Kendrick Lamar Teaches How To Start Writing A Rap
“Usually me and the boys just got in the studio and I can go off of a simple drum loop that I like.
My process – it starts from a whole bunch of pre-meditated thoughts. The process of me just thinking about the ideas of what I want to say next.
By the time that I get into the studio, I have to find that exact sound that triggered the emotion or the idea that I thought about two months ago.”Kendrick Lamar, Rick Rubin Interview
In this clip, Kendrick Lamar reveals his step-by-step process for how to start writing a rap complete from having nothing on the page to an eventual fully completed song.
In a minute, we’ll watch King Kenny describe where and how he actually gathers though ‘pre-meditated thoughts’ that he mentioned that serves as the seeds for the emotion of the track…
…But the statement you’ve just heard from Kendrick serves as step #1 of the Kendrick Lamar method on how to start writing a rap:
Step #1 Find A Beat To Match Your Original Thoughts
Now, as YouTube’s most subscribed channel on How To Rap we’ve been coaching rappers from around the world for nearly a decade now, and not every rapper’s writing process is the exact same.
Some rappers listen to a variety of beats and then instantly grab inspiration from the emotion the beat brings up in them, and then reverse engineers their lyrics to find that beat.
Jay-Z notably works that way, as exemplified in the story of the creation of his Kanye West-produced anthem “Never Change” where Hov immediately wrote the song to match the emotion of the beat upon hearing.
Kendrick Lamar on the other hand has a lifetime of experiences and emotions locked up and/or written down that he stores in soul, and then after the fact finds beats to match those feelings.
If you’re interested in implementing the Kendrick Lamar writing process to learn how to start writing a rap, first identify your original pre-meditated thoughts, and then find a beat that will match the emotional tone of what you’re thinking.
Step #2 Keep A Library of Notes For The Emotions You’re Feeling
“I have to make notes because a lot of my inspiration comes from meeting people or going outside the country or going to my old neighborhood… and I have to remember these things.
I have to write them down and then five or three months later I have to find that same emotion that I felt when I was inspired by it.
So I have to dig all the way deep and see what was the idea that triggered…
It comes back. What happens is I have keywords that make me the exact emotion or true inspiration”Kendrick Lamar, Rick Rubin Interview
Although we think of rappers as being hardcore, no-fear-no-emotion types of characters, the truth of the matter is in order to be a life changing songwriting they have to be in touch with how they’re feeling and what they experience in order to convert it into the creative format of songwriting.
Often the better a rapper is at identifying their emotions, the better they are at expressing them.
Kendrick Lamar has described his personal development in the skill of emotional identification for the purposes of writing a song through his tip in step #2: keep a library of notes for the emotions you’re feeling.
This method is ironically very similar to the Eminem’s note taking process, where he scribbles down ideas constantly so that he doesn’t forget them:
“I think of lyrics all the time in my head.
…I try to keep them in my head but anything that’s around, this desk – whatever, I write it.
Because I’m not good at keeping thoughts. I get scatter brained sometimes and I might try to remember, like ‘what was I thinking about earlier?’ And I can’t remember.
I save all my rhyme books, my rhyme papers, whatever… sticky notes, whatever… I save them”Eminem, Jonathan Ross Interview
The reason it’s important to take notes in order to know how to start writing a rap with the Eminem-Kendrick approach is in that on any given day, week, or month, we go through so many experiences that it’s likely we’ll forget exactly how we were feeling in detail enough to make a song out of it.
Therefore, it’s a sound creative model to have a notes app full of ideas of what one COULD rap about if the right beat comes along.
Additionally, we have a free video course titled “How To Write A Rap On Any Topic In 20 Mins. Or Less” which will take you step-by-step through our best framework for knowing what to write a rap about on any topic, which you can pick up by clicking HERE.
In any case, being in the habit of writing your ideas before you forget them, like Kendrick says, is an excellent way to make sure you have the most authentic system for knowing how to start writing a rap on the instrumental of your choosing.
Step #3 Authenticity Over Audience
“I used to consider the listener. When I’m in a space where I’m not inspired I can’t really do the music, I can’t feel it.
I think I put in enough hours and work to pen a 100-bar verse on the spot at any given moment, but for me to actually feel an idea and a concept – it has to come from me.
And a lot of times I have to block out a lot of needs and wants just for my own selfish wants and thoughts but at the end of the day you’re going to know it comes from a real place
I’m unapologetic, I’m not compromising, and it’s going to feel me.”Kendrick Lamar, Rick Rubin Interview
Here’s another multi-layered quote from Kendrick on how to start writing a rap. Let’s look at this from three angles:
- Consider The Listener When You’re Brand New
- Put In Enough Hours To Write 100-Bars On The Spot
- Once You Reach Mastery, Do It Just For You
Consider The Listener When You’re Brand New
Kendrick Lamar isn’t saying in this quote that he has never written a song that didn’t have the listener’s enjoyment in mind.
Especially when an artist is just trying to “get on” or first grow into the spotlight, they have to format songs that have a large appeal to a wide variety of fans.
Certainly, we can hear that exemplified by the catchy, listener-friendly song structure of tracks like, “Don’t Kill My Vibe” or “Swimming Pools”.
However, as rappers grow in their ability to both know their audience better and construct more authentic music, the listener will starting coming to where the ARTIST is emotionally, rather than the other way around.
Put In Enough Hours To Write 100-Bars On The Spot
Sometimes people can watch a video like this and think that means to go through the 4-step process and only write one or two raps like Kendrick and then they’re ready for the big time. Absolutely not.
The often-quoted 10,000 hours rule here is pretty important – Kendrick Lamar did enough hustling with his writing to get the POINT that he could write 100 bars in one sitting and NOW that he can do that, he has more creative freedom to focus on just being his authentic self.
We’ve talked about this in other How To Rap videos where our motto “use quantity to get to quality” means that you have to write a massive QUANTITY of raps in order to consistently write a massive QUALITY of raps.
An excellent way to make sure you can make a massive QUANTITY of raps quickly and efficiently is to take that free rap writing course we mentioned above (click HERE), but either way you decide to do it…
…Make sure that you can indeed write tons of long verses easily before thinking you’ve reached mastery in your ability to know to how start writing a rap.
Once You Reach Mastery, Do It Just For You
Authenticity is the main goal of any legendary artist and so once that rapper gets to the level of a Kendrick Lamar, they have the luxury of being able to do it just for them.
One of the reasons we admire artists like Kendrick is because he does not compromise on originality for streams, clicks, and sales.
Every album is different because it represents a unique aspect of the creative whole that is Kendrick Lamar Duckworth.
Therefore, once someone has gone through literally decades of practice and progression the way Kenny has, the best gift they can give to the world is to keep it 100 by being authentic at all times.
Step #4 Once You’re Done, You’re Done
“Soon as I hit mastering and I just turn that thing in, I try not to listen to it or even see the actual response for a while.
Because I’ve been attached to this piece of art for the last year and some change.
I’ve indulged so much I don’t even want to hear it. I just want to give it to the people and let them take and live with it and breath it”Kendrick Lamar, Beats1 Interview
There’s an old saying attributed to the legendary artist Leonardo DaVinci that goes, “No great work of art is ever finished, only abandoned”.
Kendrick Lamar is echoing this sentiment in step #4 by telling us that once the rap is actually completed, sometimes the best thing to do is just release it and not think about it for a little while.
Artists often like to say things like, “my songs are like my children, I can’t pick my favorite” and that analogy is solid because it represents the amount of pure emotion and INVESTMENT that a creative person puts into their work.
But with emotion and investment comes the clouding of judgment.
Therefore, much like Kendrick says, it is often a good principle to at some point just release what has been written and give it to the people to not cloud judgment by trying to do anything more to it.
We all already know just how paralyzing perfectionism can be.
So step #4 of the Kendrick Lamar method to learn how to start writing a rap is to simply release the rap, once the rap is written.
It might be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!