The signature refrains from the artists we all love.
While it may not initially seem like it, the ad lib is one of the most important components in a rap song. These little vocal excerpts that exist in the background of hooks and verses act in the same way that a hype man does on stage. It enhances the beat, it creates hype and it increases energy. All the biggest names in hip-hop come equipped with the most prominent and potent of adlibs, with the noises they make often becoming one of the most memorable parts of a song.
In this piece, we’ve listed some of the rappers that are delivering the best adlibs in the game right now.
This one is a given. One of the most important components in Travis’ rise to stardom is his ability to deliver infectious, high-octane adlibs. Songs like “Antidote” sparked refrains like “it’s lit!”, and you can’t forget the highly quotable “straight up!” that appears as early as his Days Before Rodeo mixtape, and is used consistently throughout his content today. Travis’ adlibs play a mjaor part in why his music is so exhilarating, and why his live show is always mosh-pit ready.
Robb Bank$ is one of the most versatile in the game when it comes to adlibs. Everything from bird chirps to grunts exists in his catalog, with his project Cloverfield 3 getting a lot of its grit from his high-octane “yuh!” refrain. You can hear that Bank$ is aware of the effect of his adlibs as well, often choosing low-key murmurs for his more atmospheric stuff and loud noises for his aggressive cuts.
Key!, much like Robb Bank$, is incredibly underrated when it comes to getting credit for his adlib game (and influence on hip-hop culture in general). His latest project 777 with Kenny Beats is filled with diverse yells and grunts, as well as spawning an incredibly catchy refrain in the form of “open up that mosh-pit” on songs like “Dig It”. And of course, you can’t mention Key! without referencing his prolific “Hello?” adlib. There’s no doubt that Key! will continue to use his adlibs in unique ways to solidify his place as a taste-maker in the underground.
The adlib is often overlooked in the boom-bap category of rap music, but Westside Gunn proves that it can have the same effect in that element as it does in trap. Listening to his Supreme Blientele project, the importance of the gun sound adlibs he creates and the unmissable “ayo!” adds to the gloominess and griminess of the New York drenched hip-hop he makes.
Carti is an adlib expert. On his album Die Lit, Carti uses adlibs like they’re a part of the instrumental. His array of noises act like percussion; they’re fast and rattling like hi-hats, and they do nothing but enhance the experimental vibe that he creates. Carti’s adlibs take the lo-fi, minimalist production of his music into the realms of mainstream hip-hop.
21 Savage’s adlibs often add extra commentary to the grim, realistic paintings of the street life his music creates. His ad-libs often consist of him reiterating a specific part of a bar, while also adding his infamous “21” soundbite to let you know that he’s talking that real shit. 21’s adlibs may not be as energetic or spontaneous as his contemporaries, but goddamn they’re daunting.
Blocboy’s adlibs are a big part of this Memphis rap revival we’re seeing. His “That’s on my momma” refrain add to the humble nature of his demeanor and the homegrown style his music oozes, while his “woah” adlib puts him next to the likes of Lil Uzi Vert when it comes to energy. Even if Blocboy were to stop rapping tomorrow, his unique style of adlibs would live on through the likes of rappers like Lil Yachty, who has inherited the style on songs like “Who Want The Smoke?”