How Rappers Write Their Songs: Eminem vs. Drake vs. Jay-Z vs. Lil’ Wayne

How Rappers Write Their Songs: Eminem vs. Drake vs. Jay-Z vs. Lil’ Wayne

Jay walked in and he was like, ‘Yo, can I talk to you’… 

He’s like, ‘Yo you know it’s tension, but yo we all here to work together…’

So I was like, aight come on, there’s a song right here if it’s like that… and then he’s like “bet”, so he went in there… and I’ma be honest with you…

I never seen nobody do that sh*t ‘cause I write my rhymes down.

He sat there, word to mother.. probably six minutes and did that verse.

He didn’t know the beat was up, he didn’t no nothing ‘cause like I said he just walked in so we could talk… he sat there for about six minutes and did that verse in one take.

Cam’on on Jay-Z’s Writing Process

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In this clip, Harlem’s own Cam’ron gives us a deep insight into how rappers write their songs in the Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne fashion. 

Although rappers such as Cam’ron himself, Eminem as we’ll show you in a minute, and Drake (most of the time…) actually write their rhymes down in order to feel most comfortable when they write their songs…

Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne have devised… 

The “Mind Only” Method (Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West)

“Yeah you know, as far as myself… I write, I mean I really WRITE. Wayne does this thing that’s like scary… and it’s unfair… and I’m jealous of it for a million years.

He sits there and they’ll be playing a record and he’ll just be like this (leans back, closes eyes and stares at the ceiling) and he’ll be like chilling… and then get my get up and eat some candy and then do like, whatever… 

It’ll take 40 minutes, maybe… if that… maybe 15. And then he’ll go like that (jumps up emphatically) and pop up and head right for the both. 

And lay like one or two or three of one of the most amazing verses you’ve ever heard with lines like… what just happened? Did you just make a movie in your head like, what just happened, you know?” 

Drake on Lil’ Wayne’s Writing Process

The mind only method used by rappers such as Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne is where a rapper writes a pre-thought verse(s) in their mind prior to recording and then delivers it in the booth as a fully completed set of bars.

This differs from the classic handwritten approach used by rappers such as Eminem and Nas or writing on your verse on your phone as Drake seemed to have done during his now infamous “Blackberry” freestyle. 

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Jay-Z in particular has been on record as saying that his “mind only” recording style was created out of necessity. 

He says he would be out hustling in the streets of Brooklyn, think of rhymes but have nowhere to write them down…

…And thus trained himself to simply memorize any rhymes he thought of, a skill he cultivated until he could create an entire verse without every actually writing anything down. 

Given Lil’ Wayne’s continuing admiration for Hov’, it is likely that hearing of this writing method Weezy was partially inspired to similar develop The Mind Only method…

…Although considering that many other famous rap artists such as Big Sean, Common, and Kanye West have said they rarely if ever actually write their rhymes down and use some form of the “mind only” method. 

‘A lot of people didn’t know how deadly you are with your pen… or device if you type it down…’ I don’t even do that… I just go in there and work it out in my head… ‘you one of them too? Do people really do that?’ I don’t know if people are lying I know Jay-Z, Kanye, Common, myself, Wayne… ‘all the good ones’

Big Sean and Big Boy Talk About Rap Writing Processes

The Mind Only Method vs. “Going Off Of The Top”

It should be noted that the “Mind Only” method is distinctly different than the classical definition of “freestyling” or “going off of the top”. 

Going off of the top or freestyling is where you spontaneously come up with lines of rap as the beat is playing with NO pre-thought and no preparation. 

The “Mind Only” method is where you do take some time, however short (such as Jay-Z’s six minutes or so according to Cam’ron)… 

…And think of what you’re going to say and THEN deliver it. 

If you’re a rapper watching this who would like to perfect the actual art of freestyle rapping where you can essentially rhyme spontaneously about any beat thrown in front of you the second you hear it, visit the link by clicking HERE to get more info on our freestyle masterclass where we will teach you how to master the art of freestyle rap in two weeks or less…

…However it’s extremely important that you recognize the difference between freestyling off of the top and the mind only method.

They are equally impressive skills although they access different aspects of the creative facility that rappers have at their disposal. 

Also, as you’ll see in a second, it’s important to not fall into the “mind only means you will be a better rapper” assumption. 

Let’s look at some artists who actually write them down and see what we can tease out: 

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The “Write Down” Method (Eminem, Drake, Nas) 

“I think of lyrics in my head all the time… ‘where do you write your lyrics down in… do you use a piece a paper, do you use a computer or you just keep them in your head?’ I tried to keep them in my head, but, anything that I can write… because I’m not good at keep thoughts, I get scatter brained sometimes and I might try to remember what I was thinking earlier so I gotta write it down so I write my rhymes on anything.”

Eminem and Jonathan Ross Talk About His Writing Process

The Write Down Method is exactly what it sounds like – rappers writing rhymes down before they deliver them. 

This can be done on literally ANYTHING as Eminem has just shown us here, although the most common way up until the advent of cellphones was on a piece of paper. 

Nas has been seen in numerous pictures and videos writing his rhymes down by hand, so much so that he even has a song called “Book of Rhymes” on 2002’s God Son album…

…Although the most common approach in the 21st century is of course using ones phone. 

Although Drake was famously lambasted for reading his lyrics off of a phone during a “freestyle”, it’s important to note that many rappers read their bars off of a phone. 

Additionally we believe here at Rap Game Now that it’s likely more so the awkwardness of seeing a rapper read off of a phone during a purported freestyle than it is about the actual act of rapping from a phone. 

This goes into the main tension within the common uses of “freestyle” in Hip-Hop culture. 

Freestyle: Pre-Written or Off The Top?

There are two ways that rap fans commonly use the word “freestyle”: 

  • Spontaneous 
  • Unheard Pre-Written Verse

The Spontaneous style is the classical definition wherein a rapper hears a beat and with absolutely no pre-thought, starts rapping, often about things around them or the person in front of them, as in a battle.

The unheard pre-written verse is often heard on rap radio shows where an artist is promoting their album. They might rap an unheard verse from the album as Kanye West has done several times or they might rap a never-heard “loosie” verse as many rappers on the LA Leakers freestyle show do. 

The unheard pre-written verse style was what Drake seemed to be going for in that famous Blackberry freestyle, although the imagery did not do him any favors. 

Let us know in the comments: what is YOUR personal definition of a freestyle? 

Conclusion 

There are many ways to skin a cat and the creative process never limits itself to one single category. 

On one side we have two of the highest selling rappers of all-time in artists like Eminem and Drake, however on the other side we have some of the most legendary and influential rappers like Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne…

…As well as some of the newer heavyweights like Kanye West and Big Sean. 

Therefore when studying how rappers develop their art, it’s crucial to look behind the curtain and see these as creative people first and foremost. 

It takes major skills to fill the shoes of these artists, and for these kicks… one size does NOT fit all. 


COMMENT: What is your personal definition of a freestyle? 

Drew Morisey, Instagram and Twitter

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