Hip Hop Indie Tips: Syllables and Stressed Syllables

- How Flow Works -

Lyrics are broken up into syllables, which are single units of sound. Breaking lyrics down into syllables, rather than just words and sentences, helps us look at flow in a lot more aspects. In the same Pharcyde example from the track “Drop,” some of the shorter words are made up of only one sound—for instance, “let,” “me,” and “freak”— so each one is considered a single syllable. Longer words may consist of more than one sound, in which case they are split up into separate syllables. For example,

the word “obsolete” consists of three sounds: “ob-,” “-so-,” and “-late.”

Each separate sound is its own syllable: “ob-” is a syllable, “-so-” is a syllable, and “-let” is a syllable.

So if we take a second and analyze the second line of the song, we can see that it is made up of twelve syllables:

  1. more junk than
  2. Sanford sells
  3. I jet pro- 
  4. pel at a . . .

The syllables are “more,” “junk,” “than,” “San-,” “-ford,” “sells,” “I,” “jet,” “pro-,” “-pel,” “at,” and “a.”

Stress is the emphasis put on particular syllables. Syllables are stressed by saying them slightly louder and/or longer, making them more distinct. In normal speech, we stress certain syllables naturally, depending on our accents and personal preferences. For example, when speaking, we would probably stress part of the Pharcyde lyric in the following way:

obsolete is the punk that talks more junk than Sanford sells

The syllables “-lete,” “punk,” “talks,” “junk,” “San-,” and “sells” would be stressed. However, in a hip-hop song, different syllables than normal may need to be stressed to keep the lyrics in time with the beat.

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