How To Write Rap Lyrics
Knowing how to write rap lyrics means finding punch lines that rhyme in a two pair grouping (also called a couplet). To be considered great, you need to be able to string together a series of rhyming couplets. Accomplishing this requires understanding hip hop’s use of meter, syllables, vowels, and consonants.
- Practice correct meter. To write rap lyrics effectively, you must match the syllables in your lines with the right meter. Most lines can hold a max of 14 syllables, occasionally 15. From there, you’ll need to leave a beat (or syllable) to take a breath. Because of this, most couplets will rotate the number of syllables used, i.e. your first line has 14 syllables and your second has 13, your third 14, and so on. An example from 50 Cent’s “How to Rob”: “The only excuse for being broke is being in jail (14 syllables) / An entertainer can't make bail if he broke as hell (13 syllables).” This is the most used meter in rap lyrics. Practice this first. If your word selection bumps one of your lines up to 15 syllables, be prepared to snip out a syllable or two in the next line. Otherwise, you won’t catch your breath, your rhyme will sound forced, and you’ll lose the beat.
- Practice monosyllabic rhymes. These days, to be taken seriously your rap lyrics need polysyllabic rhymes. Eminem is a master at this. So is Louis Logic, Nas, Redman, and a host of pros. You’re just starting out, so go simple. Monosyllabic rhymes—rhymes where one end syllable from Line A rhymes with one end syllable on Line B—should be your focus. They’re easiest for beginners and lay a foundation for crafting polysyllabic rhymes. Don’t feel awkward about it; every emcee in the game started this way.
- Practice polysyllabic rhymes. Once you’ve learned monosyllabic verse, try upping your rhyming syllables to two. From “How to Rob”: “I been scheming on Tone and Poke since they FOUND ME/ Steve know not to wear that platinum shit AROUND ME.” Once you’ve mastered two rhymes in a couplet, practice three, then four, five, etc. It’s possible to go that high with practice, but not until you master the basics.
- Practice in-line rhymes. In-line rhymes are the most enjoyable to pen when you write rap lyrics. They add a sophistication and make your punch lines much more satisfying. An in-line rhyme is a word or words in the beginning or middle of each line that rhyme with the syllables at the end of your lines. From “How to Rob”: “I'd follow FOX in the DROP for four BLOCKS/ PLOTTING to juice her for that ROCK Kurupt COPPED.” In this example, the in-lines and the end syllables rhyme (although some of them employ off-rhyming, which will be covered next).
- Practice off-rhymes. Off-rhymes match vowel sounds without exactly matching consonant sounds. In the 50 Cent example above, he rhymes FOX, DROP, ROCK, and COPPED. The basic sound is a long O followed by a hard K, P, or PT consonant. Off-rhymes give you greater flexibility with word selection. Just remember to match the vowel sounds and consonant sounds, respectively.
- Brainstorm first. A lot of beginners sit down with pen and pad and start constructing rap lyrics. This can work if you’re really feeling inspired, but most often you should brainstorm what you want to say before putting lines together. Write down the punch lines that come to your head, then rattle off all the words that rhyme with the words in your punch line. This will be material for your in-rhymes and line rhymes. Brainstorming can also help you see new things you might like to say in your verse that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
- Let it simmer. When you’ve actually written your verses, do yourself a favor and don’t look at it again for a few weeks. When you return to it, you’ll have a fresh set of eyes that can judge objectively what doesn’t work with your rhymes. If you edit your verses too soon after writing them, you won’t have the perspective to know what to cut or revise. Trust the process and just let those rhymes stew on their own for a while.