Metric Ambiguity and Flow in Rap Music: A Corpus-Assisted Study of Outkast's "Mainstream" (1996)

Mitchell Ohriner


Recent years have seen the rise of musical corpus studies, primarily detailing harmonic tendencies of tonal music. This article extends this scholarship by addressing a new genre (rap music) and a new parameter of focus (rhythm). More specifically, I use corpus methods to investigate the relation between metric ambivalence in the instrumental parts of a rap track (i.e., the beat) and an emcee's rap delivery (i.e., the flow). Unlike virtually every other rap track, the instrumental tracks of Outkast's "Mainstream" (1996) simultaneously afford hearing both a four-beat and a three-beat metric cycle. Because three-beat durations between rhymes, phrase endings, and reiterated rhythmic patterns are rare in rap music, an abundance of them within a verse of "Mainstream" suggests that an emcee highlights the three-beat cycle, especially if that emcee is not prone to such durations more generally. Through the construction of three corpora, one representative of the genre as a whole, and two that are artist specific, I show how the emcee T-Mo Goodie's expressive practice highlights the rare three-beat affordances of the track.


corpus studies; rap music; flow; T-Mo Goodie; Outkast

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