How to Be a Rapper Part 2: Getting Into the Game
It was only a year or two ago that hip-hop overcame rock, pop, and electronic as the predominant genre of music in the United States. Hip-hop is the most-consumed style in the country, and it’s currently taking over the rest of the world as well. There is no slowing it down, and certainly no stopping it now, so of course while there are already many, many big names in the rap world, there are many more who would like their time to shine.
Becoming a musician is incredibly hard, and the hip-hop field is notoriously tough to stand out in, as there are thousands of talented men and women all trying to be heard at the same time. Starting a rap career takes time and money, but making it big is a different story entirely. I wish I could provide you with a roadmap that would take you straight to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts, but such a thing doesn’t exist.
Instead, I can give you some advice in regards to how to become a Rapper in the hopes this answers an oft-asked question. First things first—read part one of this piece, which focuses on the beginning of the beginning. This second installment picks up once you’ve already completed the most basic, introductory steps.
I could have made this a five-part series of articles, but I’ll write solely about the most basic beginning steps every musician needs to take in order to enter the hip-hop space. This is part two of how to be a Rapper.
In order to be good at anything, you need to practice, practice, practice. This sentiment is as true for up-and-coming Rappers as it is for those who want to be athletes, painters, writers, or almost anything. Sure, some people are lucky enough to be born with a God-given skill, but the vast majority of us need to hone our craft for a long time before we’re considered great at it (and even those who start out pretty good need to do the same in order to continue to improve and even just to hold onto their talents).
You’ll find if you do things right, you’ll be practicing all the time, but there are three main times when you should be doing so more than usual.
1. When you’re just starting
Before you’ve even started making a name for yourself as a hip-hop musician, you’ll want to practice—all the time. It may take you months, or perhaps even years of reciting someone else’s rhymes, but if you’re thinking of making your own rap music, chances are you’ve already been doing this in some respect. You should study the legends and learn the words to their songs, then rap their songs over and over again until you know them forwards and backward. This will help you understand what makes them so great, and you’ll get a feel for your breathing, timing, thinking ahead to the next section while not forgetting what you are doing in the moment, and so on.
My suggestion is to buy a mic that comes cheap and set it up at home in order to record your own demos, which will help you hear if you need to tweak rhymes or phrasing. Don’t share these recordings, unless you label them as either demos or a very rough mixtape.
2. Before you go into the studio
Once you’ve finally started writing and recording original music, you’ll want to ensure everything is as good as it can be before you actually put your voice onto a recording. You may be recording everything at home, but to do so and then be able to release your tracks to the public, you’ll need some top-notch equipment, and that can be prohibitively expensive. It’s tough to make an investment like this when you’re first starting out. Chances are, you’ll be paying for a recording studio, and those don’t come cheap. Don’t write a rhyme and head into the booth without practicing it and reworking it dozens of times over. By the time the recording session has started—even just the first take—you should be confident in what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and in what you want the final product to sound like.
3. Before you perform live
This might not be something you need to worry about for a while, but concerts and parties are a big part of any musician’s life and career, and if you’re going to make it, you’ll need to find opportunities to perform live. You need to give every performance your all, which means lots of rehearsing. Just because you’re not playing an actual instrument or belting tunes doesn’t mean you can skip out on practicing. Even the biggest names make time to practice and rehearse, and while hip-hop stars don’t typically dedicate quite as much time to this process as some vocalists, those who sell out arenas and stadiums don’t leave anything to chance. The many hours they put into ensuring they sound perfect lead to incredible shows.
Look for Beats
Some Rappers simply write their own lyrics and spit, some work with Producers to craft the music they want to go with the words they’ve written, while others are completely in control of the entire process. They create the beats themselves and then rap over them. This is, of course, much harder, and it requires an incredible amount of work, but it does give them complete creative freedom.
So, which kind of Rapper are you going to be? The most common option for those at the outset of their promising career is to buy beats, which has become a fairly easy process these days. There are dozens, potentially even hundreds of outlets online selling beats or offering them for free, and an artist can spend anywhere from $10 to $10,000 to secure the music they want to back their vocals. Sometimes they don’t own this music outright, but sometimes they do. It all depends on the website and what they’re willing to pay.
Unless you already have experience operating software like ProTools, GarageBand, or Logic, I’d suggest starting off by purchasing beats online. Learning any of those production suites can take years, and while it used to be one of the only ways, the web has made this limitation a thing of the past.
You have your words, you have your beat, and you’ve been practicing it non-stop—now what? Well, now it’s time to actually make some music! By this point, you’ve likely already invested a lot of time, effort, energy, and potentially even money into just one track, and people can’t even hear it yet. You still have work to do before it’s out in the world, but you’re close.
In order to make a demo, you’ll either need to buy some recording equipment or find a recording studio in your area. There are plenty of microphones out there you can purchase for relatively cheap, but typically, the song you sing into such a device will sound like it was created with a cheap buy. This is alright for demos, which aren’t typically meant to be shared with the world, but they won’t do for your final takes.
As I mentioned above, your other option is to head to a recording studio, but that can get pricey, especially if you’re recording an entire album or a mixtape. Studios are usually needed for final products you’ll share with your fans (or the masses who may become your fans), and they may not be necessary for demos.
My suggestion is to buy a mic that comes cheap and set it up at home in order to record your own demos, which will help you hear if you need to tweak rhymes or phrasing. Don’t share these recordings, unless you label them as either demos or a very rough mixtape. After months of practicing (there’s that word again), you can shell out some of your hard-earned (and saved) money for a trip to the studio to take your tunes to the next level.
How can you improve upon what you’re already doing? What do you want to say with your next release? Who can you collaborate with? What are your goals for the next stage of your still-growing career? It’s good to not just keep these thoughts in the back of your mind but to write them down and begin planning.
Share Your Music
It has been months, or perhaps even years since you first decided you want to try your hand at rapping, and now it’s finally time to unleash your art into the world. It certainly sounds exciting, and you should be proud of what you’ve made and thrilled that the day has come, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much…at least not yet. There is, once again, a lot of work ahead.
Actually releasing your music is very easy these days, as digital distributors have made it simple and cheap to put songs and albums into digital storefronts and onto streaming platforms. Once it’s there, how are you going to make sure people actually listen to it?
You could spend years building your name (which you’ll also have to choose) through concerts, publicity, social media, and word of mouth, and still not become the star you are likely hoping to one day be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but I do say this so you’ll keep in mind just because you’ve already exerted a ton of effort and spent a good amount of cash, the world isn’t suddenly going to sit up and pay attention.
From the moment you release your first project, you should also be thinking about how to promote it and make it as big as possible, while also considering what’s next. How can you improve upon what you’re already doing? What do you want to say with your next release? Who can you collaborate with? What are your goals for the next stage of your still-growing career? It’s good to not just keep these thoughts in the back of your mind but to write them down and begin planning. Don’t start with platinum records and No. 1 songs—there are other, more attainable options that should probably be listed first—but certainly don’t count those grand moments out. The next hip-hop superstar is out there just waiting to be discovered, and if you have the talent, the stamina, the patience, and the work ethic, it could be you!
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