Last year Hip-Hop made headlines as it became the primary dominant music genre in America. Now, for anyone like me who has been a Hip-Hop die-hard since the early 90s, it’s always seemed like the dominant genre.
But now it’s officially outpaced “pop” as the primary genre of music consumption in the United States.
Everyone’s rappin’ now…
But rap has changed over the last 3 decades and beyond. And if you’re not keeping up with current sound trends, it’s going to be tough to break through.
That’s not to say you should be trying to chase fads – you should always bring your own style, voice and personality to anything you do musically.
But make sure you don’t sound dated with your cadence, flow and lyrics.
Hip Hop Songwriting Back In The Day
It was all about BARS. You had to be witty and clever to be a rapper back in the day. You couldn’t get by on rhyming random shit together.
There was a huge focus on lyrical skill and putting together words and concepts in unique and interesting ways. It was more about the message than the vibe.
There was some use of melody, especially for the hook and to accent certain parts of a verse.
But again, the majority of the song was about the lyrics. Flow was obviously important as well, you couldn’t be off beat.
But lyrics were king.
Rap Songwriting Today
Arguably, lyrics are less important today.
Sure, subject matter is still important, but there’s less of an emphasis placed on clever word play. It’s more about the vibe, the flow and… the all important melody.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned Hip-Hop was the dominant genre. I think that’s been helped by the fact that melody has become more and more prevalent and important in Rap and Hip-Hop music over the last several years.
And melody has always been a big factor in popular music. So it makes sense that a more melodic Hip-Hop would easily overtake traditional Pop.
Nowadays, a catchy melody in the VERSE (not only the chorus) is almost essential to a hit song.
How to Write a Rap in 2018
It honestly depends on what lane you’re in.
Traditional Rap Lyrics
There’s still a huge market for lyricism. Just ask emcees like Royce Da 5’9″, Tech 9ine, Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole. Lyrics are still hugely important to them.
But even Kendrick and Cole toy around with melodic ideas in their music.
So if you’re trying to make music like the above mentioned lyricists, then keep paying extra attention to your wordplay, metaphors, punchlines and flows.
Play around with melody where you can, but don’t sacrifice the lyrics for the sake of the melody. Focus on the message and how you spit it.
Modern Rap Lyrics
If you’re trying to make music like some of the newer cats like XXXTentacion, Drake, Tory Lanez, Travis Scott and others then you better learn how to write solid melodies.
Remember, lyrics are still important. The newer artists just mentioned still have solid lyric writing ability. But they incorporate melody a lot more into their verses..
Another big part of modern rap verses are the adlibs – the random sounds and shouts that happen in between lyrics. These play a huge role in setting the vibe of the track.
Keep your lyrics sparse and spaced out and pay attention to how you can fill up the empty space between these lyrics with some dope sounding adlibs.
Writing Your Rap Verse
For the absolute beginners out there looking for hip hop verse writing tips, here’s a quick rundown of a rap songwriting process.
1. Find a Beat
Most rappers nowadays find a beat online that they vibe with and start writing their lyrics to the track. Some definitely still write without a beat, but if you’re starting out it’ll be easier to catch the pocket with your flow if you write to a track.
2. Choose a Topic to Write About
One thing I’ll tell you is this – you have to live life to be inspired.
And you should take inspiration from the world around you. and just write about the things you learn, see, experience and observe.
Don’t be fake – if you’re not a gangster, don’t talk that gang shit.
But on the other hand, if you’re telling a story it can work.
Before you start putting your pen to paper, try to have an idea of what you want to write about. Usually you can get ideas from the emotion of the beat you’re listening to – is it dark/shady, happy, inspirational, etc.
3. Start Brainstorming Rhymes
Now it’s time to start writing. Sometimes, you’ll write straight through – Bar 1 to Bar 16. Other times you might just start brainstorming lines that you’ll try to use somewhere.
Whatever method works for you just start crafting the message/story you’re trying to tell.
As far as rhyme schemes go here’s a couple basic templates you can follow:
A / A / B / B (First two lines rhyme together, second two lines rhyme together)
A / A / B / A (Bars 1, 2 and 4 rhyme, but Bar 3 doesn’t)
Keeping Things Fresh
So a good rule of thumb is to change something up in your rap verse every 4 bars. Otherwise, things can get monotonous and boring.
So change up your flow, cadence, rhyme scheme, intensity – something.
Keep things fresh and interesting to the listener.
Using Too Many Words
Something new rappers fall into when writing rhymes is using too many words to express an idea. That can lead you to being off-beat.
Keeping everything on time and on beat is super important. If you’ve got too many words in a line, it won’t fit within the bar of music. (If you don’t know how to count bars check this out)
Syllables are important! The number of syllables has to fit and sound “in the pocket.”
If you’re new to rapping, this might be tough at first, but get lots of feedback on your lyrics/rhymes.
4. Structure Your Song
Now it’s time to get your song into a proper song structure. That means putting the lines you came up with together into verses and chorus sections.
Normally rap songs had 2 or 3 16 bar verses and 2 or 3 8/16 bar choruses.
But that’s not always the case anymore. Sometimes you’ll see 8 bar verses or 12 bar verses. Sometimes you’ll find some songs that have 2 different 12 bar verses followed by a 4 bar pre-chorus that repeats after verse 1 and 2, before hitting the chorus.
The main thing you want to keep in mind is the STRUCTURE.
Sometimes, if you’re a lyricist, you might want to just drop 32 or 64 bars straight, no hook – and that’s totally fine too.
But most songs are structured like this
- Verse 1
- (Pre-Chorus if you want)
- Chorus 1
- Verse 2
- (Pre Chorus if you want)
- Chorus 2
- Verse 3 or Bridge
- Chorus 3
Don’t Be Afraid of Rewriting Your Rap Verse
I know everyone wants to say they just step in the booth and spit or write a full song in 10 minutes. And if you can pull that off, cool.
But don’t ever be afraid of re-writing. Changing shit up because you think it sounds or fits better is good practice. Most songwriters re-write. Including rap writers.
You want to make sure you’re writing the best lyrics you possibly can – whether you’re super lyrical or more melody based.
Take the time to make it sound legit.
Write a Rap With a Pen/Pad or Just Freestyle?
This totally depends on how you feel most comfortable writing – there’s no right or wrong way. Some people are better at just freestyling and stringing stuff together, while others are better at sitting down and writing their thoughts out on paper.
Whatever works for you – do it.
One thing I will say is this – if you’re trying to be super lyrical, it might work better for you to write using a pen and pad (or phone). If you’re trying to be more melodic and catch a vibe, then freestyling might work better for you.
Try both ways and see what works for your situation.
If you’re just starting out, it doesn’t matter what you do your stuff’s probably gonna suck. That’s ok. Everyone does. Just keep working on it and I promise it’ll get better and better and better.
Once you’ve written a hundred songs, then you’ll be at the starting line of getting good. So keep putting in the work.