How To Rap Like Jay-Z (Step-By-Step)
In today’s article, we’re going to show you how to rap like Jay-Z, often considered one of the greatest rappers of all-time.
We’ll break down how he structures his lyrics, how his lyrical choices relate to his flow, and…
…How he uses “conversational tone” in order to enliven his bars to a point that people often quote him in conversation like it’s Shakespeare or even Scripture.
So, if you’re up-and-coming artist who would like to learn the ins-and-outs of how to rap like Jay-Z…
…Or if you’re just a fan and Hovologist like myself… this is the article for you.
Now, before we begin be sure to subscribe our YouTube channel “How To Rap” by clicking HERE with notifications because we drop weekly videos breaking down the artists of many of the greatest rappers of all time including Nas, Eminem, and of course Jay-Z as we are doing here…
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#3 Space Travel
One of the first lyrical secrets that Jigga uses in order to, what I call “cover a lot of lyrical ground”, is what I think of as “space travel”.
Space travel is where a lyricist takes images from different eras or locations of his or her lifestyle and describes them tightly together in just a few bars…
…In order to illustrate years, even decades, of their experience in just a few short words.
We’ll be giving a LOT of examples of each step in this video, so keep reading, but as a first quick lyric to show you what we mean, consider the first couple of bars of Jay-Z’s classic street anthem, “Hard Knock Life”:
“From standing on the corners bopping…
To driving some of the hottest cars New York has ever seen
For dropping some of the hottest verses rap has ever heard
From the d*** spot, with the smoked G****
Fleeing the m***** scene… you know me well”Jay-Z, “Hard Knock Life”
Now notice there – Jay-Z has described both his current massive financial and critical success as a rapper while simultaneously describing in vivid detail what his life USED to be like… during his hard knock life in just FOUR short bars.
The reason takes a lot of skill and why Jay-Z is considered an innovator in this regard is that most average or amateur rappers take entire verses, sometimes entire songs to cover the same amount of “lyrical ground”…
…While also not making it as catchy.
To use another example, if you were to ask a lesser skill artist to describe their early life in the ghetto, they might drop some very matter-of-fact and expected bars like,
“I’m from the hood, where we all is broke… But even though I had to hustle them thangs, I still had hope” or something just simple like that.
Now, Jay-Z in the other hand would use his lyrical tactic of “space travel” to describe an entire movie scene of street activity involving himself, black market selling of stolen furniture from fiends, family dynamics of the projects, and even the insects in his rough environment ALL in six bars:
“I was raised in the projects, roaches and rats
Smokers out back, selling their mama’s sofas
Lookouts on the corner, focused on the ave
Ladies in the window, focused on the kinfolk
Me under a lamppost, why I got my hand closed?
That’s in my palm, watching the long arm of the law
So you know I seen it all before”Jay-Z, “Izzo”
What makes that particular passage even more interesting is those lyrics are from a decidedly “chart-chasing” single, which we normally think of as simply reserved lighthearted braggadocios bars with no substance…
…While Jay-Z through his “space travel” technique has been able to describe an actual serious topic of poverty… without OVERWHELMING the song with too much deep stuff, like many lesser artists do.
To wrap up the section of “space travel” let’s look a very similar usage of this tactic on another chart-topping single that mainly should just be fun and light, however Jay manages to interweave, yet again, his past life with his future success in a few short lines:
“Yeah I’m out that Brooklyn, now I’m down in Tribeca
Right next to De Niro, but I’ll be hood forever
I’m the new Sinatra, and since I made it here
I can make it anywhere, yeah, they love me everywhere
I used to cop in Harlem – hola, my Dominicanos
Right there up on Broadway, brought me back to that McDonald’s
Took it my stash spot, 560 State Street
Catch in me in the kitchen, like a Simmons whippin’ pastry
Cruisin’ down 8th street, off-white Lexus…”Jay-Z, “Empire State of Mind”
You now see that Hov’ has yet again taken us from hanging out with Robert Dinero to doing illegal activities in the 1980’s in the streets of Brooklyn, all on a #1 anthem.
#2 Listing Technique
One of the ways Jay accomplishes this fast covering of “lyrical ground” is because he has an amazing tendency to “list” things in order of the behavior he exhibits.
Going back to the difference between Shawn Carter and other rappers, most rappers have to take half a verse to describe two or three things they do now that they’re big ballers….
…Whereas Jay-Z will describe how rich AND violent he has become in just a few quick bars by LISTING his behaviors and street accolades, back-to-back-to-back:
“Show closer, Jay-to-the-A-Y Hovah
Place shutter down, who the f***ll f**k around?
Game spitter, Range sitter, Bently driver, n*****
Keep a full clip I have to empty out on n******
H** bagger, no slack, get this s**t jumping
Like eight blacks, four c*****, get your a** jumped
Crist’ sipper, six dipper, wrist glitter n****
Gat buster, a** toucher, c***t licker”Jay-Z, “It’s Hot”
Take a second to really think about how in just a few bars you know EVERYTHING you need to know about this dude’s present mind state from just those lines.
You know what he drives, what he’ll do if you mess with him, what his love life is like, and much more.
By LISTING the behaviors and beliefs he has on things, he can simply TELL YOU MORE WITH LESS in a rap which makes the entire song a more IMMERSIVE experience.
Again, even on “pop” singles Jay does these sorts of immersive lyrical techniques:
“You know I thug ’em, f*** ’em, love ’em, leave ’em
‘Cause I don’t f***in’ need ’em
Take ’em out the hood, keep ’em lookin’ good
But I don’t f****in’ feed ’em
First time they fuss I’m breezin’
Talkin’ bout, “What’s the reasons?”
I’m a pimp in every sense of the word, b****
Better trust than believe ‘em”Jay-Z, “Big Pimpin'”
So, if you’re wondering as a fan why Jay-Z’s raps are so memorable or how YOU as a rapper can start to compete lyrically with a GOAT like this, incorporate more LISTING techniques throughout your rhymes.
Listing Technique As Flow
The fact that Jay-Z lists so much even pays dividends in how his flow interacts with the beat.
When you look at a song like, “What More Can I Say” off of The Black Album you can see that Jay not only does listening technique on this track, but has the flow move in a listen format “in-sync” with the lyrics itself:
“There’s never been a n**** this good for this long
Or this pop is hot
Or this strong
With so many different flows
This one’s for this song
The next one I’ll switch up
This one will get bit up”Jay-Z, “What More Can I Say”
So looking for opportunities LYRICALLY to list but also seeing if you can have the flow match that is an excellent way to begin to learn how to rap like Jay-Z.
#1 Conversational Tone
The last major key to learning how to rap like Jay-Z and recreate his writing process is to adopt a conversational tone in his lyrics.
This was a point made by Wale on The Breakfast Club where he discussed how Jay as a rapper would say things and make noises like you would in a regular conversation, such as on “Friend or Foe” when Hova spits, “If this is not so… ENH, god bless”.
The “ENH” sound is something that people make in every day conversation as if to say, “fugghhaboutit” and yet here is one of the greatest rappers of all-time putting in a rap song about essentially standing up to his opps!
Jay does a very similar “conversational tone to the opps” through the classic diss track, “Takeover”.
Whether it’s randomly mid-bar saying… “Trust me on this, one… I’ll detach you” as if he’s leaning over with a wry smile with his hand on his opponents shoulder…
…Or much like the “enh” sound, he says, “Smarten up Nas… that’s one, every say… two! Two of them s**ts was due” as if he was having a debate with HIMSELF about Nas’s discography on record…
Jay is constantly interrupting himself self, doing random asides, or truly “thinking out loud” when he’s rapping much like we would in a conversation.
This tactic has been a defining characteristic of Jay’s up until even present day.
On his recent already iconic verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” also featuring Rick Ross, Jay spits:
“I ain’t one of these house n*****s you bought
My house like a resort, my house bigger than yours
My spou- (C’mon man)
My route better of course“Jay-Z, “What’s Free?”
Jay there is literally interrupting himself in the same way you do when you’re tired of arguing with somebody you think just isn’t getting it…
…And for good measure he’s trusting that rap audience knows that the line would have been finished as, “My spouse thicker (or richer) than yours”… which would have been a seamless rhyme… “My house bigger than yours / my spouse thicker (or richer) than yours”…
And even does a similar “random aside” like a conversation as if to say he forgot the unimportant person he was insulting:
“Look at my hair free, care free
Niggas ain’t near free
Enjoy your chains, what’s your employer name with the hair piece?“Jay-Z, “What’s Free”
(For the record, all of these bars we’re quoting in this song are insults to Donald Trump in case you were wondering… spouse thicker / richer than yours… hair piece, etc.)
In any case, we see here numerous examples through the decade of a conversational tone Jay is using in order to “break the 4th wall” of realism for the audience and essentially engage in a conversation with his listeners.
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