When we talk about the greatest lines in rap history, Big Pun’s bars from his opening verse on Twinz is usually discussed as one of the moments of rap writing sublime. What is it that makes these bars so special?
Dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we know
that we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddily
Well, to me it was never specifically about the rhyming or the performance. The rhyming was good(but not special) and Pun’s performance here, while excellent, was at a energy level he’s matched before and exceeded (You Ain’t a Killer?). No, to me, these bars are amazing because of the limitations he puts on the consonants he’s using. Notice the repetition of M’s, N’s, L’s, R’s and D’s?
Pun is making sure to repeat these particular consonant sounds to create that overall sonically pleasant aesthetic. So, I decided to write a little program to calculate the number of unique consonants relative to the total amount of consonants used. As a number, Pun should display something especially unique in these bars. Does he?
There’s a total of 40 consonants in that bar and 10 unique consonant sounds. Roughly a score of 0.25 in this particular metric. Most other 2-3 bar combinations yield a value around 0.35-0.45.
So, what Pun did IS unique and special. I’ve tried lots of different 2-3 bar combinations and no other line even cracks the 0.30 barrier. If you want to test some bars, I made a little thing here so you guys can test your favorite bars and see how it stacks up to Pun’s score of 0.25.
It’s important to not that the consonants he repeats the most (M-N,L-R,D-T) are all what is called Minimal Pairs. Minimal pairs are very closely related consonant pairs (and if you say it out loud, it’ll be clear why). Maybe this affects the bars above and is important to take into account but for now seems unnecassry seeing as how those bars stand out without any changes to the formula.