Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hip Hop Onomatopeias

I'm not sure when rappers decided seeing their name in the credits wasn't satisfying anymore, but my best guess is sometime around 2009, or when the king of hip-hop onomatopeias himself, Gucci Mane arrived on the scene. His music was equally playful and bizarre, with a healthy dose of danger for good measure, but what kept his music fun were his hilarious sound effects that ended every verse and filled every gap in the beat. Never one for discretion, Gucci had no less than THREE sounds that he dispensed with ruthless precision. There was the declarative "BRR!" that announced his presence, in case the listener was unaware, the affirmative "S'gucci!" (an assumed contraction of "It's Gucci!") to confirm what you had already suspected, and finally, the concilliatory "Aye", a goofy shoulder-shrug to explain away everything that preceded it. These days, EVERYONE has a trademark sound effect that they sprinkle on everything they touch, a little rap fairy dust to make the song a hit. These effects range from endearing to obnoxious, but trust me, they are all completely unnecessary. For your reading pleasure, I've organized them into categories so you can identify these artists by their alter egos.
Sounds: "Huh" "Yeah" Assorted near-grunts
Example: Mr. Lover

I guess if we're splitting hairs, Shaggy might be the first one to do this with these sounds you can only make by clenching your buttcheeks (try it, you'll see) but he is neither relevant nor a rapper so I'm not about to give him credit for anything.

Sounds: Heavy breathing, strange gasps, generic "Ungh"
Example: Otis

Jay-Z has been around long enough to know when something is a passing fad (hello Autotune) or worthy of his attention, but even HOVA himself can't help but get in on the sound effect action. Jay-Z's delivery has always been breathless, like he just ran 12 blocks to deliver this verse, but in recent years he's sounded even more out of breath, and he's developed a strange "GASP!" that he drops randomly like he just woke up from a bad dream. Of course he still has his tried and true "ungh" to fall back in a pinch.

Lil Wayne
Sounds: Lighter spark, random laughter
Example: Entire "Sorry 4 The Wait" mixtape

Lil Wayne is deranged. In the best possible way. He has the most fun of any rapper, from skateboarding until 4AM after shows or spending absurd amount of money on a diamond encrusted grill to showcase his winning smile. It only makes sense that his sound effect share his sense of humor. Nearly every song he releases opens with the spark of a light and Mr. Carter taking a deep breath of "something", followed by a few unintelligible mumbles and his first verse. Inside the verses themselves, Wayne giggles and chuckles yet somehow manages to stay on the beat, and once his verses are complete, he unleashes a maniacal laugh of a mental patient. It would be troubling if it weren't so fun.


Kanye West
Sound: "Eh?"
Example: Who Gon Stop Me?

Since Kanye emerged from the Taylor Swift controversy, he has had a swagger that is unmatched in hip-hop, which is saying something. He has always had an edge to him, but on Watch the Throne, he ends almost every verse with an "Eh?", sounding a lot like the meow of a confused cat, but also like something Maximus would say.

Rick Ross
Sound: The bark of an obese dog
Example: John

Rick Ross is a big guy, I don't think anyone will argue that, but he doesn't need to make it THAT easy. His trademark is a bark. The deep, hearty woof of a morbidly obese dog waiting for his dinner. Perhaps this is an apt sound for Ross, since he just spent a music video in a wheelchair and had two strokes on a flight, but to my ears it is a cry for help. That doesn't mean I'm not terrified of him.


Pusha T
Sound: "Yeccghh"
Example: Any song from the past two years

Pusha T is half of Clipse. Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you, but it does to me. It mostly means he doesn't need to prove anything to anyone. Especially with something as annoying as his sound effect of choice, an obnoxious "YECCGHH" that is distracting. No one wants to visualize someone retching over a toilet in the middle of a song. He's been hanging out with Kanye lately, so maybe he put him up to it, but he needs to stay strong and stick to rapping.

Sound: "He-heh!"
Example: It's Good

I had a hard time spelling out Jadakiss' phrase, not because I couldn't remember it but because it is so obnoxious I can't bring myself to listen to it and figure out exactly how to spell it phonetically. Imagine if the Wicked Witch of the West sucked on a helium balloon and then was tickled. That's pretty much what you can expect. I've never been a fan of Jadakiss, and his recent output has not endeared him any further, with his  raspy cackle and moronic verses. Rappers don't retire (See Jay-Z), but Jadakiss should make an exception and hang it up.


  1. MD,
    If there's one thing I remember from 10th grade english's that there are few words that have 4 vowels in a row: onomatopoeia. If I spent 10th grade studying like you, I wouldn't remember such minute details either. FYI - The rest of 10th grade was the start of many years of chemistry lab antics...and part of the reason you know what acetone feels like on your face.

  2. Here's a good site that catalogs some familiar catchphrases: