Hip-Hop Songwriting Tips and Techniques (2020)
So, last week we covered overall songwriting tips and techniques for the year 2020…
And while there was a lot of great info in that video fusing rap with mainstream music…
(Because genre-bending is key)
People wanted a little bit more of a rap specific vibe to the material, so I’ve decided to give a break down that is specific to hip hop songwriting.
The format we’ll use is your typical writing session.
Last note before we begin: this format is for you assuming that you WRITE your lyrics down in some form.
It has become increasingly common to record the whole song while not sitting down to write and recording it a bar or two at a time.
This is a great system for many artists, but we’ve decided to use a formula that will work for any “form” of Hip-Hop.
So, without further ado, let’s get into:
Hip Hop Songwriting Tips and Techniques For 2020!
1. Mood Shift (20 Minute Rule)
The first thing I would suggest doing is some form of a “mood shift” to get you into writing mode.
What that means is take a good 20 minutes to write either a warm-up verse, or a quick 20 minute freestyle session…
Or 20 minutes of listing rhymes…
But whatever you do, take a little time to ease into the process of writing RAP.
When you sit down to write, your mind is likely on whatever you were doing in the past, whether that be social media, getting home from work or school, or anything else.
So, you need to get a “MOOD SHIFT” going where your brain can now say TIME TO WRITE RAP. TIME TO RHYME WORDS.
2. Choose Your Beat
Choosing your beat SHOULD NOT take a long time. Especially if you don’t have the luxury of sitting around for hours on record-label paid time.
This entire system is designed to have you write tons of music and improve with time.
The easiest way to find a beat quickly is imagine the environment this song would be played.
If you are thinking, “I want to make a song that would be played out of whips in New York on the block”, it should be pretty easy to identify a hard street banger.
If you think, “I want to make people chant by the thousands in a stadium”, it should be pretty easy to identify an epic arena style beat.
Follow your gut when it comes to choosing a beat.
3. Identify The Chorus
The first thing you should do to make your life easier writing Hip-Hop is identify where the producer placed the chorus.
In other words, beat makers are very aware of common song structure length and usually program the “expected chorus” into the beat…
…As an indication of where you’d like want to put your chorus.
This is quite different than pop or rock music where the songwriter is usually decided on the chords and structure in real time as they write…
…Because they have control of an instrument to make changes on the spot.
The easiest way to identify a chorus it to look for a repeated 8-bar section that has a feeling of “released tension” through introduction of a new instrument…
Such as a horn, strings, a new melodic line, etc.
The purpose of a chorus is to relieve the tension built up in the verse, so anytime it feels like something has been “released” sonically…
That’s usually the chorus.
For more information on perfecting your song structure and beat selection, check out our video course “Hit Records and Hot Beats” where we speak for 4-hours straight on how to develop perfect song structure.
4. Create A Reference Track
This is an underrated tactic especially in Hip-Hop.
One of the best techniques to improve your writing speed is scatting different flows over the beat…
Even if the words are inaudible…
And then filling in words based on the flows that you’ve spontaneously spit out.
If you don’t want to get labelled as a “mumble rapper”, of course be sure to fill in the scats with deep and meaningful lyrics…
But the advantage of doing a scratch track or mumble track, is you have a more spontaneous flow to use as a template…
While still allowing yourself time to think of the deepest bars.
5. Once You’re Finished With The Chorus… Continue The Rhyme Scheme for the first two bars of each verse
What we mean here is to need to have a smooth transition between the “tension release” of the chorus and the rebuilding of tension in the verse.
So if your chorus ends “I’m the man”…
You can have the first two bars continue the “man” scheme…
“I’m the man
And so the people follow me ‘cause I gotta plan
Funny how the cool disposition got a lotta fans…”
Or something like that.
Retaining the rhyme scheme introduced at the end of the chorus helps keep the transition smooth while also making it easier to write.
6. Finish Verse 1
Now that you know where the chorus is, you have a reference track of flows, work on verse 1.
If you’re using this system, you should already be warmed up and this should come easy.
7. Finish Your BRIDGE, OUTRO, or extra parts
This is a HUGE key to making writing raps easier…
After you have VERSE 1 and the CHOURS done…
Actually write the “THIRD” or fourth sections of the song BEFORE verse 2.
This will help alleviate what we call “Verse 2 Blues” where you are so impressed with verse 1 (‘cause you wrote it first) that you get instant writer’s block trying to make verse 2 PERFECT.
The way to fix that is actually write the “bridge” or “outro” or any other additional sections BEFORE verse 2.
8. Finish Verse 2
NOW that your first verse, chorus, AND bridge is done…
All you have to do is fill in verse 2 which won’t feel so intense because you can look back and realize 90% of your song is DONE.
Again, this is key to avoiding the immediate pressure that comes from thinking you HAVE to write verse 2 right after verse 1…
And feel the stress and trying to always ONE UP verse
9. Record Your Song
Now that your song is written, you can record the whole track.
Depending on your experience level, this can take anywhere from one hour to three to four hours.
If it takes you longer than four hours just to RECORD your song, you likely need to perform more rap out loud or get more studio chops…
So that you can effortlessly deliver tracks since you’re experienced actually PERFORMING what you write.
10. Throw In Your Ad-Libs
After your track is done, be sure to add some AD-LIBS and background voices to fill out the dead space.
Even if you don’t end up using many of them or ANY of them, it’s key to practice this skill to have the OPTION of putting them in to the make the track feel more alive.
Because rap isn’t purely MELODIC in nature a lot of the time, the culture has developed things like AD-LIBS to give it more of a full, rhythmic feeling that other genres have “built-in” due to more instruments and melodic notes to fill in the dead space.
Let’s look at the full Hip-Hop songwriting system we just discussed:
- Mood Shift (20 Minute Rule)
- Choose Your Beat
- Identify The Chorus
- Create A Reference Track
- Once You’re Finished With The Chorus… Continue The Rhyme Scheme for the first two bars of each verse
- Finish Verse 1
- Finish Your BRIDGE, OUTRO, or extra parts
- Finish Verse 2
- Record Your Song
- Throw In Your Ad-Libs
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