How to Write a Rap Song
Hip-hop has become the most popular genre of music in the U.S. in the past few years and it is constantly growing in terms of stealing market share away from other kinds of art. In fact, a quick look at which songs and albums rise to the top of the Billboard charts these days proves just how beloved rap is, and while competition is fierce, there has never been a better time to get into that field. If you love hip-hop, already spend all day listening to it and yearning to be a part of that world, here are a few pointers that will help you when it comes to how to write a rap song. If you’ve already kicked off your rap career, this article may serve as a refresher, but if you’ve been too intimidated to get started, here’s how to write a rap song in a handful of steps.
Here are my 7 tips on how to write a rap song:
- Actively listen for inspiration
- Learn song structure
- Decide what you want to talk about
- Write down your lyric ideas
- Arrange and rearrange your song
- Put your words to music
- Edit, edit, edit
Actively Listen For Inspiration
Every great Songwriter begins their journey by listening, but it’s still strange putting it first since it’s something you should be doing all the time. Pressing play on music made by others isn’t just something you should be doing right before you put pen to paper but at all times! If you want to make the transition from being solely a fan of music to a musician and songwriter, you need to stop listening passively and start listening critically. For a long time, you’ve probably just enjoyed the sounds that were coming out of your headphones, but when you make the decision to become a musician yourself, it’s time to think while the music plays.
Also, I challenge you to diversify what you listen to. If you’re planning on writing a rap song, chances are you already listen to a lot of hip-hop, but you should do everything you can to try new things and hear what other people in every subset of every genre are doing. Dive deep into the rap world and explore the many different kinds of hip-hop being produced these days, while at the same time, force yourself to press play on everything from K-pop to EDM to classic rock. There’s a reason millions of people love these types of music and the smartest musicians out there are constantly trying to understand what makes them so successful in hopes they can grasp just a bit of that so they can then incorporate it into their own art, or at least learn something new.
Learn Song Structure
As I just mentioned, a big part of becoming a musician is not just leading with your heart, but studying the craft of musicianship. Some people go to college for years and while that can certainly be an enjoyable route to go, it’s not one I’ll delve into right now. Instead, let me encourage everyone reading who’s looking to write a rap song to begin studying all on their own, in whatever way works for them.In addition to listening critically, read, and read everything you can. Read the lyrics to all the songs you love. Read the lyrics of tracks you’re just hearing the first time. Look up the meaning behind them, so you can understand the context they were written in and what certain phrases and words mean in the tune. Read about the musicians themselves. Teach yourself the basics of music, including the names of different parts of a song, notes, and so on.
If you want to be successful in anything, you first need to have a solid grasp on the absolute basics and yet I see so many people not even attempting to learn the building blocks of successful songs. It’s not that you can’t write a rap song without understanding the difference between a chorus and bridge or what octave you’re rapping in, but you’ll be much better off if you do know the ins and outs of song structure as you enter this exciting field.
If you want to make the transition from being solely a fan of music to a musician and songwriter, you need to stop listening passively and start listening critically. For a long time, you’ve probably just enjoyed the sounds that were coming out of your headphones, but when you make the decision to become a musician yourself, it’s time to think while the music plays.
Decide What You Want To Talk About
Sometimes, you’ll sit down to write a song specifically about one thing while at other times, it will come together from pieces of other compositions. There’s no wrong way to make music, but as a helpful exercise, take some time to actually put pen to paper thinking specifically about certain things.
Hip-hop has a rich history of covering a diverse range of topics and you may want to write about everything…but let’s start with just one idea and go from there. Maybe you only want to have fun and compose a tune about going out to a club and partying with friends. Don’t let frivolity get in the way of making art! Go for it!
Once you’ve done that, think about writing about something a little more substantial. Maybe you’re in love, or perhaps you’re going through heartbreak. It’s possible you’ve been through some tough times or that you want to be someone who discusses political or social issues. You don’t need to decide whether the rest of your career will be modeled more closely after T-Pain or Kendrick Lamar right now, but as you begin the process of writing one track, thinking about which direction this piece of art will go in (and what the final takeaway for the audience should be) will be helpful.
Write Down Your Lyric Ideas
Now, this is the trickiest part of writing a rap song, simply because it sounds fairly straightforward…but it’s actually very messy. You will likely spend less time writing line after line and much, much more time doing what I’ll describe next, but just like I mentioned above, this is a great exercise for every aspiring songwriter.
Set aside some time to take your idea (whether it’s describing how much money you have or tackling race issues in America) and begin writing. There is no good or bad, just put everything that comes into mind on paper. In fact, it’s not particularly helpful to even think about where things will go or whether or not a specific section is any good, as that will stymie your creativity. Editing is for later, but now is when you brainstorm and let everything flow.
In between these dedicated sessions, you’ll find little bits of songs come to you, and you should do everything you can to write them down the moment they pop into your head. Whether they are a complete chorus or just a word or two, these fragments of songs will come in handy later, so don’t let them slip away!
Some artists say they wrote their biggest hits in 10 minutes, others talk about how they needed days to make it perfect, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t come to you instantly.
Arrange And Rearrange Your Song
By this point, you should have a good collection of words and sentences to begin workshopping. Again, this might not even seem like much of a song, but if everything on the paper in front of you conveys a general mood and tone and gets whatever idea you had in mind across, if only somewhat, you’re off to a good start.
This is perhaps the most important stage in the songwriting process, as it’s when you do the most damage and also progress the farthest. Move everything around. Cross most of it out. Write something again, then rewrite it once more. Insert some ideas you’ve been keeping in a notebook or on your phone in between your dedicated songwriting sessions.
These workshopping sessions can take a few minutes or even a few hours and there’s no telling which it will be, nor which one will be the most fruitful. Some artists say they wrote their biggest hits in 10 minutes, others talk about how they needed days to make it perfect, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t come to you instantly.
While you are arranging and rearranging, you’ll find that sometimes your original composition becomes something different entirely, and if it’s what feels right in your heart, go with it! Don’t let what seems to be going well become a problem just because it doesn’t fit what you had in mind when you first concocted the idea of the song. You’ll find that arranging lyrics and then moving them around is one of the most gratifying, creatively energizing, and simultaneously frustrating endeavors you’ll undertake as a songwriter.
Put Your Words To Music
Just when you think you have everything set for your song and the rearranging is done with…you’ll have to do it again when the music comes in.
You should have your lyrics in what you feel is a pretty good place when you begin rapping them over the beat you’ve selected, or perhaps you’re going to play around with different options and see which one works best with the words you have in front of you.
Choose the beat that feels right, not just in your ears, but in both your brain and your heart. It should fit perfectly with the tone of the song, and the oddities in the music should match what you’re trying to say, both in the message and when it comes to the actual words themselves. From there, you can cut words, add some, replace others and — perhaps most importantly when it comes to a genre of music like hip-hop — play with how you pronounce things. Stretch them out, rap things faster…whatever you need to do to make things work, try it!
Edit, Edit, Edit
When you feel you have a solid song, record it…but whether you go into a traditional recording studio or you work at home with your own equipment, you should always be open to options. Just as I said above, you’ll likely need to mess around with lines and words to make them fit the beat, but you should always be thinking of alternative ways to compose your track.
Record a song in one form, then do it another way. Feel free to give it several different takes with a number of different options. Sometimes you don’t know what you like best until you actually hear it, so don’t be afraid to be unsure about which version of your future masterpiece you enjoy best until it’s playing in your ear.
Yes, this may mean a bit of arranging and rearranging once again (or maybe not a bit), but I told you this was going to be messy! In time, you’ll learn to love this last moment of perfecting a song.
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