ATTN: EMCEES & SONG WRITERS: Wanna know how to write a dope rhyme? This one is for you.
Songwriting is an art. Its fun and anyone can do it, but being good at it- everyone can't do that! Good songwriting takes practice and know how. Its a process. It's a skill. People outside of Hip Hop culture may not always consider Emcees to be songwriters, but they are. This article will be most helpful to Emcees but any songwriter can still benefit from the steps outlined here.
10 basic steps to help your pen-game fly:
1. Plan your rhyme.
Approach the rhyme from a songwriter’s perspective. Remember an emcee is a musician as well. So don't just think about the words whenever you compose lyrics, think about the song as a whole piece and how your lyrics and vocals will fit within that framework.
First start by asking yourself a few questions:
What is the topic of your verse?
What message do you want to convey?
What mood do you want to project?
How long will your part be in the song?
Is it a solo song or will there be other artists featured?
What kinda beat is it on?
2. Brainstorm into your notebook.
Use your rhyme book like a workbook. After you have gathered the proper perspective to start writing, you should create what I call a "word bank". This is where you brainstorm potential ideas, whether it be rhyming words, phrases that sound good together, or potential points to be made at some point in your verse. Write it all down in the word bank.
The word bank is a great tool because it helps you to flesh out your ideas better. It keeps you from running into walls while you're writing. It also has the potential to completely alleviate writer's block. If you have lots of ideas and words in your word bank, then chances are you won't run out of points to make, or clever ways to make them. You don't have to fill up the word bank before you start writing, you can just add on to the word bank as your rhyme progresses.
3. Start the rhyme off strong.
As a Hip Hop MC - you must consider that you are not only a musician, but a songwriter aka a composer. This means that like any good writer- you should arrange each composition in such a way as to best grasp your audience. Having said this, having a dynamic intro is a must- especially if yours is the first voice that people will hear when the song plays.
You want to wow them as much as possible. Think of your verse like a corporation would think of a commercial. You only have a few seconds to convince someone to stick around and see what else you have to say. Don't bore them, entice them. Find a way to get to the point without showing them all your cards. Not every intro will be upbeat, loud or exciting. Some songs are mellow and don't require a lot of fanfare. Just make it interesting.
4. Say the rhyme out loud as you compose it.
This is one of the greatest tips that can be given. Whenever possible- recite the rhyme out loud, over the intended instrumental. It helps to hear the rhyme said aloud because it eliminates any potential surprises once you enter the studio to record it.
What if you wrote a very wordy –multi syllabic rhyme, but you didn’t recite it out loud while you were writing it? Chances are- when you get in the booth- you are going to have problems with breath control. Usually what sounds good in our heads is not the way it actually sounds in reality. If something doesn’t flow right when you spit it- re-write it until it does. Spit it aloud and tweek it until it sounds right to you.
Saying your verse to yourself allows you to better develop the tone, rhythm, melody and overall flavor of your verse. It is also a sign of true professionalism, because it shows proper planning and saves you money in the long run. Being prepared cuts back on studio time.
This tip also aids greatly in memorization. Do this: Every time you add a new line to your verse, stop and recite the lyrics aloud a few times. You will find that by the time you complete your composition- you will also have memorized most of it. You will also have a pretty good idea of how you want the verse to sound when you perform it on the microphone.
5. Play with cadences.
Never get so wrapped up in the word play that you forget that your voice is an instrument. One of the things that makes great MCs great- is that they don't leave out musicianship when they create. Take for instance- Busta Rhymes. He is very lyrical and flexible with wordplay, however he also puts creative rhyme schemes into his delivery. He doesn't just spit his rhymes like diarrhea. He plays around heavily with the cadence of his rhyme- and gets the most out of the beat. He makes his rhymes fun to spit.
When you look at the word "rhyme" you see that it is phonetically related to the word "rhythm". This is because both words are cousins and they deal with repetition. Rhymes should have rhythm, because by nature the point of a rhyme is rhythmic-repetition. In other words this is Hip Hop. You gotta feel the beat- and you’ve gotta ride the beat. A good delivery can often trump word play. You think about all the greats, they had crazy dope rhyme schemes and rhythmic mastery.
6. Play around with your vocal tone.
No one is saying that you have to be a singer, however you are technically a vocalist. After all it's your voice they will be recording once you get to the studio. So consider your vocal tone whenever you write. Does it match or compliment the tone of the instrumental? Does it add to the overall point you are making?
Imagine that you are writing a smooth type of love song. Are you gonna scream it? Spit it like a rhyme? Talk it? When LL Cool J recorded "I need love" in the studio he didn't start yelling, he brought his voice down to a real mellow vibe. He was trying to reflect the mood and tone of the song he was making. The idea is don't wait until you hear yourself on the microphone to know how you're going to sound. Find out ahead of time.
7. Learn how to hold the listener.
The best MCS like KRS One, Kendrick Lamar and Dre 3000 all know how to hold an audience in their palms using words. From bar to bar it is a good skill to have- and not everyone has it. Some MCs use braggadocious filler as the majority of their rhyme content. The words sound good together- but somehow they still don't hold your attention.
A good rhyme has high points and low points. For instance in Outkast song "I'm Sorry Miss Jackson" Dre 3000 says "forever, forever ever, forever ever?" This served as a high point in his verse. Everyone who knows that song remembers that part- just as well as they remember the actual chorus. Dre knew exactly what he was doing.
Another way to hold your listener is to keep with the theme. If there is a topic- stay on it. The English language contains hundreds of thousands of words. Still, there is no need to try and use them all in one rhyme. If the song you are composing is meant to have a clear-cut theme, then do your best to stick to it. Don't be all over the place. You will lose your listener that way.
This doesn't mean be rigid, just stay within the playing field. You should use metaphors and be imaginative, but be sure to have a point to it. It makes sense to talk about ice cream trucks, swimming pools and suntan's if you are making a song about the summertime. But if you are making a song about anarchy and revolution- then maybe ice cream is less appropriate. Remember you only have a limited amount of bars in which to operate whenever composing a song. So you should always make them count.
8. Have a conclusion.
The same strong way you started the verse- you want to end the verse that way as well. Inflect your voice in such a way that tells the listener that the rhyme is concluding. Say something in the lyrics that gives a sense of finale. Just like with a good movie- we don't want to be left hanging. So don't just end your verse abruptly-or in a weird way that makes no sense. Satisfy your audience by giving them a good ending.
9. Do a pre-recording of your rhyme.
If you have a cell phone, which most people do, then you can do a little mini recording of your song. Just go to the Google Play Store and download a decent voice recording app. Then you can record any little melodies or lyrics that you may come up with during your day to day travels.
These apps are extremely sweet because they allow you to hear and to recall how you sound when saying you're lyrics. If you write a lot, you may find that sometimes- upon revisiting a previously written rhyme, you have forgotten the cadence or the melody. Making pre-pro recordings is especially helpful for singer/songwriters as it eliminates this problem.
10. Master your rhyme.
Now that you have thoroughly constructed your lyrical masterpiece, all that is left to do is master it. If you implemented the techniques described above - you should already have a very firm grasp on the nature and personality of your rhyme. So the final step is just to recite it over and over- first while reading it, then from memory.
Time is money. The same way wasting time cost you money, putting in time makes you money. The overall goal is to do as much work as you can - before arriving at the studio. Whenever Kendrick Lamar is in an interview, and he is asked to spit bars live, he runs them bars as if his life depended on it. Kendrick Lamar can do this with ease, from memory- because he has achieved lyrical mastery. He doesn't take the responsibility of the MC lightly. He understands that lyricism is a craft and not everyone is well-equipped to represent it fully.
Lyrical Mastery is not only a gift- it is a skill set that takes mad honing and development. If you treat the writing process with respect, it will reward you in return.