning, be punctual. Be sober. Seriously.. there is no reason why you should ever hit the stage intoxicated. There is plenty of time to have fun afterwards, if you see fit. Trust me, watch how many times you get booked if you show up like Uncle Lush.
Now for a foretelling metaphorical for Rae Sremmurd’s promising career……………………dotdotdotdotdotdotdot
- PAYING TO PLAY. Don’t. Do not. Seriously, I say again: Do. Not. Fucking. Pay. To. Perform. At. A. Show. This includes tickets contractually obligated to you. A promoter’s job is to promote. If they want to throw you a couple tickets to help out?? Cool, you can use that as an opportunity to get some merch out by pairing it with tickets and “marketing” your show. But being forced to sell tickets is wack and counterintuitive to the concept of building a bigger audience for both the venue and the artists of course. A lot of the times, it’s due to the promoter attempting to get reimbursement for booking a high-profile act and/or cover the venue bill. Typically, the artists who subject themselves to these promotional tactics are creatively and professionally inexperienced acts, which shows through their performances and overall negligence. Here are some negative effects of pay-to-play:
- Due to the promoter booking a high amount of openers in order to cover the costs, the fans are forced to sit through low quality music, which often does not fall within the same subgenre as the headlining act ( trap rap at a Dwele show? I’ve seen it. ) . Think of it like this, most individuals go to shows to see the headliner; you already have the odds against you, from the beginning. Making a “first” impression is that much harder. So, when you’re on a pay-to-play showcase with six other acts including J-Twist Da Trappa Keepa, Lil Big Homie, and some wannabe backpacker who thinks “cramming a bunch of nonsensical words and cliché punchlines together equals lyricism”….. you can see how it’s easy to get lost in the minds of the audience. You literally just paid $250 in tickets to piss off an already impatient audience.
- The Audience becomes progressively more cynical and less receptive to inviting new artists into their hearts as time goes on. Fans used to come to shows for the overall experience, now it’s specifically for the headliner, as evidenced by how late the general audience member typically arrives. I know because I’m occasionally one of them and you probably are, too. Can’t tell you how many times I arrived late out of wanting to miss the horrific opening acts who put their 9-5 paycheck on the line in order to say they “opened” for a headliner who most likely won’t build with them outside of a quick photo. A lot of people aren’t willing to invest $20/head at the door to have to sit through terrible openers. The side effect is the general populace stops placing importance in non-major hip hop events and your scene’s progression is stunted.
There are countless other reasons, but those are the two most important, to me. Basically, you’re running in place by investing your time and energy into pay-to-play situations. Those are quick-buck, pyramid schemes that only benefit the pockets of the promoter. Build with ethically grounded promoters who are in the music business for the long haul. They typically book high quality acts who compliment the creative direction of the headliner. You may have to show and prove in order to get on the bill, but the respect and access to a wider audience is beyond worth it. Keep it Hip-Hop, don’t be a corner-cutting asshole, pay in DUES not dough.
- USE THE STAGE AS A PODIUM: You are there to perform, add to the creative element of the show, and most importantly, build a fan base. What good is your hard work and effort if they don’t know how to reach you, afterward? If you have a memorable web address or social media name, find creative ways to disseminate that information to the crowd during your performance. You want to build a reputation with the audience so your next venture out to that area is even more successful and lucrative.
and lastly, but not least..
- GIVE IT YOUR ALL: Every performance should be the best show, yet. Push yourself to the limit. Channel as much of your energy as you can find within. No matter what, never feel like you’re going through the motions. You can gauge the effort an emcee conveys by the amount of sweat he or she is covered in, after each performance. You go out there and you die on stage. These people place their trust and creative subconscious on your connection to music. Do not provide them anything less than the best experience, ever.
And there you have it, The MC Manifesto. If you follow all of these steps, you’ll be on the path to becoming a better master of ceremony. Sure, there’s other aspects such as merchandise, booking shows, tours, etc. But this is mainly solely about rocking the mic. Maybe I’ll come back through with advice on moving around the country. Until then, let’s leave off, here.
If there are any particulars you feel I may have missed or anything you may want to touch on, feel free to comment below.
Alright RoQ Riffs, until next time and live from the cave,
“The Culture Is Back”