One of the most memorable things about a rap song other than the beat are the punchlines. They catch you by surprise and keep you engaged with the songs because you don’t know what’s coming next.
But, I wanted to know how to create a rap punchline, and did a tonne of research, and I thought I’d put together this article to explain what I found.
So, how do you create a rap punchline? The simplest way to create a rap punchline is to use what’s called a homonym. A homonym is a word that has different meanings. For example, ‘tire’ can mean both the tire of a car, and to tire someone out – or make them feel tired.
You can create verses that use homonyms to make a play on words, which sounds clever and comes out of left field. Causing surprise. However, there are a few other ways to create punchlines.
And below, I’ll explain how to use homonyms step by step with a bunch of examples so you can create your own, as well as other ways some other ways to create punchlines.
How do you write a punchline?
A punchline is a term in rap that’s borrowed from comedy. It starts with a story that sets the scene and such as ‘I was at the store on a Friday night…’ you then add additional details and finally end with something unexpected.
You can also use a hidden punchline where the topics you talk about end in an interesting way that ties the whole song together. I’ll explain how these work and how to do them at the end of the article.
Punchline using a homonym
To create a punchline using a homonym you end a sentence with a homonym and then use the alternative meaning of the word to start talking about something different.
This is one of the easiest ways to freestyle. And a great way to construct verses for a song.
But first, it’s important to know how to construct a verse so you can add homonyms to them. An easy way to break down lyrics so that you can create verses is to understand that you’re always talking about a situation, yourself, or someone else. For example, you can be talking about:
1. How cool you are, positive attributes about yourself, or what you do
2. How someone else is bad or not as good as you
3. Telling a story about a situation
As you create your verses using one of the three overarching topics above, you can weave in homonyms throughout the story to make it more interesting, which will form mini punchlines. These will make the listener go ‘oooh that’s cool’. A homonym creates a wordplay, and I’ll explain exactly how to write a wordplay next…
How do you write a rap wordplay?
Wordplays are very easy to create and write once you have a topic you want to write about, and some homonyms picked out. Here’s how to write a rap wordplay:
To write a rap wordplay you first pick out a homonym you want to use. And then write sentences before it, and use the homonym in the final line of the verse. You can find homonyms by experimenting or by looking at lists compiled by others. A list of 400 homonyms is available here.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how to use this method with one of my own examples so you can see how to do it.
The wordplay at the end of a verse method
Lead up to a wordplay with a few introductory sentences. They can be simple sentences related to what you’re talking about.
For example, if you’re talking about how cool you are, you can write something like “I’m the best…”, or “I’m so great..”. Use some words at the end of each sentence that rhyme. Then starting talking about something related to the homonym. And finally end by using the homonym.
Here’s an example I put together off the top of my head:
I chose the word ball, which is a homonym for the word bawl, which means to cry.
I was walking, down the road with my phone out doing some talking to my girl
My girl was talking about her day, and I didn’t have much to say
These are the two introductory sentences that set the stage for the wordplay
Because I’m a player, like an NBA champ, a baller no doubt
But I’m so smooth I don’t make them girls bawl their eyes out
Notice how I talked about a ball as in basketball and then used the word bawl talking about a girl crying because a guy cheated on her.
This acts as a punchline because it ends the story about how I was talking to my girlfriend on the phone. Where I could transition into talking about a different topic. Such as what happened on the rest of that day. Which could have an overall punchline and an end to the whole song.
To write this verse, I just came up with a random situation and then wrote a simple verse about how I’m so cool because I’m a player.
Then related that to basketball, to incorporate the alternate meaning of bawl. After that, I wrote the last line with the intention of making the last line the homonym with ball – bawl.
It’s really easy to do, and once you give it a try you’ll see how easy it is. Once you have a general concept, you can make it better and better by rewriting it a bit if it needs it.
I also used some rhyming techniques that I learned when I was studying Eminem’s style. I recently wrote an article about how to rap like Eminem, where I explained how he creates his rhymes. If you’re interested in learning how to rap like Eminem, we have a whole different article about that too 🙂
Punchlines and wordplay in famous songs – breakdown
One of Eminem’s most famous songs ‘Without Me’ uses wordplay here and there. However, in general Eminem uses a bunch of other techniques to make his songs really good. Which I covered in the article above.
Interestingly, some rappers use a lot more wordplay than others, and some use wordplay almost exclusively in their verses.
Here’s an example of how he used wordplay in his famous song ‘Without Me:
“Everybody only wants to discuss me
So this must mean I’m disgusting”
Here he uses the fact that ‘discuss me’ and ‘disgusting’ sound almost exactly the same and are a homophone. And the punchline is that everyone hates him, and how he’s a victim, which is the theme of the song.
‘Rap God’ by Eminem is also an amazing track. Here’s one of the few verses where he uses wordplay:
“I’m a Doberman, pinch yourself in the arm”
Here you can see he uses ’pinch yourself’ instead of Doberman Pinscher to transition into talking about pinching yourself to know that you’re not dreaming.
There are also what are called hidden punchlines. Here’s how they work.
Example of a hidden punchline
Rather than starting a punchline with your words, you can create a punchline by confusing your listener with what you’re talking about. Which keeps them on edge about what you’re going to say next.
A good example of this is Swimming Pools by Kendrick Lamar.
Kendrick Lamar creates a hidden punchline by the way he orders the things he’s talking. He starts by talking about the reasons why people drink alcohol.
And then spins it around by implying that you’re drinking alcohol wrong, and that the best way to drink alcohol is to rap to a crowd and jump into a ‘swimming pool’ of people.
But he also combines it by using the overt punchline ‘drank’ over and over in quick succession.
It kind of catches you by surprise because you would expect the song to talk about a different topic, but he keeps saying drank over and over again.
And he says in a roundabout way that no matter what the situation is you should drink alcohol. For example, he says:
‘Wake up’ – drank
‘Faded’ – drank
‘Sit down’ – drank
Who is the best punchline rapper?
It’s also a good idea to look at some of the most popular rappers to see how they do it, and to give you some ideas of the different possibilities when using punchlines. But, who’s the best? Here’s who the best punchline rapper is and how he does it.
Pusha T could be considered one of the best punchline rappers, and he uses wordplay in almost all of his verses. Interestingly, old school rappers who are considered the greatest of all time like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. never use punchlines.
However, virtually all modern rappers use punchlines. And some more than others. And who you find is the best punchline rapper depends on your personal taste.