How To Rap Like J. Cole on “Power Trip” (Songwriting Secrets)
We’re going to show you how to rap like J. Cole on his classic single, “Power Trip”. There will be a host of J. Cole songwriting secrets in this article… and by the end of it, you should know some key insights on how to write a song like J. Cole!
J. Cole Songwriting Secrets – Overview
One of the keys to J. Cole’s songwriting is making sure that you weave different elements into each hook. We’ll discuss this in-depth in a minute.
Repetition of Lyrics
More specifically, the threaded repetition of lyrics… where he takes repeated phrases and weaves them in and out the track to increase catchiness.
We’ll show you how he constructs a story and put you in the tale of “Power Trip” so you can know how to write a song like J. Cole using storytelling secrets.
Unresolved Thought Loop
We’re going to open your mind to keeping the audience’s attention throughout the full song so that when you learn how to rap like J. Cole, you can have streams played over and over again.
J. Cole Songwriting Secret #1 – ”Layering the Hook”
You want to have many different sections come in and out of the song… (to be discussed further in secret #2)
By layering song sections together, you give it a more emotionally resonant, larger sounding feeling.
Step-By-Step Through The Chorus Sections
(I suggest watching the YouTube training in this article or listening to the track along with reading so you hear the full effects mentioned here)
A) CALL-AND-RESPONSE: “Got me up all night” along with variations of, “All I’m singing is love songs” etc.
B) “YEAH” / “WE ARE”: We have the: “Yeah” in the intro but it also turns into the, “We Are” in the chorus. So he’s going to layer that in and out through intro and hook.
C) VOCAL RUNS: That’s the background voices and “oo’s” you hear to add fullness to the track.
D) PRE-CHORUS: A Pre-Chorus (if you haven’t read any of our articles before) is a section slightly different than the chorus, but leads into the chorus.
It’s in between the verse and the chorus and builds tension. It leads into the chorus to make the release of the chorus much more emotionally impactful.
If you have ever wondered about how to make a song a little bit more “exciting” or how to have the “tension-and-release” effect present in most songs… add in a pre-chorus like we have here.
E) BONUS: The intro and outro of the song are the same; an important point in secret #2…
You should be looking for places that you can add in that ‘falsetto’ run in the background, so that you can maybe take a line or two out of the intro or outro and throw that in the Chorus to increase that memorability and catchiness.
This song is a great example of it! J. Cole is an expert at this and you should be studying to layer your hooks.
J. Cole Songwriting Secret #2 – Threaded Repetition of Lyrics
Now, J. Cole doesn’t just LAYER the chorus… he uses other sections of the song to increase catchiness.
He threads it in in order to make it even more catchy and memorable in a very tight organized song structure.
This brings us to key number two which is the “Repetition of Lyrics” and more specifically – “Threaded Repetition of Lyrics”.
Now, in the case of threading the lyrics… you see he has an Intro that starts the song. He takes a section of that intro and inserts it in the Chorus, and then just does variations on it.
So the key success for you is…
“Can I take the most catchy part of my verse, intro, bridge or refrain, and convert it to a call-and-response method so the song feels like one long story?”
One thing I really like about this song is the way that he does the repetition that “got me up all night”.
It feels like a clock moving along… we’re moving with the sands of time. It feels like we’re perpetually in the middle of the song. Interesting effect.
Now the other thing that he does is repeat lyrics in general to make it more catchy. This makes it more easy to memorize and easy to say when you are in the club…
When you’re doing these singles that are designed for both men and women to enjoy… it is really important to keep it something that everybody in the crowd can sing!
An entire STADIUM needs to be able to sing along with it.
That’s why “Power Trip” is such a great choice for a single.
All he does throw the rhymes in the word before the last word of each part. That’s another trick you can throw in as well… repeating that last word and then having the words before them rhyme!
J. Cole Songwriting Secret #3 – Play-By-Play Storytelling
Now the third key, that J. Cole executes here is what I’m going to call “Play by Play Storytelling”.
It should be noted that this song is a continuation of “Dreamz” by J. Cole – a great song as well – and he even mentions it in this actual track.
(But for the purposes of this article, we’re not going to get too much into that.)
What we want to focus on is how in the first eight bars of the track…
As a listener, I already know everything I need to know.
So let’s look at the first eight bars and ask: What is he telling us about the setting that we’re in?
OK, back when I was sleepin’ in my mama crib
Even back then when I was up there in Mohammed crib
Payin’ seventeen-hundred for the rent, money well spent
No heater, but a n***a made heat, may I vent?
Had a thing for you –
Even wrote the song dreams for you
‘Cause I had dreams for you, thoughts of a ring for you
Childish s**t, you know childish s**t
Anonymous flowers sent, you know coward s**t
Now a n***a signed to Hov, took a power trip…
So in those first eight bars… you already know everything you need to know as a fan.
You know there’s this young guy who’s obsessed with this girl. You know that they had separation…
And there’s a building expectation and suspense of what’s going to happen next.
One of the main storytelling keys you’ll learn in any writing seminar is:
From the very minute you start your song, story, or film…
You want to be building suspense and expectation.
I want to be interested because I know something in the story is going to happen next.
That’s one of the reasons why, for example in crime mysteries… there’s usually a crime in the BEGINNING of it to set the tone that we live in a “dangerous universe” the story will be set in.
They’re building your expectation… your suspense… they have you wondering wondering “What the f**k is going to happen next?!”
Moving on, towards the end of verse one… you get a nice little dovetail and then he goes into the chorus.
In verse two – and kind of a bonus thought here – is that verse two it’s “her” power trip. Verse one is “his” power trip. Verse two is about HIM becoming this great successful artist but still wondering about this girl.
Verse two is “her” power trip – she feeling like she’s running things now because this rapper with clout is still going on all about her.
The switching of roles is also another great track in storytelling:
Can you find a way that you can get both sides of the story told?
If you’re doing the song that’s gonna be a big single… you expect both men and women to sing along with it. You expect both genders to relate to it.
The best thing for you to do is make sure that you’re having both men and women’s stories told in the narrative.
NOTE: If you’d like to hear the full story of Rap Game Now, check out our in-depth history article by clicking HERE.
J. Cole Songwriting Secret #4 – Unresolved Thought Loops
What I mean by this is that the end of verse two… we don’t really know what happens.
Do they get back together?
Does he take her on tour and they get married and all this kind of stuff?
What’s going to happen next?
Having these questions in our heads is actually a good thing. It’s not like me as a listener I feel like I’ve lost something.
The reason I brought this up is because many beginning rappers…
(I coach rappers from around the world on the regular)…
They’re very scared about doing that storytelling track and they they think they have to tell their whole life story.
They think they have to tell the entire tale from – “Guy meets girl”…
All the way to the part where they’re old in a nursing home in order to have a good storytelling track.
Many songs, including “Power Trip”, are snap shot into your emotional state at one time in your life.
This song is just one snapshot of J. Cole reminiscing about a girl when he’s at the height of his fame…
But thinking about the girl he was with back in North Carolina, probably are college age.
It’s not a story about their whole life. It’s not a story about what’s going to happen when he sees her in the front row on the Born Sinner tour and wants to cut the music to say: “What up girl?”
It’s none of that. It’s just a moment in time…
So it’s okay for you to write your own song or get to the end of verse two and say, “Alright, well, we haven’t quite fully resolved the story, but we’ve given a very good, fluid, accurate portrayal of how I felt in that moment.”
Every song doesn’t have to be “Stan”. As great as “Stan” is… every song doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to tell the entire tale until somebody dies.
So, if you want to know how write a song like J. Cole… specifically a song like, “Power Trip”…
Make sure you implement:
“Layered Chorus Construction”
Layer your choruses with different sections that weave in and out of the hook to give in a more full, catchy essence… musically speaking.
“Threaded Repetition of Lyrics”
Make sure repeat key catchy phrases to make the audience, no matter how lit in the club or arena they are, remember and follow along with the message.
Handhold the audience through your narrative lyrically!
“Unresolved Thought Loops”
Don’t feel like you have to tell your whole life story in the song! It can just be a snapshot in time.
NOTE: If you enjoyed that training, be sure to check out our J. Cole “Songwriting Secrets Revealed” article by clicking HERE.
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