Triplet flow in rap


I don’t know anything about bars, flows, notes or whatever

In: 0

A ‘triplet’ in music is a set of three notes where each subsequent note is slightly shorter than the note before it, and all three notes are played in the span of two ordinary notes. In other words, you might have three notes in the span of a half note, or three notes in the span of a quarter note. It’s up to the musician to time the notes properly to fit.

You’ll want to Google for some examples of triplets in music. It’s much easier to understand when you hear it than when it’s described to you.

Like most popular music in the West, most hip-hop has four beats to the measure. That basically means you can count four taps or pulses before the pattern repeats, usually from the drums. A lot of what happens in the song will be based around that pattern, and there’s a natural “one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four” you can count throughout the song.

A triplet is when you try to jam three quick beats into the space of two beats in the song. Imagine you’re counting “one, two, three, four” and your friend raps “one-two-three-four-five-six” in the same amount of time. The beats don’t all line up, which creates more complicated and interesting rhythms that feel like they’re flowing quickly.

It’s easiest to understand with examples:

Most hip-hop is based on music in 4/4 time, meaning there are 4 quarter notes per measure of music. Counting quarter notes is “1 2 3 4”. Subdividing that into 8th notes, while still counting the quarter notes at the same speed, gives you “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”. Triplets subdivide quarter notes into 3 while still counting the quarter notes at the same speed, so you can count “1 ee uh 2 ee uh 3 ee uh 4 ee uh”.

For singers, percussionists and melody instruments like lead guitar soloists, mixing those rhythmic feels is a great way to build interest and excitement. For listeners, especially people who aren’t familiar with the musical concepts involved, it seems to instantly change the feel of the underlying musical accompaniment and can seem as if the music is speeding up or slowing down even though it isn’t.

If you’re interested in the history of rappers using that particular flow, there is a Vox Earworm video about it that is pretty insightful.