Flute Rap Songs: The Appearance of the Flute in the Rap Genre
Flute Rap Songs. Whether the rap genre is your cup of tea or not, as a player or fan of the flute, it would be worth noting that the flute has made a bit of a splash on the rap scene.
Now you may know that the flute has been used in various genres, though when many think of the flute, they think of orchestra, band, and solo repertoire. A genre of a classical or western musical art form. Even drifting away from that style, you think of the flute in film scores and jazz music. But its impact in other genres should be explored.
Rap music often has repeating loops or samples that support the lyrics that are being provided by the artist. While the flute is no stranger to being sampled in a rap song, it's popularity shot up in the genre with "Mask Off" by Future.
We are going to take a look at a couple of works that feature a live flute sample. If you go searching for a list of rap songs featuring the flute, you will find many lists, but there are very few of those songs that took the time to sample a live performer. Instead, many rap songs that people indicate as having flute use digital flute patches, producing the sound electronically. I cannot say with certainty that all these songs are live samples, but if they are not, they fooled me too.
Disclaimer: Many of these songs have explicit lyrics, so we will not be providing links to listen to them.
"Mask Off" - Future
The producer for "Mask Off," Metro Boomin, produced a flute sample that is so simple, so hypnotic, that it anchored the entire backing track for Future's performance. The primary phrase is transcribed here:
Its got a very modal sound to it, as the tonic is centered around Eb but refuses to raise the seventh scale degree at the end. You could call it Eb minor but there could also be a case for an Eb Dorian feeling as well.
This song became one of Future's highest charting singles, coming in at number 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 on May 6, 2017. The song was certified seven times platinum due to overwhelming sales and streaming.
The popularity of this song and the realization that the primary sampled sound was the flute did two things. It brought more attention to past rap songs that used the flute, as well as inspired future tracks to have a flute prominence.
Much of the rap music that was inspired by this, when flute and rap became "fashionable" featured digital productions using flute samples, instead of recording a live flute. However, it is worth exploring a couple of older works that had true flute involvement.
"Lollipop" - Snoop Dogg
Release in 2002, Snoop Dogg's "Lollipop" Ft. Jay-Z & Nate Dogg is a much earlier example of utilizing a flute in a rap artist's backing track.
The style of the flute here is more akin to jazz-funk for fusion in the likes of Bobbi Humphrey. There is a bit of fusion with the style as the flute lays out a melody in the moments between verses, but does accent chords in the way you may hear in a jazz standard from the horn section.
This is the first melody presented by the flutists, but since a live performer is recording the sample, it tends to vary slightly in embellishment and rhythmic treatment each time. Again, we have a somewhat minor or modal treatment of the phrase, not uncommon in jazz music or rap music of this style.
"Flute Loop" - Beastie Boys
Want a '90s throwback. Well, here are the Beastie Boys, and, like the song's title, features a flute loop. Again, like in the previous work, the flute is very much used in a jazz fusion style, this time over those very familiar '90s hip-hop beats.
Their music video even shows various clips of a flute player in a concerto hall in front of an orchestra playing, to further add a visual to the audio that the listener is hearing.
"Keep It Rollin'" - A Tribe Called Quest
Another '90s song, a couple of two bar flute phrases were recorded and looped throughout this track. It provides the melodic hook for the backing track, though absent of any protracted melodic line.
It is a really good example of how the instrument could be added as just a unique texture element. Unlike the previous examples, this one feels more in style with the genre and less of an attempt to fuse styles.
While recent songs such as "Mask Off" have made the hypnotic flute melody "trendy," it also expanded the use of flute patches and electronic samples. As we look at songs from past decades, we see a stronger involvement of the flute, from introducing a jazz fusion feel to fully immersed in the idiom.
Next time you find yourself listening to the genre, be on the lookout for the sounds of the flute, either live recordings or electronic patches, as it shows the true universal nature of our instrument.