If you’ve ever tried to sing along with your favourite song, you might have faced breathing issues. If you’re a vocalist (regardless of the genre), you know what we’re talking about. However, hip-hop is the only genre where you can hear the rapper breathing in between spitting bars. A lot of times this breathing is muted in the mixing stage. In fact, a lot of rappers who spit one-take verses like that raw flavour of vocals. A lot of East-Coast rappers don’t remove their breath sounds.
If you’re a rapper or a vocalist who is trying to study vocal strategies, you’re at the right place. We’re gonna study strategies that some of the best-selling Desi rappers/vocalists use. After all, there is a reason why they sound different, right? So, without any further ado, lets get right into it.
If you’re an intense performer like Raftaar, breathing is gonna be a trouble for you. The reason behind this is his vocal technique. Raftaar uses a lot of growls in his vocals. This growl comes from heavy exhaling pushed by the diaphragm. If you have heard his tracks, you might have noticed his signatures – Raa, R-A-F-T-Double A-R. Try to cover it yourself, you’ll understand what we’re talking about. There’s a lot of vibrations in his vocal style mixed with a lot of lower-ends and bass. Let’s take an example from “Swag Mera Desi“. Notice when Raftaar starts spitting his line “Didi teri bandi meri, tu hai mera saala”, he inhales a lot of air which changes his vocals for a while. His control over exhaling the air while spitting the up-tempo part of the song is audible.
To record his crisp audible verses, Raftaar uses a lot of layers for ad-lib, backings and fillers panned brilliantly in stereo mode. In addition, the second strategy that Raftaar uses brilliantly is stamina. Raftaar is no doubt an intensely charged live performer. Since Raftaar has developed his style of vocals gradually, achieving his kinda control while performing live is difficult.
Stream the audio of “You Don’t Know Me” by Raftaar to notice the layers –
His technique has been a landmark for a variety of desi hip-hop artists. Bohemia has been using a lot of stress in his voice but up to a controllable threshold. Which one is the most iconic song of Bohemia? “Kaali Denali“, c’mon! There should be no second thoughts about that. Anyway, notice how he is continuously switching between a more relaxed voice and a stressed one? It might sound like melody to you but its not. It’s a strategy to get more control over breathing. It kinda starts from the relaxed end and transits into a stressed/higher voice towards the end of each bar. This is the same style which helps him in performing live.
Let’s take another example. The track “Chordo” probably has the maximum number of vocal layers in a Bohemia song. In fact, that’s the best thing about this track as these layers create an ambience. However, a lot of people think that more layers confuses the attention of the listener by shifting it from the main vocals to ad-lib/backings. But the way this track has been engineered is remarkable. Each layer is crisp and doesn’t over-power the other layer. Bohemia used a lot of bass-driven vocals in the hook. However, he consistently switches between a more calm style of vocals and his signature stressed style in the verses. Backings were engineered by removing the bass and adding similar effects to a Telephone Effect. It is audible in the line “Pesa, Nasha, Pyar. I’ve got it all”.
Yo! Yo! Honey Singh
We’re probably talking about THE artist of this decade. Whether you like him or not, he shaped the commercial market and has played a crucial role in bringing pop-rap/club-rap to Bollywood. In fact, Honey Singh studied the western club bangers very closely. He started climbing the hills of success from “Glassy” but it was International Villager which changed his life forever. Initially when Honey was rapping in the Punjabi industry, he was using a lot of bass in his vocals. A major technique that he popularised was stretching the rhymes of a sentence to make it sound slow. He even introduced vocal shift according to the emotion of the track for the desi audience. He started sounding aggressive, emotional, romantic, frustrated etc. according to the requirement of the line and vibe of the song.
Honey is more of a pop icon. Lets focus on the songs that he has sung. His tracks like “Love Dose”, “Desi Kalakaar”, “Brown Rang, “Blue Eyes” and others have a different vocal texture. Almost no bass and balance mid ends. He definitely uses pitch correction but not the electronic type. Its more humanized version of the pitch-correction similar to Melodyne. This gives his song an urban vibe that he talks about but doesn’t sound odd. His voice is almost different when he performs his songs live because of the layers that he uses in a recording. Unfortunately, you can’t perform everything that you dubbed in the studio. Furthermore, his similar style is used by Lil’ Golu. Their way of delivery usually uses a more widely open mouth. This reduces the bass from the vocals a lot.
Listen to “Desi Kalakaar” by Yo! Yo! Honey Singh to notice his vocal shifts properly –
From starting off as Cool Equal to finally becoming Badshah, Aditya Sisodiya is an example of being a self-made guy. His verse in “Soda Whiskey” as Cool Equal took over the UK Bhangra industry. A lot of people didn’t know who the rapper actually was. In all of these years, one thing which remains the same is Badshah’s vocal style. His signature vocal style is laid-back and doesn’t really stress out his throat. In fact, one key feature of his voice is significantly audible when Badshah takes breaths in between his lyrics – how airy his voice gets. “Take Your Sandals Off” was probably the first track which introduced this style of Badshah. A power-packed Haryanvi verse ends on Kya karwakey maanegi and one can notice his style.
He is often considered as a substitute to YYHS but its not appropriate at all. They fall into the same genre but their styles are a lot different from each other. Last week Major Lazer released a track with Badshah and his way of riding a club/EDM beat is definitely not like Honey’s. When Badshah goes hip-hop, he shifts between laid-back and a bit of aggressive style. He literally sets the stage on fire when he performs live but unfortunately he doesn’t sound the same as he does on a recorded track.
Now, this is an interesting one. Many people don’t consider Imran Khan to be hip-hop but then a lot of people do. As a matter of fact, this is the first entry in the list who used auto-tune/pitch correction. Imran Khan is versatile when it comes to composition. In addition, he is a hit-maker. Imran is arguably a hip-hop artist but we’re not here to judge him right now. Imran backs his verses with a melody to make the track more appealing. Let’s take an example of “Hattrick“. The track is in fact very energetic in terms of lyricism and the melody that Imran composed is ear-catching.
If you closely notice, its a hard-verse based on his fame and how people try to jack his signature style. There’s a lot of auto-tune/pitch correction used on the vocals and the lower ends of the vocals are equalized wisely to give a different texture to Imran’s voice. Imran used a similar technique in “Satisfya”. This is the same technique that Haji Springer uses in his songs. Tracks like “Koi Ni Parwah”, “Preet” and others are perfect example from Haji’s discography. Haji chops his flow to give it a break kinda effect. If Haji adds a melody in his consistent flow-driven songs, he’ll sound similar to Imran. He is arguably more hip-hop by the way.
If you remove auto-tune from Imran’s voice, you’ll get his live vocal texture. The reason Imran sounds different when he is performing live is simply because of the absence of auto-tune/pitch correction.
We’re sure that this piece was helpful to you. There’s a piece on its way which will describe these techniques individually and will also discuss some tips to use them properly. How do you like this article? Let us know in the comments down below.