3 Ways Famous Rappers Memorize Rap Lyrics

3 Ways Famous Rappers Memorize Rap Lyrics

In today’s article we’re going to break down how to memorize rap lyrics using secrets from the number one rappers in the world and their personal methods.

If you’re interested in speeding up your memorization process as a rapper OR just in general becoming a better student of anything you’re trying to learn… this is the article for you. 

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1. The Nas Method To Memorize Rap Lyrics

If Nas is one of your lyrical idols…

(I wouldn’t understand why he wouldn’t be since he’s widely considered one of the greatest rap lyricists of all time)… 

Then you may consider first practicing his style of memorization to help speed up your ability to memorize rap lyrics.

Nas first built his skill to memorize rap lyrics by starting small: just a few lyrics at a time and then slowly “building up the memorization muscle” until he could do long strings of rap lyrics when he needed to. 

Nas has discussed with VH1 the unique way in which his own audience played a role in his memorization process when remembering his lyrics: 

“My first raps started as a paragraph. I memorized that and then it got longer. 

I started writing more and more and the paragraph turned to two paragraphs. And the next thing you know it was probably about 18 bars of lyrics you know… I was able to memorize. 

I had rhymes that were just easy and then I had rhymes that were more complex. So, I would start off with something easy around people, so, to see what they thought. And if they liked that, I knew the next one I say is going to rock ‘em. So, I set it up like that.”

Nas VH1 Interview
Memorize Rap Lyrics Nas
Nas increased his memorization skills over time

Based on what we’re hearing from Nas, I think we can pull out three secrets for how to memorize rap lyrics that might be useful to you: 

A) Start small

Nas first started with a small amount of lyrics to master and then increased his ability to memorize with time.

Much like you would start with lighter weight in the gym and then increase with time as your strength builds, Nas increased the strength of his memory over time.

B) As you write more, memorize more

Challenging yourself to write more and more raps will not only increase your skill, but it will inspire you to want to memorize longer strings of lyrics as your abilities increase. 

Nas appears to have been inspired to memorize more as he had more bars that he wanted to spit for a crowd. 

C) Test your memorized rhymes with an audience

It would also seem that Nas used the desire to perform for a crowd and get feedback as an inspiration to spend more time memorizing.

As we say in other articles (like HERE)… one of the best ways to learn how to rap well in a FAST period of time is to practice performing in public.

2. The Roots Secret To Instantly Memorize Rap Lyrics

Have you ever wondered if it was possible to INSTANTLY remember your rhymes? 

Maybe you have a show coming up or a performance and you want to make SURE that you’re going to NAIL it… 

As opposed to messing up and EMBARRASSING yourself as an artist… 

Well interestingly, none other than Jay-Z himself had that same exact issue prior to his now-famous “MTV Unplugged” performance. 

He was doing the show with legendary Hip-Hop band The Roots and was worried about if he was going to remember all of the lyrics from his-then 5+ year career.

When asked about Jay-Z was able to remember the lyrics to his vast catalogue of hits leading up to Hov’s “MTV Unplugged” performance, Root’s Drummer Questlove said: 

“I told him the key to studying… and I’m glad he studied… if you want to know all these songs… studies say that if you repeat anything 18 times in a row, it will get instantly committed to memory. 

So at first he was like, ‘Ah man, I’ll just do it six times or whatever’… but then he would forget certain things… and I said, ‘Look, dude! If you do it 18 times in a row, we’ll be straight… 

So we did a little schedule for like nine days before, four songs a day… three hour rehearsal, take a break… three hour rehearsal, take a break… and then that’s how he committed it to memory” 

Questlove Nardwuar Interview
Memorize Rap Lyrics Hov
Jay-Z performed his “MTV Unplugged” with The Roots

So, if you have a big performance or important set of rhymes you’d like to know in a short period of time: 

A) 18 is the golden number to memorize rap lyrics

Now, I did a little bit of research on this number and oddly enough didn’t find any conclusive studies, BUT… 

The testimonial of it working with one of the greatest rappers of all-time by the drummer for one of the greatest music groups in rap history… I’ll take their word for it. 

The next time you have a big show, shoot for 18 times in a row and see if you’d got it down pat.

B) Prioritize Memorization

As we see here, The Roots and Jay-Z set aside time to make sure they’ve got everything memorized.

You have to remember that at this time Jay-Z was already globally famous and had released several multiplatinum albums. In fact, he was embroiled in the Jay-Z vs. Nas beef at the time and could have found any excuse NOT to memorize everything or perhaps could have freestyle his way through it…

But he chose note to and set aside the time once he realized he NEEDED to to be the most professional artist possible. 

So, be sure to set aside time to make sure you’ve got your lyrics down to a tee.

C) Schedule out your memorization sessions

Not only did The Roots and Jay-Z set aside time to memorize, but they did it in on a schedule. 

If you find yourself unable to just practice memorizing “any time you feel like it”… 

Which IS incredibly difficult for some of us…

Then make sure to set aside some time during your week to work on memorization and you can proudly count it as some of your “rap practice” for the week. 

3. Memorize Rap Lyrics While Traveling

Now, the last major trick that we’ve learned from a famous rapper comes directly from Jigga himself.

Jay-Z’s now well-known ability to never have to write a rhyme down was designed by necessity. 

Growing up in the 1980’s before cell-phones or even commonly accessible computers, Jay-Z trained his brain to remember the rhymes he thought of while he was running the streets of Brookyn: 

“I would run into the corner store, the bodega, and just grab a paper bag or buy juice —

anything just to get a paper bag…

And I’d write the words on the paper bag and stuff these ideas in my pocket until I got back. Then I would transfer them into the notebook. 

As I got further and further away from home and my notebook, I had to memorize these rhymes — longer and longer and longer… 

By the time I got to record my first album, I was 26, I didn’t need pen or paper —my memory had been trained just to listen to a song, think of the words, and lay them to tape…”

Jay-Z Interview
Memorize Rap Lyrics Young Jay-Z
Young Jay-Z had to memorize his lyrics as he ran the streets

Now, Jay-Z has cautioned artists later in the article that while this method is impressive, it can lead to forgetting many lyrics… he even famously said, “I done forgot more than you ever learned”… 

BUT I think this was useful to add into the article as an example of a skill you might want to pick up if you commute a lot or are on the road.

A) Memorizing during traveling

If you are a student who takes the bus to school or have a long commute to work in the car like we do out here in Los Angeles…

You may combine the 18 times in a row method WITH the practice of memorizing without a notebook as you commute to your places of business.

B) Don’t bring writing material

You may also practice not bringing anything that you COULD write with so that you have to force yourself to practice memorization…

And when you grab in your bag for that notebook or cell phone, you realize your purposefully left it at home to practice.

C) The more you practice the better you get

Somewhat similar to Nas, Jay-Z mentions off-handedly that he had to “memorize these rhymes – longer and longer and longer” so the more you practice memorizing at first you might remember just three to four bars but over time you’ll remember a whole verse… then an entire song! 

Comment Below: 

Which of the signs do you have? Any more to add?

Drew Morisey, @drewmorisey on Instagram and Twitter