In order to be heard over the low-frequency energy of a loud orchestra, opera singers adjust their vocal tracts to increase high-frequency energy around 3,000 Hz (known as a “singer's formant”). In rap music, rhymes often coincide with the beat and thus may be masked by loud, low-frequency percussion events. How do emcees (i.e., rappers) avoid masking of on-beat rhymes? If emcees exploit formant structure, this may be reflected in the distribution of on- and off-beat vowels. To test this prediction, we used a sample of words from the MCFlow rap lyric corpus (Condit-Schultz, 2016). Frequency of occurrence of on- and off-beat words was compared. Each word contained one of eight vowel nuclei; population estimates of each vowel's first and second formant (F1 and F2) frequencies were obtained from an existing source. A bias was observed: vowels with higher F2, which are less likely to be masked by percussion, were favored for on-beat words. Words with lower F2 vowels, which may be masked, were more likely to deviate from the beat. Bias was most evident among rhyming words but persisted for nonrhyming words. These findings imply that emcees use formant structure to implicitly or explicitly target the intelligibility of salient lyric events.

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