How Rappers Come Up With Choruses
(Co-written with Jason Cuthbert)
We are thrilled when our favorite rappers blow our mind with the bars.
We feel closer to them when they mention something they love that we thought only us and our friends were aware of.
Who doesn’t love lyrics that make us laugh out loud or wish that we wrote it?
But how come we don’t pay as much close attention to catchy choruses?
Maybe we take a melodic hook on a song for granted when it sounds so effortless that we are able memorize it after the first listen… which sounds like the definition of a winning chorus to me.
So, if your song was a night out at your favorite restaurant, the beat would be the appetizer that you can taste right away…
The verses would be the main meal that fill you up with the rapper’s story…
The chorus would definitely be the dessert – that sweet spot in the song that gives you an instant sensation if it is crafted correctly.
So, what are the secrets to how rappers come up with choruses that we can’t get out of our heads?
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3. It Begins With the Beat
If the instrumental track is flat and a rapper feels forced to have to write to it, then it is safe to assume that the audience is going to have to force themselves to listen to the song to begin with.
How does the artist know if the beat is going to be the right foundation for the song and a chorus that is going to get repeated, hopefully by millions of people?
Often, it’s a split second feeling where the power of the music just takes over.
Roddy Ricch told Rolling Stone that his hands never clutch a pen and pad prior to hitting the studio to record.
With the right mood, he is able to become emotionally open to come up with a chorus that captures whatever is going on inside him:
“A song like ‘Prayers to the Trap God’ describes what it’s like to be in the middle of a federal sweep…But I can’t sit up here and tell you what that’s like.
When I’m in that mode and that feeling in the studio, I can sit there and really visualize what I was hearing and seeing. What was I doing? What was I eating? What I was watching.”Roddy Ricch, Rolling Stone Interview
If you’re an artist learning how to craft a classic chorus, you need to be aware of your relationship to the beat the first time you hear it. The emotion of the music needs to take you over.
You need to love that beat like it is going to be the last song of your entire career.
If the beat moves you with no words on it, organically, you will be able to get listeners to feel what you feel in that moment.
2. Brainstorming and Conceptualizing
Many artists get a few ideas down just by humming, freestyling, or what is sometimes known as “scatting” – a phrase taken from the jazz days – to get their creative juices flowing.
These initial ideas may be the foundation of a track right then and there on the spot as Roddy Ricch said… or they can be saved for later.
Some exceptional rappers like Kendrick Lamar stockpile thoughts for songs and choruses even when they aren’t working on music. Kendrick told Vanity Fair:
“‘Execution’ is my favorite word. I spend 80 percent of my time thinking about how I’m going to execute, and that might be a whole year of constantly jotting down ideas, figuring out how I’m going to convey these words to a person to connect to it. What is this word that means this, how did it get here and why did it go there and how can I bring it back there? Then, the lyrics are easy.”Kendrick Lamar, Vanity Fair Interview
On the other hand, artists like 50 Cent do a combination of both…
…Where he was taught to stockpile hook ideas ON THE SPOT and then develop the song from there:
“[Jam Master Jay] actually started to teach me how to write music. He gave me writing habits, because he would have me write the chorus three times before he picked one. It gave me the habit as a writer to up with more than one melody for the record. So on “P.I.M.P.,” you’ll hear the chorus area, and then you’ll hear an area that feels like a bridge on the record, but that’s out of the habit that I write two or three melodies on every song.”50 Cent Interview
The conceptualization period of chorus making should be a painless, fun process because ultimately the fanbase wants the chorus…
…The section they’ll possibly singing for the rest of their lives in their most emotional moments…
…To be a breeze to interact with as well.
1. Less Is More
Approaching chorus-writing with less “thought” and more “emotion” is one of the key aspects of the younger generation of classic hook-creators way of creating songs.
Juice Wrld is a rapper who found beauty in the simplicity of his hooks. Juice told Forbes:
“I don’t write anything. I freestyle everything. So, it’s just my release. I have not written a song in a very long time. I just go off the top of my head, pretty much.”Juice Wrld, Forbes
A prolific freestyler both with the bars and and with the hooks, we can all learn a little bit from the creative freedom that Juice Wrld exhibited in his life.
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