Rhymes are perfect, or ‘true’, when they have the exact same sound at the end – like round/sound, fine/line, game/same, etc.
Anything else you might traditionally call a rhyme would be a ‘false’, or imperfect, rhyme. That’s where the vowel sound is the same or similar, but the following consonant isn’t exactly the same… like round/town, line/time, game/sane, etc. These kind of rhymes have been in common use for so long that in most cases they’ve come to be viewed as the same as ‘perfect’ ones.
False rhymes like the ones above used to be as far out as lyricists went… and the purists didn’t even stray that far from perfect rhymes.
Times have changed. In the last few decades, the explosion in rhyming virtuosity of some Hip Hop artists, mostly rappers, has totally changed the conventional wisdom regarding what is or isn’t a rhyme.
Yes, this has opened the door to a lot of lazy rhyming – “if a great rapper can rhyme almost anything six ways to Sunday, why can’t I get away with this here shitty rhyme?”. But it’s also blown open the doors of rhyming possibility.
If you’ve read this far, you probably care about this whole rhyming thing, so I ask you to keep something in mind.
For a very long time, strict rhyming wasn’t just an option, it was a necessity. If you were a traveling Poet (poets used to sing way back in the day) wandering through Olde England, your audience had to be able to hear, understand, and remember what you were singing right away. If you were a bard learning a new poem/song from another poet who was passing through town, you needed the rhymes to remember the song (one of rhyme’s main functions being that it makes things easier to remember – see ’If the glove fits, you must acquit’ [Imperfect rhyme]).
Similarly, for much of the 20th century, hit songs came from Broadway shows. Singers in those shows had to deliver the songs to a thousand audience members… and they had no microphones or P.A. If things didn’t rhyme beautifully, forget it! Without the guidance and utility of predictable rhymes, no one would understand a thing, they wouldn’t ‘get it’…the listener would be be lost in the first few lines. This is where, in the American tradition, the necessity of the perfect rhyme was forged.
That’s all gone now. Even in Broadway shows – where a hit song is rare – every vocalist has a loud microphone. You can understand every word with no trouble. And on recordings the mixer can turn up the voice as loud as they want or need to.
Don’t get me wrong, in these situations, as in all songwriting, traditional rhyming is still extremely useful in many ways. But you just don’t need it like you used to.
So, without strict rhyming being an absolute necessity, it became almost inevitable that things would loosen up, setting the stage for the geniuses and charlatans of modern rhyming… which is kind of a Wild West, Anything Goes world. It’s pretty exciting.
It’s always been a songwriting truism that you can’t rhyme the word ‘Orange’. Said Eminem (one of the rhyme geniuses): “People say that the word Orange doesn’t rhyme with anything and that kind of pisses me off, because I can think of a lot of things that rhyme with Orange. You could say, I put my Orange – Four Inch – Door Hinge – in Storage – and ate Porridge – with Ge-orge…”
He also said, “Don’t rhyme words. Make words rhyme.”
Think about it.
Let me know your thoughts, additions, disagreements in the Comments section below: