Being a rapper has a lot of moving parts. As an artist, they have to sharpen their ear for beats, figure out what they want to rap about, piece together hooks sometimes and, most importantly, find out how they want to flow. The use of flow to deliver bars, from the rhythms to cadences, is the reason why certain rappers are able to stand out amongst the crowd. Having a great flow is the skill that can elevate an average rapper to a highly talented one. If they get lucky, they'll have other artists trying to emulate what they do, and spin it in a totally different way. Modern hip-hop has a lot of distinctive flows within it, including Ski Mask The Slump God, Doja Cat, Playboi Carti, Drake, Young Thug, Nicki Minaj and more.
When it comes to Ski Mask The Slump God, he's been combining zany bars with a versatile flow ever since he dropped his Drown in Designer mixtape in 2016. He speeds up his delivery by adopting a rapid-fire flow, changes the tone of his voice to sound a bit like a cartoon character and puts emphasis on the last line of each bar, punctuating his rhymes.
Drake is a textbook lyricist despite being pigeon-holed as a pop star and singer. Flow-wise, he's done it all, from packing in the syllables on each bar to dragging out the last word of every line to stay on beat. His flows are always intricate, well-thought out, and can get into the pocket of the beat with ease.
For Doja Cat, she's proved that seven years in the game fosters a wealth of flows. Since she's topped the charts as a pop star, it shouldn't be lost on anyone that her roots are ingrained in hip-hop and she flexes flows like a joy ride on a roller coaster. She's acknowledged that Nicki Minaj has influenced her artistry and it's apparent in the character-like deliveries she executes.
Young Thug is more of an experimental rapper, willing to get in the booth and just give it a try with whatever flow he comes up with. He's dropped down to three-word bars and gone crazy, used flows where he stops rapping just a few words in and changes thoughts, and chained together rhyme schemes that no one else can pull off.
Nicki Minaj has a whole lot of kids out here when talking flows. The Queens rapper has solidified her spot as a leader of the pack for her animated flows, inspiring many other women in hip-hop to play with their vocals. She goes from campy to bellicose, excited to eccentric, oftentimes all on one song.
Check the list below for more unique flows.
Ski Mask The Slump God's flows have been compared to that of Busta Rhymes, but he has a style all his own. He can do the tongue-twister style whenever he wants, but he mixes that in with a flow where he stretches out each word he wants you to catch. Ski constructs punchlines with this flow; he also yells like the lead singer of a rock band when he sees fit, all while still rhyming. His early career songs like the classic "Take A Step Back" featuring the late XXXTentacion and "WTF?" illustrate his more scream-filled songs while "Unbothered" feature both the fast flow and Ski drawing out bars and using it to get to the next line. He has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
While she's made a lot of noise with her skills at singing and making pop songs, Doja Cat can really rhyme, bouncing from scheme to scheme and using her breath control to get bars in where most can't. One of her more impressive skills is her ability to use the midpoint of one bar to rhyme right into the next, making her next step unpredictable in almost every verse. It's almost like watching a Slinky roll down some steps—each and every move goes into the next without losing momentum. She doesn't particularly have copycats yet, and it's likely because her technical ability is up there.
For someone who had his breakthrough moment in 2017 with "Magnolia," Playboi Carti has spurred a lot of copycats. Early on, the Atlanta rapper's style was punctuated by short, catchy bars, more aimed at matching the energy of his incredible production, as opposed to being a lyrical maestro. His 2018 project, Die Lit, showcased his style beginning to evolve. What stood the test of time was his "baby voice" flow, something he had been trying out for a while, and it was all over his previously leaked songs. He takes the flow to its peak on "FlatBed Freestyle," the album cut on which he adds Auto-Tune to his voice so high he sounds like a child in the booth. The effect becomes stronger as the song goes on, and he employs a melodic pattern that ebbs and flows like the ocean. Carti was immediately attached to this vocal effect after that and the slight difficulty in understanding what he's saying—he eats his words a bit. This kind of free-flowing, fun-first approach helped make Carti a success, and is emulated to this day.
The thing about Valee is there is no way to tell what kind of flow he's going to use. One thing is for certain: he's usually the only one who can pull it off. He either creates his own pocket by rapping right on top of the drums or he starts to tie together long bars with no pause in between. On "Sketchy," he raps in a way where he catches the cymbals on the beat and never misses. On Z Money's "Two 16's," he draws a straight line through the song and delivers all 16 bars with not one breath. It's almost like he hears a part of the beat that the listener doesn't, but once he catches it, it feels like the correct stylistic decision.
Tyler, The Creator has been playing with flows ever since his Bastard mixtape in 2009. From the chopped and screwed sounds of Wolf Haley—the alter ego he tends to argue with on earlier projects—to the different pitches he dips in and out of while singing and rapping through many of his tracks on Flower Boy, Igor and Call Me If You Get Lost to the witty puns pushed with a quicker flow, he keeps fans engaged from start to finish. You never know which one will pop up next, which makes the Los Angeles-bred rhymer's catalog that much more intriguing with every listen. "Massa," on CMIYGL, finds Tyler's unique twists with his voice, whether it's starting off with a more deadpan effect or elevating a bit the next. "Running Out of Time," an Igor special, highlights more of the magic.
One of the funniest rappers out is Michigan's own YN Jay, who's created his lane by staying true to himself. A personality in the truest sense, YN Jay's verses sound like he's telling a secret in between two bars; every second line hammers home the original idea, usually to a comedic result. Also his ability to rap around the same word over and over while not running out of gas is why he got so popular. The hilarious track "Coochie" featuring Louie Ray is a perfect example of this. In addition to that, Jay tends not to finish his bars, and instead talks to himself like he forgot what the next line is. Sometimes he repeats it and gets the line right, other times he just abandons it and moves on. A smooth way to keep the people wanting more.
The early parts of Young Thug's career were filled with comments about his fashion sense and the emulation of his favorite rapper Lil Wayne, taking the attention away from how quickly he was evolving as an artist. A creative rhymer from the very start, Thug began to pare down some of his eccentricities—such as screeching out bars and randomly breaking out into singing—to focus more on his lyricism and sharper songwriting. The thing about Thug is that he isn't particularly known for any one flow; he can do anything. He's done the triplet flow, rap exactly like Future on "Future Swag," been a rapid punchline rapper, and even used each subsequent bar to unlock the previous as he did on his scene-stealing spot on Drake's "Sacrifices." He has only gotten better with time, and you never know what he's going to do on any song he appears on.
Rising up the charts consistently since her song "Big Ole Freak" blowing up in 2018, Megan Thee Stallion packaged bars, technical skill that improved by the month and an early polish that put her on track for stardom. Her potential has been realized over the last few years, and part of that is due to how she flows. While she has never been silent about her love for the late Pimp C—and borrows from his flow—the Houston native has many of her own deliveries up her sleeve that she has perfected. Houston rap has always been built on a less-rigid, freestyle-driven kind of style, and Meg has that, along with the bounce of legendary New Orleans rappers like Lil Wayne and Juvenile. Plus, Tina Snow has the ability to just start flying downhill and packing in bar after bar as she picks up the pace.
Nicki Minaj's been at this for more than 15 years, but every time she drops a new track or a featured verse, it's like hearing her for the first time all over again. The Queens MC keeps it fresh when it comes to her flows—you never know what you'll get. Sweet like Barbie, calm yet deadly like Queen Sleeze or wild and zany like Roman Zoolanski. A hushed tone here, authoritative and punctuated rhymes there and playful delivery all over. She's had a solid feature run over the last year, with tracks like Sada Baby's "Whole Lotta Choppas (Remix)" showcasing a little bit of everything that Nicki Minaj can do with her flows.
Coming out of seemingly nowhere with last October's "Quicksand," Morray's sound is based within the spiritual world. He has the cadences and rhythm of a choir singer doing a hymn, along with modernized flows, making him a special act in his own right. He can sing well, doing those gospel-like melodies as part of his rhymes, and he can do the AB, AB scheme while lengthening bars to show off how quickly he can rap without running words together. Morray's sense of pace is increidble, and he blends bars together like they are choruses within themselves, making his full songs work harmoniously.
Consisting of Jeezy and DJ, two friends from L.A., BlueBucksClan are one of the most popular new acts out of the West Coast. At their core, DJ and Jeezy are punchline rappers who are both funny and dead serious. They also include equal doses of flexing and obscure sports references in their rhymes. These artists' style is an evolved from of "hashtag rap," in which the bars and the punchline push the listener to make the connection—think Young Money's "Bedrock." Both DJ and Jeezy have similar styles, with each bar standing alone just fine but still moving the song along. Their tendency to describe balling unlike anyone else also helps their music stand out.
Drake has pretty much always had technical skill as a rapper despite receiving a lot of criticism for his songs about women, dating and emotions. He can try on any flow for fun, but his bread and butter is his very matter-of-fact delivery. When he first got his start, that flow than can go from 0 to 100 real quick, helping him sell his young-man-on-the come-up image. Now that he's established, Drizzy delivers frank bars about his incredible mansion and owning cars that barely anyone can purchase. His flows include a lot of internal rhyming, and he has an ability to change directions with ease. This allows the Toronto rhymer to pivot and slow down to fit more bars in, then turn to a completely different rhyme scheme. He does this all over "Lemon Pepper Freestyle" featuring Rick Ross, which is basically a stream-of-consciousness ride through the highs of his day-to-day life.
Boasting one of the most copied flows in rap right now, Lil Baby first gained traction because he was different from the crowd; a straight-forward street rapper who had enough on-mic charisma and upside to garner attention. He can pack on the syllables, effortlessly marry himself to the beat and never let it go. However, what sticks out the most is he gives every bar room to grow. That talent is why "Freestyle" is one of his biggest songs, on which he goes from flow-to-flow and every line grabs the listener; it's because he understands what presence does to a rap song. Baby's sense of melody is also incredible, as he keeps listeners locked in by how catchy his rhyme schemes are.
Branching off of the Young Thug family tree, Gunna uses the triplet flow, but picks up the further he gets into verses, with the rhymes being more difficult to imitate as they go on. He also possesses the ability to break out of the flow and go in to looser flows, from simpler rhyme schemes to stretching out syllables for more memorable lines. For as much as his image is built on being the cool fly guy, Gunna can absolutely go, and this is best illustrated when he rhymes alongside Young Thug, or his Drip Harder brother, Lil Baby.
Earlier on in their career, much was made about the origins of Migos flows. The super rap trio of Offset, Quavo and Takeoff have always tended to rap in the "triplet flow," where each bar is permeated with three syllable words, stretched and bent to stay in the pocket. Of course, this was being used back in Three 6 Mafia's heyday (most notably by late member Lord Infamous), but Migos modernized it, then took off running. All three members use it a little different; Quavo is a litte more light and nimble with it, Offset raps with more urgency and go from cadence to cadence the easiest, and Takeoff is a bit of a marathon man, who can use the flow for a long stretch without losing pace or coming off stale. When you become as successful as the group has been, you influence artists around you; their style has been copied, modified, evolved and spun in a litany of directions since they broke through in 2016.
Becoming a California hip-hop sensation, then an internet darling later due to his unique approach, Drakeo The Ruler is a one of one. He raps like he's doing the listener a favor, mostly laid-back with infectious confidence. Drakeo's flow is almost like he's just talking through a story, but he's never off beat and has a very natural rhythm. He fits a lot of words in each bar, but it never feels like he's forcing them. All of this, plus his turns of phrase that only he uses—calling guns with stocks "Pippi Longstocking" and "Hun-Diddy" meaning 100—lets him get to places within flows that other rappers just can't. His style has begun to travel, as other artists, such as Remble, have modified Drakeo's flow and taken it to a different place.
While other triplet-flow rappers either let their bars connect directly together or slow down so every bar hits, Hoodrich Pablo Juan doesn't even let his rhymes finish before he moves on. His style is known as the "Pablo Juan Flow" and the "DMV Flow"—it's not clear which is the origin was—a series of bars delivered in a staccato style with the every next bar starting before the previous bar even lands. Pablo doesn't usually rap fast, landing in something slightly quicker than a conversational pace, with each bar having the same amount of space between it as two cars parked on a crowded street. The quick moment between each bar is usually filled with an ad-lib, but this doesn't distract from how quickly he loads up the next line.
Another student of the aforementioned triplet flow, DaBaby got hot because he was quite simply one of the best in the world at it. Even early on in his career, he possessed a control over the flow and doesn't let it run him offbeat. All of his bars feed right into each other and his words are very clear, along with his ability to change speeds on a dime. One of the DaBaby's underrated skills is how he lets his lines land, which is perfect because of his sense of humor. DaBaby's use of the flow is very technically sound, and that allows him to end bars and hop right into another cadence within the next few words.