Is It The Beat Or The Lyrics?


Words by Tony Grands

It’s a very simple question with a not so simple answer; what’s more important, the beat or the lyrics?

My memories of early day rap music fandom are filled with me reciting Ice Cube, BDK, Slick Rick, to name a few, on the school bus stop. Or in class. Or at home. There were very few times when I wasn’t bumping something fresh. The only producer I was extremely familiar with was Marley Marl, & besides, all I really cared about was what the rapper had to say to me. The beat was merely there to accompany the words as the wafted & bounced accordingly.

My attitude changed when I got a car though. All of a sudden, the 808 became much more tangible & necessary than the lyrics being applied. & it wasn’t that they no longer were an integral part of the song, but without the soothing privacy of a set of headphones, the words lost their power. Meanwhile, the louder the clap, the deeper the sub, the more awesome the song. Backpack anthems bacame rider music in a matter of one summer.

My attitude changed again when I moved out of my parents’ house, got a little older, & began collecting the life experience that would ultimately dictate what music works best for me. Also around this time, I stopped taking part in “best rapper discussions,” mostly because I concluded that no such one person will ever exist (although depending on your argument & vantage point, it’ll eventually be Shawn Carter).

After so many years of listening to rap music, it takes a lot for a specific song to perk my ears. But when the smoke clears, the beat is the first thing I notice. Without the proper musical introduction, the first two bars of lyrics (which are arguably the most important part of the song) may not even get a chance to make an appearance. Look around & notice the resurgence of the producer. This is a direct clue that other fans, listeners, haters, & “the industry” feel somewhat similarly.

Ultimately, it’s the convolution of both entities – beat & lyrics – that make the song what it is, but if I have to pick the one part with more authority, I’d have to say the it’s beat.

Words by Tony Grands


9 comments on “Is It The Beat Or The Lyrics?

  1. markdub7 says:

    I can relate to this post. I was a musician in my formative years, so early on, it was about the beats. But I then encountered wordsmiths who could paint so vivid a picture that I’d be left in awe, and I could no longer enjoy sub-par/inept lyricism. Now, I search for the magic mixture of both. Cats like Big KRIT an J. Cole give you dope offerings of both mixed with their music.


  2. You said it all in the third paragraph. Depends on if the music is in my headphones or in the car. I will listen to music in the car I am embarrassed about because the beat knocks. For example

    A dope beat can make the silliest song get played over and over. Therefore the beat is more important.


  3. Phlip says:

    I agree, the specifics are most related to where I am listening.
    A good friend was allowed use of my computer a couple months ago to see if I had an album he wanted buried in that 2TB cave of mine.

    “damn dude, I would have never thought you’d have THAT, even on your computer!”
    “downloaded it, shit it knocks in the car”

    He understood and we moved on. What I have on my iPod, though, is the collection of things I can enjoy for the lyrics moreso than the musical accompaniment. At that time, it is about keeping me properly occupied to not crucify a coworker.


  4. Soulrise says:

    When it comes down to it, there are way more songs with knockin ass beats and mediocre raps that I enjoy than songs with incredible MC performances and mediocre beats. Beats win.


  5. Capital G says:

    Gza’s Liquid Swords: best of both worlds.


  6. realnagan says:

    Cap is right on the money with Liquid Swords, most of that Wu shit at the time was dope as hell. Great mixes of the 2 disciplines.

    Personally, beats win for me if i had to choose. Love me some awesome lyrics and clever word play to death. But i listen to a whole lot of sub genre’s of Hip Hop frpm around the world. Some cats just sound dope even if i can’t tell what they are even rapping about. English (from actual England) rappers i can’t make heads or tails of some verses due to accent , but the beat and how the actual rapper rides the beat, gets my damn head nodding. Same with some non-english speaking rappers, they could be rapping Kill Whitey, and about unmentionable acts involving my mother, a camel and a swimming pool of jelly, but i nod my head anyways to the beat and the human voice used as an instrument.

    Like i said if i had to choose… lol


  7. Loki says:

    For me its all mood dependent, and yea its usually beat, but if i’m able to hear the lyrics and they don’t interest me, then i turn that shit off, dumb lyrics drive me insane. Thats what my torture would be if i lived in 1984


  8. Curtis75Black says:

    Coming from listening to R&B to Hip Hop, both still comes into play for me. The hottest lyrics/song can be outblown by weak production. And if the the beat is hot, you’ll be pissed because homie didn’t come with it. Just saying some random shit. Nowadays it truly depends on the mood of the person. Sometimes, you want lyrics other times you pick the track because te best is top notch. Hopefully they go hand & hand.


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