Rapping is an art — and mastering it doesn’t just require amazing vocal skills, but also creative flow. While nobody can expect to write a masterpiece the first time they try their hand at rap, everyone has to start somewhere. As with everything, constant practice will help you improve.
Ready to get started with your very first rap song? Give this handy guide a once-over first!
Basics of Writing a Rap Song
Rap — also often called spitting, rhyming, or MC-ing — can be defined as a lyrical art that relies heavily on rhyme, rhythm, and street language. Rap is, if you like, spoken word poetry with music. Although rap is heavily associated with hip hop culture, it’s important to be aware that rap can be used in numerous other styles, as well, and they historically include jazz and blues.
As you attempt to write your first rap, it is important to familiarize yourself with as many examples as possible. This will allow you to get a feel for the rhyme, rhythm, and vibe. Check out All I Need by Method Man ft. Mary J Blige, What U See Is What U Get by Xzibit, Fu-Gee-La by The Fugees, and Stan by Eminem, for instance.
You will quickly notice a powerful, hard-hitting, rhythm throughout the genre. Admire the beat in Eminem’s Stan, for instance (and no, don’t just read it — listen to the rap at the same time!):
Dear Slim, I wrote you, but you still ain't callin'
I left my cell, my pager and my home phone at the bottom
I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not've got 'em
There probably was a problem at the post office or somethin'
Sometimes I scribble addresses too sloppy when I jot 'em
Common Themes in Rap
Are you hoping to get creative? Never limit yourself to the most common themes found in rap — you can write a rap about absolutely anything you want! Some of the most common themes used in rap are, however:
- Existential problems — in your own life, your neighborhood, or the wider world
Rap is essentially about life. This means you’ll always have built-in inspiration as you give writing a rap song your best shot, because you’ll have experience to draw on. Don’t force yourself into existing themes. If you already have other ideas that fall way outside the norm, go right ahead and pen a rap about it. Perhaps you want to write a rap about your cat, for instance, or about the way in which your neighbors keep you up at night with their constant partying. There’s no rule against that.
Writing a Rap Song: How to Get the Rhythm Right
Rap songs are divided into “bars”. They’re lyrical lines that last four seconds or counts (a 1-2-3-4 beat), and you’ll usually have 16 of them. You might have two or three verses, as well as a chorus of either four or eight bars that appears throughout the song.
Here’s how that beat works out in Eminem’s Stan:
- Dear Slim
- I wrote you,
- but you still
- ain't callin'
Each beat ends with a stressed syllable for an extra verbal punch.
How to Structure Your Rap Song
It’s up to you to decide how to structure your rap song — you are writing it, so you are in charge. To make sure your song is recognizable rap, though, it can help to use an established structure, especially at the beginning. Here’s a quick look at the elements found in most rap songs.
Writing an Intro for Your Rap Song
Not all rap songs feature intros, but if there is an intro, it’s usually short. Keep your intro to two, four, or eight bars (or “lines”). An intro doesn’t have to have lyrics — more commonly, it will only have sounds.
Penning Verses for Your Rap Song
Verses — bars that fit together — are almost always 16 bars long in rap. How many verses should your rap song have? That’s up to you. Some raps are very long, while others just have two or three verses. As a beginner, you will probably want to keep it short.
Writing Your Chorus
A chorus, which is also called a hook in rap, is a set of bars that repeats throughout your song. Rap hooks are used to channel the overarching feeling of the song, and you’ll slide your hook in between verses. Here’s a cool tip — you don’t have to rap your chorus. You can choose softer vocals instead to balance your rap out.
Transitioning from a verse to the hook can be tough, and that’s why you’ll want to include a so-called bridge, too. These two bars signal that your rap is about to move into the chorus.
What About the Outro?
Finish your rap with the same note on which you started it!
Tips for Writing a Rap
Maybe you have some cool lyrics already, but you have no idea how to get started with a beat. Perhaps you’ve got the right beat, but you’re not sure how to push your thoughts into the right rhythm. These tips will get you on the right track!
- Most new rappers turn to online beat generators and similar tools. Give it a try! Writing your rap song will be much easier, as you’ll already know how to make it flow to the beat. Beat Stars and the YouTube Audio Library are two of the most useful beat generation tools for aspiring rappers.
- Do you know what you want to say, but it doesn’t fit into your beat? No worries — try using Word Hippo. The thesaurus will help you find synonyms that may work for you, while its rhyming dictionary can give you fresh ideas for your next line. Because rap music is famous for using street language, online word tools have their limits. Sometimes, you’ll just have to let your ideas stew until the right word pops into your head.
- Before you get writing, get into a creative space. Go for a walk, work out, eat a good meal, chill, and contemplate your deepest feelings about the topic you want to write a rap about. Jot any ideas you have down, even if they don’t fit into your beat. You never know where the lines you come up with may find a home.
- Don’t imitate famous rappers too much. Find your own, unique, voice. This is your rap song!
- After you’ve written a few bars, you can ask your friends for some feedback. Rap can be a collaborative effort. Just like you might ask someone to proofread and edit a college essay, you’ll definitely want to get some thoughts on a new rap song.
- Keep editing your rap until you are 100 percent happy with the result!
What musical instruments are used in rap?
Drum machines, turntables, keyboard or piano, and virtual music tools are most commonly used in rap. Beat boxing is encouraged, too!
Do I have to swear in rap?
Absolutely not. Just ask the Christian rappers out there. Use the language you’re comfortable with to create a rap that’s authentically yours.
Can I write new lyrics to an existing beat?
Of course! You’re just learning to rap. So long as you are not intending to publish someone else’s intellectual property, which you definitely can’t do, using existing beats is an incredibly useful tool that will teach you a lot.