Hate it or love it, rap music has taken over the world. Since the genre emerged in New York City in the 1970s, it has steadily evolved into the 808-heavy, autotuned mumbling that it is today.
Don’t get me wrong. I think this new form of rap music is incredible. I simply say this to illustrate how much the hip-hop genre has changed from the times of nightclub MCs like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa to the new-school artists of today like Migos and Young Thug.
Sure, the depth of lyrical content may have fallen off a bit in the mainstream music of recent years. But I would argue that even the most “ignorant” of rap artists today should still be considered just that: artists.
They’ve created a style that reflects their own realities and, at the same time, made their own unique contribution to the history of music. However, we’re here to talk about one particular aspect of rap music that has become more and more prominent over the life of the art form: the ad-lib.
Yes, the ad-lib existed before rap music was ever a thing. Just take a listen to the music of the late-and-great James Brown. The man’s music was like 99.9% shouting and making strange noises into a microphone and he made it big in the late 1950s.
However, modern rap has taken ad-libbing to an entirely different level. People making bird sounds in the background. Grunts. More grunts. Random words that are completely disconnected to the theme of the song. It’s incredible. On top of that, modern rap has brought us producer watermarks like “METRO BOOMIN WANT SOME MORE!” or, my personal favorite, “DJ SOUR MILK…EW!”
So, in honor of these amazing contributions that rap music has made to the world, here are some of the iconic sounds and ad-libs that have made their way onto the 808s and into our hearts:
That TM88 Kill Bill Noise
Alright, full disclosure, this is the noise that gave me the idea to write this article. I was sitting in a cafe in Panama and I heard this noise on the radio followed by some traditional Panamanian accordion music.
I thought to myself, “Damn. The first time I heard that noise it was in a Young Thug song and now it’s made its way onto Panamanian public radio.” I think that’s a testament to just how large of an impact this short sound byte has had on the music industry worldwide.
Apparently, the idea to use this sound in a rap song was first conceived when TM88 and Southside were hanging out, probably smoking endless Backwoods, and watching the Quentin Tarantino movie Kill Bill.
This noise appears at random times throughout the film, compounding the intensity that Tarantino’s visuals already create. TM88 decided that it would be a good noise to add some drive to his music and the rest is history. The song “Commas” by Future popularized it beyond belief and now it can be heard all around the world, including Panamanian cafes.
There is a hell of a lot of amazing ad-libs in rap music, but perhaps no other ad-lib takes up as much mental real estate as “Skrrrrrrrrttt!” If you make a reckless left turn on a street and narrowly avoid oncoming traffic, if you make a beer pong shot, or if your friend falls while walking up the stairs, what do you yell? “Skrrrrrrttt!” And that’s all thanks to one particularly popular modern artist collectively known as the Migos.
The revolution may have started back in 2016 with the release of the smash hit “Bad and Boujee” that featured the also ad-lib-adept Lil Uzi Vert. This song became so wildly successful that it ended up topping the U.S. Billboard Top 100 and spawning a flurry of memes bearing the words “rain drop, drop top.”
Another major effect of the song’s popularity was the popularization of the “Skrrrrrrtttt!” noise, so much so that Offset actually got his own television show called Skrrt with Offest in which he interviews other rappers and celebrities about their cars. The program features personalities like Lil Yachty, Cardi B, Jay Leno, and Chance the Rapper.
Another artist that has enjoyed quite a few #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 is Travis Scott. In fact, when his single “Franchise” first debuted at number one in 2020, he became the first artist to ever have three singles premiere at number one on the Hot 100 in the same year. Scott’s success is largely due to his lyrical ability and production prowess. However, one can’t discount the importance of his signature ad-lib: “It’s Lit!”
This ad-lib is the perfect match for Travis Scott’s spacey, eerie sonic style with its high pitch and echoing reverberations. Nowadays, this ad-lib has become so big that you can hear people shrieking it at any college party across the continental United States.
Will the popularity of this particular catchphrase fall off after the incident at NRG Park in Houston that resulted in the unfortunate death of eight people? Only time will tell.
At 44 years old, Pusha T has been in the game since 1997 when he linked up with Pharrell Williams and his own brother to create the iconic hip-hop duo Clipse. The Virginia Beach rappers eventually split up and pursued solo careers.
However, one thing has been consistent for Pusha T even from his Clipse days: his signature ad-lib.
Somewhere during the time that Pusha T was developing his distinctive rap style, he became so disgusted with the general filthiness of his lyrics and flow that he actually began saying “Yuck!” in response to his own bars.
Almost every verse that Pusha T offers throughout his career includes at least one “Yuck!” accentuating whatever grimy line he just uttered. However, I have to wonder how exactly this incredible ad-lib came to be. Did Pharrell accidentally record Pusha T just after taking a sip of expired milk and decide it would make a great ad-lib? That’s the story I’d like to believe.
How many DJs have as much global recognition as DJ Khaled? Sure, there are probably some other producers that you know the names of, but none of them enjoy the same celebrity status as DJ Khaled.
Your grandmother and everyone in her book club has probably heard the name DJ Khaled. And why is that? Well, quite simply, because he repeatedly shouts his own name in every one of the songs that he produces.
DJ Khaled’s penchant for shouting his own name is more than just a tick. It’s actually an ingenious marketing tactic that has helped propel him to his current position of international stardom.
If you have a song featuring Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, Snoop Dogg, or T-Pain (all of which DJ Khaled has collaborated with), people are obviously going to listen to it. And what better way to build your brand than to shout your name all over a song that’s going to have millions of listeners.