Let's be blunt. Writing rap songs is real hard; to get it right you gotta be totally persistent — but lyrics? Now that's the fun part. If you're a writer at heart, you can do your part. Catch everyone off guard and show them what you got!
How do you write rap lyrics? The short answer is "with your blood, sweat, and tears". Real life experiences coupled with creative flow combine to create rap lyrics that can hold their own, and this guide is here to help you get a step closer to your goal.
Structure for Writing Rap Lyrics
Rhythm and structure lie at the heart of all rap — and while you can be bold and break all established rules if you dare, you at least have to be familiar with the typical structure used in rap music to be able to write killer rap lyrics.
So, what's the anatomy of a rap song? You've enjoyed rap more times than you can count, but if you're going to write rap lyrics, you've got to get your analytical thinking cap on. Do not write rap lyrics until you've read this!
The intro eases your listener into the song. In rap, introductions — if they're used, because not all rappers use intros — are usually between four and eight bars long.
You can include:
- Random sounds or words like "yeah", "check it out", "bruh", or whatever else you like.
- A recording of a speech, a public service announcement, or even an air raid siren or some other cool sound.
- Some elements from the chorus.
Rap verses are usually 16 bars long, and although the number of verses you write is totally up to you, most successful rap songs that will intrigue even people who don't usually listen to rap contain between two and four verses.
Factors that influence the number of verses you include in your rap are:
- How many rappers are going to perform your rap.
- The length of the hook.
Chorus or Hook
The musical element that would be called a chorus in most songs is called a hook in rap. This is the moment at which the largest number of musical instruments enter the game, and during which sick vocals can really shine. The hook is usually eight bars long. Because the lyrics you write for the hook are going to haunt everyone who listens to the rap, it's key to get them just right.
Some raps have a pre-hook, which leads into the hook. Some have a post-hook, which gently leads out of the hook.
The bridge is the part that connects two parts of a song — like the hook and a verse. It doesn't have to have lyrics, but it can.
The outro often simply repeats the intro, but that's up to you. If there are any lyrics, keep them short, simple, and under four bars.
Techniques in Writing A Rap Song
Any creative effort that you really pour your heart and soul into is hard work, but you can learn from pro rappers if you're looking for techniques to use as you write rap lyrics. If we had to translate this to a step-by-step guide, it would look something like this:
- Pick your topic. Sure, you can have side topics, but you have to stick to a core. We'll help you pick your topic in the next section.
- Really boil the topic down to its essence. Think about it, and feel it. This will help you write some hard-hitting words that can evolve into an epic hook for your rap song.
- Brainstorm your verses. Start with noting down some key words that you like and definitely want in your song, and the other feelings you associate with the topic. As you do this, take inspiration from poetry.
- Create a rhyme scheme, like ABAB, and make sure your A and B sound very different. For instance, "My cat is mad - as he sat, he squashed his dad" follows an ABAB scheme, but the words sound too similar to have a punch. "Have you heard about my cat? He made a home of his house. That dude is fat, he caught a mouse" follow the same rhyme scheme, but with much greater auditory diversity. Use a rhyming dictionary, but don't turn it into your God. It's a tool, there to help you. Ignore it if it doesn't work.
- You don't have to rhyme. Words that sound good together without rhyming are totally good enough for a rap song. Don't force it.
- Your hook is the most important thing. Without it, nothing else will work. Spend the bulk of your time here, so it's just right.
- Vary between soft and hard sounds. Hard sounds include letters like "K", "T", "G", "P", and "B", which have a short impact. Soft sounds can last longer, and include sounds like "Shh", "Ch", "R", "L", and "W".
As you write rap lyrics, you have two basic choices. You can be "in your brain" and try to create a mathematically beautiful rhyming scheme that follows all the usual tips, or you can be "in your heart" and freewrite your emotions. If you choose the second option, go back later and see whether the rap works in practice.
What to Write Rap Lyrics About?
Rap is inspired by life, and that means the good and bad of it. Anything you feel strongly about can be a good topic for a rap song, for instance:
- Grit — the ability to continue no matter what. Eminem's Lose Yourself is a great example.
- Belonging — as in Diddy's Coming Home.
- Family — look at Big Sean's One Man Can Change the World Kanye West and John Legend.
- Money — see The Notorious B.I.G.'s Mo Money Mo Problems.
- Fame — like 6LACK's Loaded Gun.
- Love and sex — like Outkast's Slum Beautiful.
The gist? If it happened to you, or around you, you can write a rap about it. If you're hoping to inject rap slang — like bangin, skizzle, cap, fly, and tight — into your topic, you may have to look it up on a rap slang dictionary if you're not already familiar with the lingo. Don't get too bogged down, though, and write from the heart.
Writing the Rap Verse Lyrics
Once you have decided on a topic, list everything you want to say about it in a notebook. Then, get writing. If you already have a beat, make sure it matches and adjust your words.
Writing the Rap Chorus Lyrics
A rap hook should be catchy — the kind of thing that sticks around your listeners' minds long after they forget the rest of your lyrics. Spend most of your time here, and don't stop until you're 100 percent satisfied. If it feels off, it is.
Do Rap Lyrics Have to Rhyme?
Rap lyrics are a form of modern poetry — and just like poetry, not all rap has to rhyme. Most rap songs at least have some rhyming elements, however, and effective rhyme schemes include:
Play around, and ditch it if it doesn't work. Don't be a slave to the rhyme; work with it.
How to Write Rap Lyrics Better (Like Eminem)
Don't try to write rap lyrics "like Eminem". You're not Eminem (at least, we assume that he isn't reading this!), and you're never going to be him. You can write rap lyrics better like you. To get good at writing rap lyrics:
- Be honest and authentic. Let the pain out. Be raw.
- Don't worry about the rhyme. Seriously. Pay closer attention to rhythm.
- Choose topics anyone could relate to.
That won't come easy as a beginner, so just keep at it. You'll get there with time and practice. If you want to write a rap song quickly, just let go of all ideas about what it takes to write a good rap fast, and simply write from your soul. It won't be good right away, but you'll have good source material to work with.
How long should it take to write rap lyrics?
Good rap lyrics take time. You can't just force them out of your mind. For your lyrics to be the best they can be, take your time. There's no rush.
Why are rap lyrics so vulgar?
Rap lyrics are directly inspired by street culture, and real people tend to cuss quite a bit. Don't let this make you think that all rap songs need vulgar lyrics, because this is simply not true. Just take a look at Justus' More Than Life, a Christian rap song about loving Christ which doesn't include any swear words.
How do you write rap lyrics without a beat?
You can write the rap lyrics first if you're not quite sure what to do with the beat. Simply come up with your lyrics, and then choose your beat. Online beat generators are your friends! Now you can adjust your lyrics as needed to fit the beat.
How do you write a rap song for beginners?
As a beginner, it may be hard to know where to start. Maybe you have a great idea for a rap song but you're not quite sure how to do it. Don't worry! Take some time every day to work on your rap lyrics — bonus points if it's in a creatively-inspiring spot! Once you're pretty happy with your lyrics, go over them and see if there's anything you want to change. Remember that writing good rap songs takes a lot of practice. You won't be a natural right away, so go easy on yourself.
Do you have to use rap slang?
No! You might have heard popular slang in many rap songs and think you need to copy it. If you want to make a song that's truly your own, you won't need to copy other rappers' styles. Instead, try to find your own voice.