Learning how to rap is a very personal experience. Just like any artist we rap about the things that happen in our own world, our own little corner of the globe. Don’t think that just because you live in the suburbs and drive a Honda that your story is any less compelling than someone who grew up on the streets of New York or Chicago. We are all unique and have unique stories to tell. Rap is a powerful medium to tell these stories, communicate ideas and express emotions. In order to tell those stories though, you must first learn how the language is spoken. In this discussion we will talk about the basics of how to rap. This will be mostly for the beginners because getting started is always the most difficult part. That being said, let’s take our first steps on this journey.
Beginning to learn to rap
So where to begin? By this point you should have a favorite artist, someone who inspired you to start this process in the first place. This is a good jumping off point. You probably also have some of your favorite songs memorized to the point that you can rap at least a whole verse without any music to it at all. Figuring out what kind of rapper you want to be comes next. Do you want to be a freestyle artist? Do you want to be a storyteller? You will eventually need to master both. For now, just start practicing your skills. Everyday commonplace things can become little rhymes. You’ve literally been doing it since you could talk. Just walk around and start rhyming things you can see, “I see my TV”, then start going down the list of all the words that rhyme with TV. When you first start learning how to rap do this everywhere you go, all the time.
As you start to get better and build up your vocabulary over time, you will also start to find your natural rhythm. Open up a dictionary, newspaper or magazine and pick the first word your finger finds. Repeat the process of going down the list of words that rhyme with that word. Start doing crossword puzzles, they train the mind and are great for new vocabulary words. Some believe that you should just read a lot of books and brush up on your English skills to enhance your vocabulary. While that is sage advice, with crossword puzzles you don’t just get great vocabulary words, you also get meanings as well. You don’t need big words to rap and simple is effective but rhyming ostentatious erudition with something in a rap battle is going to be a mic drop moment. Dead silence will fall while your opponent and just about everyone else in the room tries to figure out what you just said. We’ll bet you’re looking it up right now. We’ll save you the trouble, it means bragging about how smart you are.
Learning to rap means writing rhymes
Now that you have a good vocabulary to work with, it’s time to start writing them down. Just like you have been doing with the rhymes, write down some of your best lines. Again, do it everywhere you go and all the time. What you’re doing now is simply building up a library of lines that will someday become a verse. Remember, rap is rhythm and poetry (RAP). Writing all of these down will help you when it comes time to actually freestyle, really it’s the only reason to write them down. Memorize those lines and have them ready when you need to keep the rhythm flowing. Few things are more embarrassing than having to pause because you couldn’t grab a word you needed from your brain. Another thing to keep in mind when you’re writing is your cadence and breathing. If you write a really long verse, it’s going to be a while before you can take a breath. Take it slow at first and break it down to bite sized pieces which will allow you to speak, take a quick breath and continue. Everyone has a different lung capacity and that will ultimately determine how far you can go before your words start to trail off. Some of the best artists are so highly trained at matching their breathing to their cadence that you don’t even notice when they breathe. Go back and listen, see if you can catch them.
A rapper’s thought process
Another important process when you start rapping is to understand song structure and a bit of music theory. Learning to count beats is going to be one of the most important skills you will need. A bar is just a measurement of equal moments of time. The count is something you should already be familiar with. For example, that “1,2,3,4” count is just 1 bar. Every bar typically has the same number of beats. Most of the rap songs you hear are made up of five basic sections, the intro/outro, the chorus, the verse, the bridge and the before/after chorus (or pre-hook/post-hook). In rap however, a key component is the hook. The hook is usually the most memorable line in the song. Most songs use the hook as the chorus and it typically has the song title in it. The chorus is commonly 4 to 8 bars and because it contains that hook, it’s the most repeated part of the whole song.
The verse is where the actual rap takes place. Although the number of verses can vary from 8 to 24 bars, they often stay at 16. The bridge comes in usually toward the end of the song and “bridges” the hook and the next verse together. You don’t have to have only one bridge, some songs have several and some songs don’t have any. Before/after chorus is like a crutch for the chorus. All it really consists of is a few simple repeating lines that tie into the chorus and solidify the hook. The intro/outro is used to set up or finish the story the rapper is telling. It’s typically just instrumental and builds up to the beat and chorus (intro) or is a long fading instrumental at the end of the song. This is also a great place to begin telling the story of the song or final thoughts at the end, not rapping but talking. So now that we have been through all of the details of a rap song’s structure, its’ simplest form can be the intro, before chorus (pre-hook), hook, verse, hook, bridge, verse, hook and the outro.
How to rap means finding your identity
When it comes to learning how to rap, in the beginning finding a beat is not that easy. First you have to decide if you are going to search through a catalog to find a beat, or if you are going to create your own hip hop beats and custom sound. You also have to know what it is you’re going to rap about. If you already have an idea in mind of what it is you want to say, then for the beginner this is the easiest method to start with. There are literally thousands of beats on the web, so finding the right one is just a matter of listening until you find one. The beat you want to look for is the one that matches the story you want to tell. If your story is dark and dangerous, then obviously you don’t want a cheerful and happy beat. Once you have the story written down and you have practiced it a million times, you should have a pretty good idea of your pace and cadence. At this point you simply need to search through the catalogs to find a match.
Sounds simple, right? Wrong! You may not be able to find a beat that exactly matches your cadence and flow. After days of searching for the perfect beat you come up empty, what now? Now you have really two options. You could try to change your cadence to fit a beat that you really like, which works for some artists. The problem there is that you may end up with something that doesn’t sound like you, and that of course would defeat the whole purpose of rapping in the first place. The other option is to network your friends. Your friends can be your biggest asset in this case. Maybe you have a friend who makes beats as a hobby, most of the time they’ll be happy to help you out. Just make sure to offer them something for their time and energy. You may even have a friend that knows a friend who is a producer or an aspiring producer. Collaboration is a huge part of becoming successful in just about any walk of life, learning to rap is no different.
Gear for rappers
It’s time to put it all together. Chances are, you already have a computer or laptop (if you don’t you should seriously consider investing in one). There are a few options at this point that you can pursue. You could buy your own microphone. Depending on your budget, you’ll eventually want a good quality studio microphone for rapping, but if you don’t have any cash right now, even a good set of headphones with a microphone attached will work just fine when you’re just starting out. The other option is to either rent out a studio (which can get expensive) or see if one of your friends has a studio setup at their place. The last option is also the simplest. You have it in your pocket and carry it everywhere you go, your smart phone. When you’re taking those first steps on your journey, your phone can do it all. Sure, you won’t get the best quality sound or video but with Facebook and YouTube it’s less about quality anyway. Not only that, but it makes our next step even easier. Before we get to that next step though, we would be remised not to mention a crucial step to take first. Perform for your friends. Your friends will be a great source to tell you which songs are good and which ones’ aren’t. The one’s they like may not be your favorites, but if you want followers you will have to put your best foot forward. Record verses every day, write and record at least one song every week. It’s a daily operation to keep your flows fresh and new to hone your skills.
By this point you should have a pretty good backlog of songs or at least verses that you can just go to right off the top of your head. Next comes posting them online. YouTube is great for this, but since it’s more video driven you’ll need to just upload the videos you recorded on your phone. Again, they won’t be great quality but your talent will be what’s really on display. Facebook is another great outlet for your music and posting is just a simple matter of click and post — respond to the comments and interact with others. Yes, you will have to deal with the occasional troll, but it also shows your followers that you care about them and you really want to know what they think you do well and what you could improve on. Be diplomatic and don’t take the comments personally, you don’t want to alienate potential fans by getting into an argument with a troll. Who knows, eventually you may even be able to sell your music online.
The final word on learning how to rap
In the end, it’s all about you. We have merely lit the torch on the first few steps of your journey. It’s up to you to grab that torch and continue down the path. Learning to rap is all about defining who you are and expressing that to music. Maybe this is just a hobby for you or maybe you are serious about making it a career. Music will only take you as far as you’re willing to carry it on your back, it will never carry you. The harder you work at it and the more you pour into it, the more you will get out of it. That’s probably the most powerful asset rap gives to culture. It’s an outlet for dreams, desires, fears and frustrations that we all share. It doesn’t matter if you do this for fun or profit. In the end learning to rap will make you a better person, a smarter human and a more enlightened adult. Of course, now that you can rap, let’s get those rhymes onto the track — go get your rapping microphone and start recording!