How To Write A Rap Punchline In 5 Simple Steps
If you’ve ever heard the expression, “he got bars” or “wow, she came with the bars on that track”…
The person describing the rapper who “has bars” is usually referring to the artist’s ability to write a rap punchline in a creative and unique way.
From the very first mainstream Hip-Hop song in 1979, “Rapper’s Delight”, to the latest 21st century release from your favorite lyrically minded rapper…
…The capability to build witty and original punchlines is essential to separating a rap artist from the literally millions of hours of “put you to sleep like NyQuil” predictable bars available on streaming services to a global audience with a scroll of their phone.
In today’s article, we’re going to show you how to write a rap punchline in 5 simple steps.
Sure you’ve seen a few videos on wordplay and punchlines that tell you to just make words have two meanings… or brainstorm a little bit.
But you haven’t seen something like what we’re about to explain, using examples from some of the greatest rappers of all-time in each era of rap so that you can both see the progression of rap punchlines AND expand your ability to know how to write rap punchlines in minutes by using the RIGHT punchline at the RIGHT time…
…So, without further ado, let’s show you how to write a rap punchline in 5 simple steps.
Now, before we begin I want to just remind you that one of the best ways to know how to write a rap punchline is to have an infinite number of rhymes at your disposal to build your wordplay off of, which we teach you in-depth in our “Infinite Rhyme Maker” free bonus training that comes with our Master The Art of Freestyle Rap In 2 Weeks or Less Course which you can pick up by clicking HERE.
#5 The Sound Effects Punchline
As promised, let’s start with perhaps the first definition of a “rap punchline” in Hip-Hop history: the sound effect punchline.
I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard “Rapper’s Delight” at least once, and are familiar with the “hip-hop, a hippity-to-the-hop” verse.
While to our modern ears this sounds like some nursery rhyme type of stuff, part of the reason it was considered witty at the time was the use of vocalized “sound effects” within the rap bars in order to product a creatively unpredictable set of lyrics.
Don’t be fooled that this hasn’t been used by more modern top rappers when they want to think of a witty punchline. Consider this hilarious bar by Redman on “Cereal Killer” from 1999:
Don’t shoot, out the phone booth
I aim at your party, hit the wrong group
Happpppyyy birth – oo! Oo! Oo!Method Man and Redman, “Cereal Killer”, 2000
The use of a sound effect as a word that can be rhymed both adds to the hyper visual nature of the lyrics (something Redman excelled in and even influenced Eminem to do)…
…And it seen as an unpredictably creative way of writing a “punchline”.
Kanye West used a similar sound-effect punchline to end his verse on Cruel Summer’s “The One” In 2012 when he said:
‘Cause everything around me got me underwhelmed
Best way to describe my position is at the helm
Best way to to describe my new whip? YewwwwwnKanye West, “The One”, 2012
So one unexpectedly original way for you to start thinking outside of the box when writing a rap punchline is seeing if you can rhyme a sound effect to make your point the way rappers have been doing for literally 40+ years.
#4 The Step-By-Step Story Punchline
As we moved down the history of lyrical creativity in rap, we would be remiss to not mention a rapper like Rakim who introduced the idea of “This will happen and then THIS will happen” into punchline development.
See before Rakim, most rap “punchlines” were kind of like what you heard on rapper’s delight, very dry “I have a new Cadillac” or “Biggity bang bang” type of bars…
…Rakim introduced lines like, “Take MCs put ‘em all in a line, and add 7 more brothers who think they can rhyme, it’ll take 7 more before I go for me, and that’s 21 MC’s ate up at the same time”…
…Which would help sew the sees not only for battle rap, but also the more hardcore or gangsta rappers to describe in detail what they will do if somebody messes with them.
In your case, never understand estimate the importance of being able to “tell a step-by-step story” in your punchline like Rakim, going all the way down to Eminem did in 2000’s “Criminal” in one of my favorite schemes of all time:
“Windows tinted on my ride when I drive in it…
So when I rob a bank, just run out and dive in it
‘Cause I’ll be disgusted in it, and if anybody identifies the guy in it
I’ll hide for five minutes, come back shoot the eyewitness
Fire at the private eye hired to pry in my business”Eminem, “Criminal”, 2000
(That scheme never gets old)
The combination of stacked rhymes with a hyper-visual step-by-step story helps demonstrate how you don’t need to always have a double entendre in order to make a fire punchline…
…AND you can make it rhyme in a seamless way.
#3 The Stacked Similes Punchline(s)
Another why to stack ideas together in order to form a fire punchline is to stack similes back to back the way that Lil’ Wayne first started doing in the mid-2000’s during his iconic mixtape run.
Whereas in the example from #3, we see Eminem stacking rhymes together such as “ride when I drive in it”…
…Lil’ Wayne would stack similes in rhyming fashion back to back in a way that would make his raps feel like they were literally overflowing with punchlines, even if each individual punchline itself was rather straightforward.
A really good example of this is the first verse of his famous “Upgrade U” freestyle on Da Drought 3 where he has scheme such as..
“It is Lil’ Weezy… they cannot see me, they are like Stevie
I am bearing a ton like Levy, I circle your house like BB…”
Or “Peel off in the Lamborghin’, like a tangerine…
Need a chick with some lips like Angelin’…
A Jolie…”Lil’ Wayne, “Upgrade U Freestyle”, 2007
What we see here is the rhyming of similes in a stacked fashion to up the “per bar value” of each punchline so to speak.
Think about it, if the only punchlines in the first verse were “I peel off in a car like a tangerine” and “They can’t see me like Stevie” that would be nice but it wouldn’t be super advanced.
There are plenty of beginning rappers who believe that to create a dope punchline you just need a couple bars like that and the audience should be satisfied.
Now, of course because rap is about more than just punchlines there are famous rappers who even get away with just that simple level of bar construction…
…But if you want to get to the Wayne, Eminem, etc. level of rapping you’ll need to have these advanced levels of rhyming and wordplay to advance your skills.
#2 “Soundalike” Punchlines
Now, building on the Lil’ Wayne example if you notice he had a bar in there that went, “I am bearing a ton like Levy”.
Readers who are older than about age 30 (or from the Caribbean) will recognize the reference but some of y’all will probably have to visit genius.com in order to get what he’s talking about.
It’s a play on the name of “Barrington Levy”, a famous Jamaican dancehall and reggae artist.
What Weezy has done here is taken the name “Barrington” and adjusted it to mean “bearing a ton”, since “barrington” can also be said as “bearing ton”.
This is called a “homonym” in school, but I personally like to call it a soundalike for our readers at Rap Game Now so that it’s easier to understand.
It’s essentially where you to take a word (or words) that sound alike but have two different meanings and create a punchline out of them.
Another good example would be Eminem on his one-off single, “Campaign Speech” where he says what he would do if he became president:
“Getting off is… the first thing I would do if I get in office”.
Again, Eminem is taking the phrase “get in office” and because it sounds like he is saying, “getting off is”… he is able to make a punchline based on it.
A really good pro-tip to improve your ability to think of soundalikes is to take common pronouns (meaning people’s God given names, etc.) and try to see if that name itself has regular phrases that sound like it.
For example, my last name is Morisey, which also could be a soundalike with “more I see”… and so it would not be difficult to make a quick punchline with something to the effect of…
“It’s in the name if you listen, ’cause it’s Morisey
From birth, God gave me the vision ‘cause there’s more I see”
If you struggle with writer’s block and how exactly to construct everything from soundalikes to storytelling raps like we mentioned in #4, click HERE to find out more about our Writer’s Block For Rappers course.
#1 The Double Entendre Punchline
I’m unsure if you could say we saved the best for last, but we certainly saved the most common for last here at #1 with the double entendre punchline.
This is most often the only definition of “wordplay” or a “punchline” you will find in a rap education video on YouTube.
The word “entendre” comes from French and it technically means “to hear”, and thus the phrase double entendre literally means “double hearing”, although we commonly translate it as “double meaning”.
In this case, your goal with a double entendre punchline is to have a word have two (or double) meanings at the same time.
Check out these two bars from J. Cole that end his early career track, “Return of Simba”:
“‘Cause I only made classics, now what that take? Timing
Cole under pressure, what that make? Diamonds”J. Cole, “Return of Simba”
A couple things are happening here. First, Cole is setting up the ending punchline giving us the context of “time” which is what it takes to make diamonds…
…However, he is also giving double meaning to the phrase “under pressure” by saying that HE is under pressure (meaning 1), but also diamonds are created UNDER PRESSURE (meaning 2).
This is arguably a triple entendre in fact (which is totally possible), since the name Cole is a soundalike of “cold” (which we just taught you about in the previous step)…
…And so the idea of something cold being under pressure and thus making diamonds is an entendre with the idea of Cole himself being under pressure and making diamonds… perhaps even diamond music.
And so really, from the Cole punchline that uses a possible triple entendre PLUS a soundalike…
…To Eminem’s stacked rhyme storytelling to Lil’ Wayne stacked rhyme similes…
The best punchlines are a combination of all of the best tools described in this article, and so feel free to come back to this any time if you need a refresher…