Writing rap lyrics is an art form, but that does not mean it cannot be learned and perfected over time, just like any other skill. With persistence, passion, hard work, and a great deal of practice, eventually you can become a master rap lyricist.
When writing rap lyrics, start by brainstorming various ideas, topics, and lines. Write them down. Pick a beat and rap gibberish to it to get a better sense of the flow and cadence. Then, write the hook or title. Finally, decide on the song structure and write the intro, chorus, verses, and outro.
However, bear in mind that this is only a very basic roadmap to writing rap lyrics. If you want to learn the specific steps involved in drafting an excellent rap lyric from scratch, as well as a handful of expert tricks and tips on how to get your creative juices flowing, keep reading.
Brainstorm Ideas, Topics, and Lines
Before starting to write your lyrics, you need to decide what they will be about. As with any other type of creative writing, the first part of the process involves what could be many hours of brainstorming in search of great ideas, subjects, titles, hooks, and lines.
The key to success here is to enjoy the ride and not try to force things. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for taking too long to come up with awesome ideas or for having a creative block. Nothing good will ever come of that.
Here are some tried-and-tested brainstorming tips for writing rap lyrics:
Read — Everything
The secret to being a good writer is to be a good reader first. Read anything that you can get your hands on: not only lyric sheets and hip-hop blogs but also articles, magazines, and books on a wide variety of subject matters. This will expand your intellectual horizons and improve your vocabulary. What’s more, as you expose yourself to different ideas and concepts, your brain will start making new and original connections — even in your sleep!
Perhaps most importantly, make sure you read tons of poetry. You may not think that poems and rap lyrics have much in common, but they do. In fact, they are pretty much the same thing. There is a lot that you can learn from the world’s greatest poets about rhyming, measure, and flow.
Listen to Human Speech
Rap lyrics are meant to be spoken, not read. That’s why it is essential that you are able to tell what sounds good and what sounds off when said out loud. To do that, listen to hip-hop music but also spoken-word poetry, great public speakers, lectures, talks, podcasts, and even audiobooks. This way, you will develop a good ear for the flow and inner rhythm of the spoken word.
Keep a Brainstorming Journal
Whenever an interesting idea pops up in your mind, note it down in a notepad or on your phone or computer, even if you are not working on a rap lyric at the moment. Write down everything: from song ideas and potential titles to catchy phrases and entire verses. If you hear a great line in a movie or on the street, write that down too.
Make a habit of going through your journal on a regular basis to keep your imagination engaged.
Draw Inspiration From Your Personal Experience
The best inspiration for any kind of creative work will come from your day-to-day experiences as you go through life. Use these as your primary source of ideas and subject matters for your lyrics. Tell your own stories: write about your loves, losses, hopes, and dreams.
The more detailed and personal you get in your writing, the more powerful it will be. You can even mention specific events, people, and locations, such as the town or neighborhood you grew up in. Remember: great art is always intimate.
But whatever you do, don’t give in to the temptation to write about the same old things you hear in nearly every hip-hop song out there. If you are a full-time engineering student and part-time barista, writing about the ‘thug life’ will come across as comical at best and disingenuous at worst. Listeners will only relate to your writing if it is authentic.
Pick a Catchy Beat and Rap Gibberish to It
If you feel like you have got enough ideas and are ready to move on to the next step of the process, it is time to choose your beat. While it’s possible to write the lyrics first and look for an appropriate beat second, most people find it easier to start with the beat.
Go online and listen to as many beats as you possibly can. Websites such as RapBeats, RapPad, and RawHeatz can be real treasure troves for awesome beat tracks. You can also try apps such as AutoRap, RapChat, or Rap to Beats.
When you find that one beat that really tucks at your heart, play around with it a little. Take some of your potential song titles, hooks, or raw verses and try rapping them to the beat to see if they make a good fit. But do not stop there: play the beat again and start humming and rapping gibberish to get into a flow. If it feels right, don’t be too bothered about your draft text not fitting perfectly with the beat. You can always edit the lyrics at a later date.
Make sure to record yourself on your phone or computer while improvising and playing with the beat. When you play back the recording later, you will get a better idea of what you sound like and how the beat, your daft text, and your voice all tie together.
What’s more, this will ensure that you don’t forget any great lines or ideas that may have come up during the improv session. Even if they do not make it in the final draft, they could come handy in future songs.
Write an Attention-Grabbing Hook and Title
Once you have settled on a topic and have picked a beat, you need to come up with your song title and the hook. These do not have to be set in stone, and you can always revise and edit them as you go along and write the rest of the lyrics. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to start with them before moving on to the verses.
The hook is the catchiest line in a rap song that sticks in your head long after you have stopped listening to the track. Sometimes, the title and the hook can be identical. However, whether they are different or not, they have to be original and memorable. They also should summarize a key message, emotion, or take away from your song. It’s also a good idea to keep them short, punchy, and energetic: one to six words generally work best.
You can also try switching the hook and title to see if they might work better elsewhere in the lyrics.
Remember: you want to repeat the hook a number of times throughout the song. Typically, rap songwriters place their hooks and the beginning or end of the chorus — or both. In some songs, the entire chorus can consist of numerous reiterations of the hook, but try not to overdo it.
To illustrate what a hook is, here are a few great examples from well-known hip-hop hits:
- “Drop it like it’s hot” from Snoop Dogg’s eponymous song.
- “These expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes” from Bodak Yellow by Cardi B
- “I’ve got 99 problems, but a b**** ain’t one’ from Jay-Z’s 99 Problems
It’s important to remember that the title and the hook set the mood for the entire lyrics. What’s more, they are usually the one or two phrases that listeners will come to associate with your song. Therefore, it is vital to get them right. Take your time with this part of the songwriting process, and do not rush it.
Decide on the Song Structure
Next, you need to decide on the structure of your lyrics. Having a clear-cut structure from the outset can be of great help to you as a songwriter. It’s much easier to start with the basic skeleton of the song and then proceed to flesh it out by adding the content.
So, how do you structure rap lyrics? Most rap songs follow the following basic structure:
- Hook or Chorus
- Hook or Chorus
Of course, you are free to mix and match these as you see fit. You can also add or remove verses or the number of hooks. In any case, there are a few basic rules that apply to different song components. You need to learn these before starting to write.
Intros are pretty straightforward. They are meant to set the theme or mood for the entire song, so you can get quite creative with them. Typically, songwriters allot four to eight bars just to play the instrumentals and create an emotional build-up. However, you could go above and beyond that and even include a skit or a piece of recorded dialogue in your intro for added dramatic effect.
The Hook and Chorus
We already explained what a hook is and how to write one in the previous section. If you want to have a chorus in addition to the hook, make it catchy and memorable and try to keep the lines on the shorter side. Save the bulk of your text for the verses.
Most standard rap verses tend to be between 16 and 32 bars each. Traditionally rap songs used to have two or three 16-bar verses and two or three choruses of 8 to 16 bars.
Nowadays, however, you get a lot more variety. You can find 8- or 12-bar verses, 4-bar pre-choruses, and more. Some lyricists even drop verses that are as long as 32 or 64 bars.
In terms of the number of verses, the typical song will have two verses in addition to the intro and outro, but there are no hard and fast rules. You can have as many verses as you would like. However, remember that the most powerful and emotionally impactful rap lyrics are those that pack a lot of meaning into just a few short lines. So, always strive to say more using fewer words.
While you don’t have to have one, some songs feature a component called a bridge. It typically goes before or after the verse and serves as a kind of short chorus or an extra hook. As far as the content goes, keep it vague but try to add something new to the song in terms of lyrics, music, sound effects — or all of these. The bridge is a great way to recycle unused hook ideas or play around with the rhyming, rhythm, and vocal pitches.
You can find a great example of a bridge in Kanye West’s song Heartless. In it, you will hear him rap the bridge using a higher vocal pitch and a different rhythm than the rest of the track.
The outro is very similar to the intro, with the exception that it comes at the very end of the song.
Write the Intro, Chorus, Verses, and Outro
Now that you have your title, hook, and the basic structure of the song, it is time to roll up your sleeves and start the actual lyric-writing process.
Start with the intro. Keep in mind the rules about intros from the previous section, but don’t let them dictate how to start your song. Remember, you get a lot of artistic license with the intro, so try to make good use of it. You want to start strong and hook your listeners from the outset.
The First Verse
Then, move on to the first verse. Generally, songs sound best when the verses are twice as long as the chorus. If you are a beginner songwriter, you might find it easier to stick to the traditional formula of 16-bar verses and 8- or 16-bar choruses. It’s simple to calculate and gives you enough room to express yourself.
If you haven’t already done that in the intro, the first verse should set the scene for your story. Describe the context and include any other information that could help the listener relate to the text from the outset.
Remember: while choruses are meant to be vague, verses should be a lot more specific. Therefore, do not hesitate to insert factual details.
Furthermore, now is the time to experiment and tweak the rhyme scheme and the rhythm. The first verse will set the model that you will follow with the verses to follow, so you want to make sure that you get everything just right. Take as much time as you need to perfect the
flow and overall sound of your wording.
The Second and Third Verses
Once you have got yourself a killer first verse, writing the others should take a lot less time and effort. Simply base the second, third, and any other verses you may have on the first. Just remember that the final verse should serve as the conclusion to your story or the last and most powerful argument of your speech.
A word of caution: While you want to apply more or less the same rhythm and rhyme scheme to all your verses, do not make them 100 percent identical. If you do, you risk ending up with lyrics that are monotonous and even boring. To make sure that doesn’t happen, change things up here and there to surprise the listeners and keep them engaged.
The Chorus and Bridge
It’s best to write your chorus and any bridges after you have at least a rough first draft of the verses. Think of the verses as the meat of your story and the chorus parts as the seasoning. The chorus is meant to complete and tie together the main part of the lyrics, allowing for smoother transitions between the individual verses. You cannot really do that if you don’t know what the verses will look like.
Furthermore, bridges and choruses allow the listener to process the information or emotional impact of one verse before moving on to the next. Therefore, you want to keep these parts short and simple. Treat them as slightly longer hooks: you are not trying to tell a story but rather to engage and entertain the audience.
The outro is meant to tie everything together and deliver a powerful final punch. However, if you want to end your song on a more melancholic note, you can have the outro slowly fade into the background noise. Just like with the intro, you can allot dedicated times for instrumentals, recorded dialogue, or other special sound effects.
More Expert Tips on How to Write Rap Lyrics
Experiment With the Rhyming
When done right, rhyming can improve the flow and rhythm of your text like few other things can. If you are not very adept at coming up with rhymes, don’t worry; you will get better with practice. Until then, you can use an online rhyming dictionary to get inspired.
You can have lines that rhyme anywhere in your lyrics: the intro, outro, verses, or chorus. You can also have various rhyming schemes in the same song — you don’t have to stick to just one. When brainstorming and writing lyrics, play around with different kinds of rhymes to see which ones work best for your song — and where.
You can choose between:
- End rhymes, in which the end syllable of two words rhymes.
- Multi-syllable rhymes or multis, where multiple syllables at the end of two words rhyme.
- Internal rhymes, which refer to rhyming syllables that do not appear at the end but within the lines.
The problem with rhymes is that beginners often get carried away. Having too many rhymes can take away from the impact, message, and originality of the lyrics. It also limits what you can say. Therefore, try not to go overbroad. Mix things up: use different rhyming schemes at different parts of the text and also include some lines that do not rhyme at all.
Try Out Different Rhythmic Patterns
It’s not enough to experiment with the rhyming schemes. You should play around with the different lyrical rhythms as well.
Let’s take the chorus as an example. Most rap songs have 80 beats per minute, which means that each beat lasts a bit less than a second. If you have a traditional chorus of 8 bars with the beat on the quarter note, that equals 32 beats — or 32 syllables.
There are countless ways to handle these 32 syllables. For instance, you could have 32 one-syllable words or fewer words with syllables that add up to 32. In either case, you would be rapping each syllable on the beat, but the lyrical rhythm and the way the text is perceived by the listener would be different.
Adding or removing words from a line changes the speed and affects the delivery. If you have more words per line, the rapper would have to say them faster, which results in a more aggressive, in-your-face delivery. In contrast, having fewer words per line can give you a calmer and happier or more pensive and melancholic feel.
So, make sure you explore various rhythmic patterns and word counts and include a bit of everything in your lyrics. Drop a few fast lines, then slow it down, then pick it up again.
If you are a beginner, you might want to invest in a metronome or a metronome app such as The Metronome by Soundbrenner. This should help you keep track of the beat. Eventually, you will start to get the hang of it and will no longer need a metronome.
Don’t Forget the Music
Always remember that you are not writing a poem but the lyrics for a song. Therefore, when creating the text, make sure to consider the melody, harmony, dynamics, and tempo of the music track — and try to make them all fit. Even if you don’t have a musical gift, with some practice, you can learn to do all that and more.
Make Use of Literary Devices
Remember earlier when we said that you should be reading poetry? One reason for this is that it will get you used to identifying and working with various literary devices that you can then incorporate in your rap lyrics. These include:
- Metaphors, which use one object or idea to replace another in order to highlight a likeness or analogy between them (i.e., The city is a jungle.).
- Similes, which compare two things using connecting words (i.e., Her smile is like the sun on a rainy day.)
- Puns and wordplay, a playful and humorous use of words that have several meanings or may sound like another word (i.e., I’ve been to the dentist before, so I know the drill.)
If you are serious about writing rap lyrics, you should get into the habit of actively seeking out and underlining clever uses of literary devices and figures of speech anywhere you spot them.
While it might seem counterintuitive at first, a healthy amount of limitations can do wonders for your creativity and imagination. Rigid rules force you to think outside of the box and discover connections and possibilities where you could not see them before. On the other hand, having too many options and full artistic freedom often results in a full-blown writer’s block.
So, with that in mind, try imposing some limitations on your creative process every now and then. For example, you could have a temporary rule that you cannot use a specific, very common word in your lyrics. Or you could decide that you have to use a particular word a set number of times in the intro and outro. The possibilities are virtually endless, and little challenges like these could give your lyric-writing skills a real boost.
Study Great Rap Lyrics
Last but not least, you should always be reviewing and analyzing the greatest rap songs of all time. Print out the lyrics, highlight keywords and figures of speech. Break down the rhyming schemes, study the flow and the rhythm, and research the themes and topics.
A Quick Recap
Writing rap lyrics can be daunting at first, but once you try your hand at it, it can be one of the most rewarding creative processes out there. Hopefully, the tips and tricks in this guide gave you courage and inspired you to embark on your own creative journey.
And just to recap, here is how to write rap lyrics:
- Start by brainstorming ideas, topics, and lines, and write them down.
- Choose a beat and rap gibberish to it.
- Write the hook or title.
- Decide on the song structure.
- Write the lyrics!
- Apps.Apple: AutoRap by Smule
- Apps.Apple: The Metronome by Soundbrenner
- Cole Mize Studios: My 5 Step Blueprint for Writing Rap Songs
- Deviant Noise: How to Rap and Write Hip-Hop Lyrics in 2020
- Get Chorus: How to Structure Rap Lyrics
- Music Getaway: A Guide on How to Rap & Freestyle Rap Lyrics
- Music Industry How To: How to Write Good Rap Lyrics
- My Song Coach: How to Write a Song in Ten Steps
- Play.Google: Rap to Beats
- Power Poetry: How to Write a Rap Song: 7 Tips for Writing a Rap
- RapBeats.net: RapBeats
- RapChat.me: RapChat
- RapPad.co: Learn How to Write Great Rap Lyrics
- RapPad.co: RapPad
- RawHeatz.com: RawHeatz
- Rhyme Makers: Unique Ideas for How to Write Rap Lyrics
- Rhymer.com: Free Rhyming Dictionary
- Smart Rapper: How to Write a Rap Song
- WikiHow: How to Write Rap Lyrics
- YouTube: Cardi B – Bodak Yellow
- YouTube: Jay-Z – 99 Problems
- YouTube: Kanye West – Heartless
- YouTube: Snoop Dog – Drop It Like It’s Hot