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The Guide to Hip-Hop Hand Gestures
Why don’t you rap for us!”
JP: “Oh, very well.”
Lady: “Oh goody!”
JP: “But hold my martini. I have to do those hand gestures.”
- The Coup, “Pimps”(aka Freestylin at the Fortune 500 Club)
Everybody knows that a rapper without hand gestures is like Swiss cheese without the holes, but you'd be surprised to know that no one has launched a study of hip-hop hand gestures. Until now! Flocabulary's presents the Guide to Hip-Hop Hand Gestures, which is also featured in The Rapper's Handbook: A Guide to Freestyling & Writing Rhymes.
The Mos Def Wave
This is a simple classic that's been used by everyone from Tupac to Big Boi to Mos Def. It's a versatile move, perfect for park bench freestyles (see movie below) and battles.
The arm is lowered but bent at the elbow so that the hand is shoulder height. Your fingers should be extended and pressed together almost like a Miss America wave. Now angle your arm down a little so you don’t look too much like Miss America and shake at the elbow. Works well with a corresponding head shake.
The best emcees add varation by throwing in other moves or by angling their hand farther down. You can flip this one horizontal, almost like you’re scratching a record. It’s all about the rhythm.
Here is Mos Def doing a laid-back version of his hand wave, while freein' in the park, sippin' diet Sprite.
The Slim Shady Chop
Eminem is an emcee who doesn't do too many fancy hand gestures. While his lyrics are complex (see the multis lesson), his hand motions are simple. He holds it down with some basic moves, often rapping with one arm extended far in front of him. He varies it up by throwing his arm in the air, dropping it to his side, swinging it back and forth or doing other moves, but his basic move keeps his arm far out in front.
To do it, extend your arm in front of you so that your elbow is bent just slightly. Your hand can be pointing or with your fingers all flat. Now you have two basic moves. One is a vertical chop, up and down on the beat. The other is to twist your hand in front of your chest and either do something close to the Ninja Star or just throw it back out again quickly.
Because the motions are so dramatic and exaggerated, this one’s good for big jams or battles. I like going from this one into a full arm version of the Mos Def Wave and then back.
The Ninja Star
This is a simple classic that works for diverse styles, but especially for laid-back flows.
Drop your right arm to your side. Turn your palm up towards your face, and open it as if you were about to pitch a softball. Curl your pinky and ring fingers in to your palm, but keep your middle finger, index finger and thumb extended.
As you spit, wag it back and forth. Some rappers keep their arm low, close to their hip, while others bring it up and extend it away from their body. The idea is that as you’re flowing, you kind of look like you’re tossing off ninja stars like that old Sega arcade game Shinobi.
Kweli letting off more ninja stars than the seven samurai while performing Blackstar's "Respiration."
Tonedeff Fast-Finger Piano-Playa
Tonedeff is an emcee with an absurdly fast flow. He uses lots of unique hand gestures and adds lots of variation to match his wild, quick flow. One of his standards is the Fast-Finger Piano-Playa.
Your hand should be in the same position as with the Kweli Finger Wag, with your elbow bent and your hand extended. Instead of wagging, though, make the palm of your hand face the ground (or face front), and now bob your fingers up and down individually. Do this very quickly, as though you were playing a piano while riding a horse. This works best if you shake your hand back and forth sometimes, but then sometimes lift it up and down to the rhythym of your lyrics.
This is a really unique move that might not work for you, but it just shows that good hand gestures are as unique as the emcees who use them.
Tonedeff with those wild finger motions that match his flow like syrup on pancakes.
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