Lesson 41

Recording Rap Vocals

Lesson 3.6 covers recording vocals for all styles, including rap. This lesson goes a little further on some techniques that apply uniquely to rap, that help give it a more energetic feel. Here’s the cheat sheet. Write these things on a sticky note that you can see whenever you have a rapper in the studio.

1- lead vocals
2- lead vocal doubles
3- emphasis
4- harmonies 
5- ad libs

1- lead vocals.
I think this is pretty straight forward. It’s the main vocal line. I recommend getting a few takes of the entire song, non stop, from start to finish. There will be mistakes, and that’s fine, we’ll get those spots.
Since rapping often squeezes a lot of words into a short amount of time, pausing to breath can often be an issue. What I like to do when the artist runs out of breath, instead of having an in natural pause, I simply do separate takes. In instances where it’s the end of a line, quick breath, then beginning of a new line, I’ll sometimes let the end of the line end naturally, and the next line starts on top of it.

2- Lead vocal doubles
This is a replica of the lead vocals. If you did several takes of the lead vocals, you’ll want to use the best take for the lead, and the second best take for the doubles. The doubles need to be exactly on time with the lead. If the lead vocals consist of multiple takes, be careful not to accidentally use the same take for the doubles, it must be a different performance. For this reason, I prefer to simply do a dedicated take just for the doubles.
During mixdown, this gets blended in subtly to add energy. I normally only use it during the chorus.

3- emphasis
This is a track where the artist will only sing the last word or syllable of each line. It adds energy, and emphasizes the meaning of the phrase. It’s a great way of adding power to the verses.

4- harmonies 
In rap, this is not always applicable, but when it is, it can really sound great. Listen to the song, and how the rapping flows with the backing track. Are there any parts of the song where the main lyrics could be sung as harmonies to complement the lead rap track?

5- ad libs
This is the fun part. You’re basically just making a bunch of noises, sounds, grunts, heckles, animal noises... whatever you and the artist can come up with. Get creative with this part, you might be surprised how an unexpected sound used rhythmically can add a great energy to the song.

If you are rapping to a premade backing track, make sure you check out lesson 4.14 on mixing rap vocals to a backing track.