How to Be a Rapper Part 1: Building on the Basics
For a few decades, hip-hop was the coolest new genre in music, and for many years it steadily grew in popularity.
Now, it has overtaken every other style of music and become the biggest genre in the U.S. in terms of consumption, and it isn’t slowing down. In fact, every year, hip-hop takes a larger share of the market, and the giants of the field break more records, release more music, and dominate the industry in ways even the biggest and brightest who came before them never could have imagined.
It would have been difficult to predict this relatively new style of music would enjoy such a meteoric rise, but it’s here now, and it’s not going anywhere.
With hip-hop becoming increasingly more important to the music industry and American culture, there are thousands, potentially even millions of men and women who want to be rappers, but how does one actually do that?
There must be an incredible number of people right now searching “how to be a rapper,” and there could be nearly as many people hoping to answer them. This article on how to be a rapper will actually be split into two sections, so as to flesh out the steps and provide the response that will hopefully help the largest amount of people.
If you have had even one thought of making rap music, chances are it’s because you’ve been listening to the genre for a long time. You likely already know that world, and you have your favorite songs, albums, and artists. You know their lyrics backward and sideways, but if you’re going to become an artist yourself, you need to listen to so much more than just your all-time faves.
Great musicians are always listening to music, and they don’t limit themselves to just one kind or just those artists, songs, and albums they already know and love. Before you even begin writing or recording, you should take some time to do some research and listen to as much music as you can. Go back in history and press play on those who pioneered hip-hop. Stream some of the most successful acts to ever enter the rap game. Scour blogs and streaming playlists for the newcomers who are about to blow. Try new things from different parts of the world and other eras.
While the music is playing, don’t just listen, listen critically. Think about what makes their songs stand out, their albums sell so well, and for those who have managed to withstand the test of time, consider why they were able to keep their successful run going for so long. For those who are just rising in the ranks, compare their work to those who came before and see if you can identify what makes their tunes so special.
What does studying the English language and rapping have in common? A lot, it turns out.
Sure, there have been plenty of artists who have scored a hit or made a name for themselves simply by spitting lines that sound like what the world has heard before, but they don’t end up being the ones people remember years later, and it’s actually pretty rare they end up being more than just a flash in the pan. If you want to be the type of musician who rises to the top, earns critical acclaim, and who pushes the genre to different places and breaks new ground with your art, you’re going to have to pick up a book as well.
Reading is a fantastic way to expand your mind in many ways, and believe it or not, it can absolutely make you a better rapper. I’m not necessarily suggesting you need to start picking up copies of Proust and memorizing Shakespeare, but you have a lot to learn if you want your rhymes to be top-notch.
When you’re thinking of what to say in your songs, find ways to phrase things in fresh and interesting ways. Use a thesaurus to change up words and use a rhyming dictionary to see what else would fit in certain parts of the track. Also, there are countless references, phrases, quotes, and lines from movies, TV shows, books, history, and so forth that can all fit into your art, even if you never considered doing such a thing. Some of the best of all time, like Jay-Z, Kendrick, and Kanye West, all sprinkle references into their verses all the time, and the more you read, watch, and listen, the more you can uncover, eventually understanding everything they’re talking about. Only then can you totally understand their genius…which is something you will want to incorporate into your own art.
Writing is one of the most enjoyable and experimental parts of being a rapper, while simultaneously also being one of the most hectic, chaotic, and difficult. At times it’s perfectly organized and it all goes to plan, while at other times (perhaps most of the time), it’s a total mess.
Writing also isn’t something a rapper starts for a short time and then stops, as most hip-hop artists are always putting out new music, both on their own and as a featured guest on other people’s cuts. Some artists say they are now “writing for their next album,” but the best songwriters in any genre are always keeping track of their thoughts, which is what you should be doing as well.
Some people think writing is just sitting down, putting pen to paper, and ending up with a fully-formed product just a short time later. Truthfully, this is not how things actually work out most of the time. Sure, inspiration can strike and there have been many hits that have come together in only a matter of minutes, but that’s not something you should count on…at least not at the outset of your career.
All day, every day, you should be jotting down thoughts, words, phrases, rhymes, puns, references, parts of other songs you want to bring up in your own work, and a million other different things that catch your ears and eyes. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and as you continue to write, you’ll realize how to turn anything into lines you can spit.
While it’s great to keep a notebook (or a note in your phone, but there’s still nothing like keeping it old school and scribbling brilliance furiously onto actual paper) with you for those helpful spurts of inspiration, setting aside time to sit down and do nothing but flesh out ideas is also something you’re going to need to get into the habit of doing. You can do this entirely on your own (which is probably best at the beginning), or with other songwriters, and it doesn’t matter where or when you make the time, as long as it happens.
Come Up With A Name
Many rappers don’t record and release music under their actual names, instead choosing to go by some kind of stage name. Many artists in all genres do the same, but the practice is particularly prevalent in the hip-hop world, and it’s something you should probably think about doing as well.
Don’t choose the first name that comes to mind and run with it, though–take your time! There’s no need to rush when it comes to the moniker you may end up using for decades to come (you never know), so make sure you think things through and choose very, very carefully.
The name you select for your professional rap career should have some sort of meaning, as it’s what people will be calling you for a long time. It should be catchy, it should stand out, and it should work with the music you’re making. While it might seem cool to adhere to a trend in the hip-hop world, you want to rise above the rest, and you never want someone to confuse you with another artist, especially over something as important as a name. There are already so many people rapping whose names begin with the words “lil” (Lil Wayne, Lil Baby, Lil Jon, etc.) and “young” (Young Thug, Young Jeezy, the group Young Money), so you should avoid those. Examples of names unlike many others out there include Chance the Rapper, Eminem, and Post Malone (though that’s not a comment on his music).
Start Making Connections
Before you even have a body of work people are listening to and talking about (or perhaps even before you’ve released your first song), meeting people in the industry can be very difficult, but it’s also something that pays off handsomely if you can manage it. I’m not suggesting you need to become friends with Jay-Z (though if you can, go for it!), but it’s in your best interest to start learning the names and faces of the people who have already risen the ranks in the hip-hop space, and then to find ways to be face-to-face with them.
These people can be artists, Songwriters, Producers, Videographers, Promoters, DJs…anyone who is already involved in the field of music you want to make your living in is a good person to know, and you shouldn’t be too picky when you’re launching your career. Meet everyone, make an impression, and continue to connect with them on all forms of social media. These people will help you learn, help you grow, help you meet other people who might be valuable to your career one day, and they may even be able to lift you and your art to new heights.
Focus on making friendships instead of just collecting business cards and this will be a wholly enjoyable experience, as opposed to a chore that comes with your job.
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