How To Write A Rap Song Like 2Pac, Step-By-Step
“I mean but (Dear Mama’s) a good example for young artists coming up today how to write a song. You know rappers can “rap” – they can make words sound like they rhyme or sort of rhyme, but to write a song is what they should learn how to do. They’re not giving people record deals for freestyling… they’re giving songwriters deals… and it’s hard enough as it right now… that’s a good example of a full, well-written song…”Mopreme Shakur (2Pac’s Stepbrother) Discussing “Dear Mama”
In this clip, Mopreme Shakur – step-brother of Tupac Shakur – gives us an underrated but VITAL aspect to study when learning how to write a rap song like 2Pac.
In a minute, we’ll use specific examples from some of 2Pac’s most iconic songs to give you a step-by-step framework on writing rap songs like ‘Pac, but for now let’s dive a little bit deeper into the first secret exposed in the clip during step #1 on how to write a rap song like 2Pac:
#1 Write With The Full Song In Mind
As YouTube’s #1 most subscribed channel on learning the science of how to rap, we have a lot of catch phrases we like to give our audience in order to help them better understand how to write a rap song.
One of our most enduring mottos is: the full song is the currency of the music industry.
What we mean by this is whether it’s a fan on the street who will spend their entire savings on every new project you release or it’s a power music industry insider who wants to put you on the game…
…The truth is rap artists are judged by their ability to create full songs with concepts, catchy choruses, and memorable phrases more than just their ability to “spit a couple witty bars”.
Mopreme pointed this out in the previous quote, and we can see this exemplified not only by songs like “Dear Mama” that Mopreme talked about…
…But take a second to think of 2Pac’s most iconic tracks. “Changes”. “California Love”. “Keep Ya Head Up”. “Hit ‘Em Up”. “I Ain’t Mad At Ya”, and so on.
Every single one of them has a specific concept (such as “I Ain’t Mad At Ya” or “California Love”), a simple repeatable phrase (do you have any trouble remembering what “California Love” or “Changes” is about?), and step #2:
#2 Deliver On The “Promise” Of The Song Concept
This isn’t a diss, and in fact songs like Eminem’s “Role Model” and Lil’ Wayne‘s “A Milli” are some of the most entertaining and iconic rap songs of the last 25 years…
However 2Pac was more known for his direct-to-audience style of song structure and lyrical direction.
Think of a track like “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”. Every single verse develops the over all concept of the song that 2Pac is not bitter or resentful at a loved one.
Verse 1 talks about a friend who has become a Muslim even though 2Pac is still in the streets…
Verse 2 talks about a homey he grew up with in the streets who he wants to hold it down while 2Pac goes to jail…
And verse 3 talks as if ‘Pac is the one still in the streets and his friend that he ain’t “mad at” is went from “nobody to the big man on the block” as the song says.
In each case, the verse is “delivering on the promise” of the song title and concept.
You can see similar “point-of-view” based verses in 2Pac songs like “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Me and My Girlfriend”, and “Baby Don’t Cry”.
So, if you are attempting to gain knowledge on how to write a rap song like 2Pac, experiment with multiple points of view, one for each verse.
We go more in-depth on how to do this in our free video course The Top 20 Songwriting Secrets of Professional Rappers which you can get by clicking HERE…
But the easiest way to start practicing step #2 right now is to always, always, write the title / concept of the song at the top of the page or notes app you’re using before starting your writing process.
However, this is only if you’re trying to learn how to write a rap song like 2Pac.
There are indeed other ways to write a rap song, but for the purposes of this article, write your concept at the top…
Once you’ve gotten your concept down and you’re going to deliver on your promise, move on to step 3…
#3 Straightfoward Rhymes, Complex Thoughts
2Pac’s rhyme structure and flow are extremely direct and to the point, servicing the “message” of the song rather than trying to wow you and stacked multi syllables the way an Eminem would or do unexpected cadences in the way Biggie did.
If you think of 2Pac’s most iconic two-liners, most of those go something like this:
First off, f$#k your b$%#h and the clique you CLAIM
West side when we ride come equipped with GAME
You claim to be a player but f$#@#d your WIFE
Bad boy, when we ride n$#$s f@#%$d for LIFE“Hit ‘Em Up”
Even when you were a crack FIIIIEND mama
You always were a black QUEEEEN mama“Dear Mama”
These are lines with only one or two rhymes for the entire bar, however the emotional content is much heavier than a random LA Leakers freestyle with a bunch of rhymes with no moral questions.
This additionally helps 2Pac to create songs much faster than a rapper who is attempting to do what we call “Harlem Globetrotter rap” where a bunch of fancy moves are performed on the court…
Or in the case of Hip-Hop, a bunch of fancy rhymes are spit just for the sake of rhyming and nothing else.
In a minute we’ll show you 2Pac speaking directly to his team about how quickly he wants his music created and is method for getting done faster than anyone else, but the point here is to understand how to write a rap song like 2Pac…
Spend more time worrying about the cohesive narrative aspects of the track and use simple, direct rhymes in order to get your point across to a wider audience rather than overthinking bars.
I mean, 2Pac is so focused on the emotional truth of his songs over the rhyme complexity that he is known for rhyming Hennessy with enemies at least 2-3 times per album!
Again that is no way a diss, but rather a window into exactly how 2Pac has decided to prioritize what he wishes to emphasize in his rap songs.
With the “Hennessy” / enemies” line in mind, we would be remiss to not mention how vocal delivery plays a part in all of this, so once you’ve gotten your song structure and rhyme patterns down, don’t forget step 4…
#4 Fill Out The Vocal With Doubles, Triples, and Ad-Libs
Rappers often “beef up” their vocal presence by recording multiple takes of the same verse and/or sections of the verse and then layering them on top of each other.
These are often called doubles (or triples if there are 3 takes layered together) in the rap game.
Let’s check out a quick acapella clip of 2Pac’s “All Eyez On Me”, taking a second to recognize the ‘number of voices’ 2Pac is using and how layered it sounds:
Notice how by layering his vocals and stacking them together 2Pac’s voice (which is already considerable heavy) almost has a panoramic, surround-sound quality to them?
This is one of 2Pac’s most iconic mixing tricks throughout his career, so much so that when he used less doubles and triples on an album like Makaveli: The 7 Day Theory, it gave an entirely different “texture” to the music.
Additionally, the copious use of ad-libs, or additional non-rhythmic “background vocals” is a key to getting that 2Pac sound.
Songs like “Lil’ Homies”, “Can’t C Me”, and of course “Hit ‘Em Up” have sections of ad-libbed trash-talking that are almost as iconic as the actual rapped portions of the song themselves!
If you’d like to learn more common definitions for the keywords to professional rapping, click HERE to get our free How To Rap Dictionary…
…But the main takeaway from this step is to beef up your vocals by having more than one voice weaving in and out of the song.
#5 Quantity Leads To Quality
“We don’t have time or the luxury to spend all of this time just doing one song… we don’t have it.
We gotta find a way that we could double up on it… ‘cause I did my whole album like 3 songs a day. ‘Cause I was just laying it, rocking it, and then getting off…
You can mix later and have n****s that love being in the studio all night and add the drum beat and the time… you can do that after the rappers leave…
But while we’re in here and you got like 8 rappers here… man, get that beat popping, throw them n****s on the track…”2Pac In The Studio Screaming at His Team
We’ve made this point for in other articles, however we can never really overstate how crucial it is for artists to create a massive amount of music in order to let their “muse” pull out their best work.
It’s hard not to wonder if 2Pac felt his passing coming on in advance so he tried to get out as much music as possible, but without getting too philosophical, it’s clear in this clip that 2Pac values the concept that quantity leads to quality…
…And that of the hundreds of songs he did over the course of a year…
You would get a “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” and a “Hail Mary” out of that massive quantity…
Rather than sitting around waiting for inspiration to come. If you’d like to learn how to write a rap song like 2Pac, you have to do just that… write a lot of rap songs.
As Denzel Washington says, “anything you practice you’ll get good at”, so if you practice writing a rap song, you’ll get good at writing a rap song!
It sounds kind of matter of fact but the sheer amount of aspiring rappers who take too long to complete songs is astounding, take it from us, we’ve coached 1,000s…