If you listen to mainstream music these days, you know this rap flow. If you love it, you’re in luck – It’s probably not going to go away anytime soon. If you hate it, I’m sorry. But, hey, you have something in common with Snoop Dogg now. Everybody tryin to rap the same style. I don’t know who created it if it was Future or Migos but all them ni**s sound the same. That rapid fire style of rap has been dubbed the “Migos Flow” even the “Versace Flow.” It’s come to define mainstream artists in recent years. But the musical principle that drives that flow — the triplet – It’s been around forever.
In 2013 Migos, the Atlanta rap trio – released a song called “Versace” I’m just gonna pause that for a second. Drake loved it so much, he freestyled over it. and it blew up. You can’t deny “Versace.” Like my grandma would walk around singing Versace and she didn’t even know the words of the song or what it’s about but the hook is so catchy that’s how big of a song it was. That’s Justin Hunte you might know him as the former editor in chief of Hip Hop DX. He covers hip hop trends and news on his own youtube channel. you have like a lot of forces that just sort of combine at the right time for that flow to finally to make it to prominence even though its origins have been around for a while. Triplets are a standard in musical composition. They occur when you divide one beat into three notes instead of their usual two or four. Recognize this? That’s probably the most famous measure with triplets. But they go back even further. These are types of rhythms that have been at the foundation of cultures where hip hop came from in the first place.
It’s African rhythms and so that’s as old as the equator. In rap, triplets work the same way. Just take a listen to Young Thug’s “Get High” featuring Snoop Dogg. Now, compare that to earlier in the song where there are no triplets. And you start to hear the difference. It’s hard to say exactly when the first triplet was rapped, but a lot of people point to Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” as one of the earliest examples. Another track with triplets from 1987? The Dismasters’ “Small Time Hustler.” Triplets existed during the east coast / west coast era of hip hop, but they didn’t define those artists.
They emerged out of the midwest and south when those communities started developing their own style. Like that whole Ohio down to Tennessee corridor. There was a lot of stylistic similarities to a few of the different artists. Listen to Krayzie Bone verse off of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s debut album. That flow stands in stark contrast to the way Easy-E approached the same beat on that song. And then there’s Three 6 Mafia from Memphis.
I think it’s very difficult to give anyone else credit other than Lord Infamous. Mystic Stylez is a joint that I remember really early. Tommy Wright III – he’s another artist from Memphis as well. He had a song called “Gangsta Forever.” All these artists released their debut albums in the mid ‘90s. And they weren’t just rapping fast, they were manipulating the beat with triplets. So how exactly did they pull it off? You have to look at the structure of the beat.
For triplets to really eventually come and be so famous they needed to steal the show and to steal the show they needed space. That’s Martin Connor. You might remember him from these two videos. So, you can create a hip hop beat in a couple of different ways. This is the beat, and I can interpret this beat in a rap song in two different ways. I can go. Boom, tuh, boom tuh, boom , tuh, boom, tuh. Or I can go like this. Boom, tuh, boom boom, tuh, but my snaps have always come at the same speed, right? But the snare drums? They come half as often giving the rapper more space to play. “Notorious Thugs” illustrates this perfectly. And it’s also one of my favorite songs so I want to talk about it. This instrumental sounds like a slow downtempo beat, that’s because we’re used to hearing the snare on the two and the four. The acutal bpm though is double the speed. Essentially the instrumental beat has two rhythmic lanes for the artist to rap in.
Biggie, Bizzy Bone, Krayzie Bone, they all keep you on your toes by constantly changing those lanes. Because the beat is stretched out and feels slow, they can very naturally divide those notes further into triplets. Let’s switch back to Lord Infamous of Three 6 Mafia. That slow beat allowed him to rap an entire verse in triplets. From the 90s till the mid 2000s southern hip hop artists slowly took over the charts and with that they brought the sound of trap. That stretched out beat is the foundation of that sound but you’ll also hear, a deep 808 kick drum, driving synths, and rapid fire hi-hats that are often programmed in triplet patterns.
Triplets were always in rap. Triplets were waiting for trap music to come along, and then trap music came along and it was just a marriage made in heaven. A song like “Versace” made the sound and rhythmic feel of triplets super catchy. Just listen to how that hook plays back and for those explosive hi-hats. Five years later it’s pretty easy to see why triplets are Migos’ bread and butter. I don’t think Migos trailing off or fall off. I think they have legitimate star power and most importantly I think they put together an incredible album this year. Not only that, they’ve been featured on tracks by some of the biggest artists of today. Triplets aren’t just popular, though. They’re really complex. The triplets sort of challenges the rhythms and the counts that we’re used to. They can rev up the energy of a song almost instantly. Kendrick used them on Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and then five years later on one of the most dramatic moments of DAMN. I got loyalty got royalty inside my DNA. This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.
Chance the Rapper has a similar dramatic transition to triplets on the opening track of Coloring Book When he starts flowing in triplets there are no base kicks there are no snares. So what does Chance do, but he makes the triplet the manifestation of the beat. These are two of the biggest artists outside of the south using triplets. They’re no longer a niche southern style. They’ve been the dominating sound of hip hop for over five years now. Now, when a rapper uses that rhythm they’re tapping into this great collective artistic movement. So Snoop’s not entirely wrong That’s what’s wrong right now everybody try to rap the same. I don’t know who created it if it was Future or Migos but all them ni**s sound the same. But he kinda misses the point. The fact that triplets are super popular now shouldn’t undermine the fact that they’re actually a really powerful rhythmic tool that’s been around for a long time..