Evernote: write down your lyrics wherever you are, as long as you have a smart phone. As we mentioned in the How To Write Rap Lyrics post , being able to write down lyrics when you think of them is crucial, and this tools is free. No excuse!
Rhymezone: free online rhyming dictionary. Ice Cube doesn’t approve, but it can be really helpful if you’re stuck. The “near rhyme” section is dope and can come up with some cool suggestions to make your raps unique. They have an app too, but it costs a buck or two.
Lifeexperiences: you need some of these to write good lyrics. You don’t need to get shot like 50 Cent, but you do need to get off the couch.
Recording vocals and instruments
Future producers: a great forum to learn how to produce your own music, record vocals, record instruments, etc. Their section on recording vocals and creating a home studio on the cheap is really helpful. The community is really tight and willing to help if you ask questions, since everyone was a beginner at one point.
Microphones: nice vocal mics are expensive, but you can get a great sound from a mic that costs $200-$300 with the right setup. Apogee makes a small mic that plugs directly into the USB port in your computer and sounds good right out of the box. Blue also makes inexpensive USB mics that sounds good with little setup. Once you have a decent mic, check out YouTube or future producers for tips on how to set up your room to make the vocals sound good.
GearSlutz: great resource to find legitimate (not paid) reviews of all things music related. Like Future Producers, the community is great and very willing to help. If you’re considering buying a microphone, MIDI controller, or guitar pedal, the forums are for you.
Digital audio workstation (DAW): an absolute essential piece of your toolkit. Every producer has one that they prefer, but they’re all pretty similar. Check out YouTube videos on a couple before buying one, because they’re expensive.
MIDIcontroller: a small keyboard that allows you to play any digital instrument. Make any sound from a guitar or violin to a dog fart. You don’t need to be an expert at piano to get one of these things sounding tight, but you should have a little background. There are somany videos on YouTube that can help anyone from absolute beginners to total pros. You can pick up a decent one on craigslist for under $100 or get a good deal on a new one when Guitar Center has one of their huge sales. If you can get one with pads on top, you can map MIDI files to them and record a custom drum pattern easily.
A USB record player: not a cutting edge piece of equipment, but you can get some killer samples from old records using one of these. Sampled horn stabs or vocals can turn a B+ track into an A.
Studiomonitorsandheadphones: if you make a beat on a laptop using laptop speakers or iPhone ear buds, it won’t be mixed well. It’s important to not only mix the vocals to the track, but the levels of the instruments within the track, and this can’t be done with $10 headphones. I’m not saying that you need to buy $1000 headphones, but you do need entry level pro audio equipment to mix it well. Rocket KRKs are a good set of studio monitors, and they’re only $150 each. Alternately, you could go to a studio to get your track mixed by a pro on the cheap. Either way, it pays to get a good mix and you’ll be happy you did when your friends say “this track slaps!”
The snare is too loose. The hi hats are too tight. The crash doesn’t sound natural. The wrong drum kit can throw off your entire track, regardless of how good the verse is. Even if you can’t put your finger on it, you can tell that something is off.
Drums are the dynamic leader in a band, & are front & center in any hip hop beat. Making sure that the drums not only sound good, but fit the feel of the track, is essential. So how do you find the right drum kit?
We can’t speak for other producers, but we generally like to add a “skeleton” of the drum track behind the melody, find a pattern that fits the feel, then look for the perfect kit and sound.
Start with the snare, just to give the track a back beat. Pick a snare you like; it doesn’t have to be a perfect match. Set the verse to loop, sit back, and listen to it cycle through a few bars. Does it feel right, or does it stand out too much? Needs more punch?
Throw the kick drum in there! Adding the kick will really start to give you a feel for how the track will sound. The kick should accent the bass line and fill in space between the melody. Are you nodding your head yet?
Four on the floor (kick on every quarter note) is a quick pattern to get started with. If the bass is a major part of the track, make sure that the kick follows it. Adding the kick behind vocals is a great way to make them stand out and sound powerful. Find a pattern that works with the melody and is unique to your track. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect, as it can all be changed later.
The snare and bass are the most important part of a drum track, so if you’re feelin’ what you’ve got so far, we can add icing on the cake: hi hats. Faster hi hats (like 16th notes) will really push the song forward and give out a driving feel, especially if the lyrics are delivered in step with the high hats (4 per beat). A good example of this kind of beat would be “Since ’84” by Mac Dre:
Remember that the actual sound of the snare doesn’t matter as much as finding the right pattern for your beat, because there are a million drum kits that you can try out later.
If you think 16th notes are too busy, try 8th notes. 8th note hi hats are probably the most common drum pattern in rap, and music in general. That’s because they’re a nice balance between 16ths and quarter notes, and give a laid back feel. There are tons of great examples, like “Mass Appeal” by Gang Starr:
If your track needs more space, try quarter notes. These give plenty of room to make your vocals stand out, and let the track breathe.
If you’ve found a hi hat pattern that works, let’s revisit the kick. We could write an entire article about selecting a kick, because there are so many options. Super drum machine-sounding kicks, like an 808, are really common in hip-hop. Again, choosing between a live or electronic kick is just a choice you’re going to have to make, and depends on the type of sound you’re going for.
All in all, the drums should work well together and complement the rest of the track. Once you’ve found a drum pattern that works, try putting some new sounds in there. Using live instead of processed drums (or a combination of the two) is a great way to change the feel of your track. Sub out the hi hat for a ride cymbal, giving the track a jazzy feel. Personally, I love the drums that Big L uses because they just sound raw. He uses a lot of ride cymbals, which is pretty uncommon. Check out “All Black” by Big L for some really dope live sounding drums.
When it comes to the snare, there are a million options, but three are most common: a live snare, drum machine, or a clap. Layering a clap, side stick, or flam on top of another share is a classic producer trick to make the back beat more “meaty”.
Once you’ve finalized the drum pattern and kit, try splitting it up. Removing a single hi hat note, adding one in, adding an extra snare on the 4&, etc. can really make your track stand out.
Need more room? Take the hi hats out completely, either for the last bar of the verse, part of the chorus, or the whole song! Go wild. Experimenting is the best way to make your track original, so don’t worry about making it sound perfect until it’s time to master it.
Can’t find the right drum kit? Get some inspiration from another song! “Funky drummer” by James Brown is the most sampled drum track of all time and has been used more than a few times in rap. If that doesn’t work, buy professional quality rap beats from us!
Drop us a line if you’re stuck, need a custom beat, or want us to master your track.
If you ask 10 rappers how they write lyrics, you’ll get 10 different answers. The one technique that everyone agrees on, however, is that you should write as much as possible.
Use a notepad that you can access anywhere, like Evernote or Google Drive. These apps are free and can be accessed from your desktop, phone or tablet. If you’re really artsy, you can use an actual pen and paper. However you do it, being able to write down lyrics as they come to you is a crucial part of the process, and allows you to be creative every day. One you’ve got a place to write them down, you can focus on your lyrics.
Rappers generally write lyrics in one of two ways: based on an idea or theme, or for a specific beat.
Writing based on an idea or theme is usually easier, since one idea will lead to another and keep the creative juices flowing. Get into the zone. Put on an instrumental beat (check out our free rap beats page to download free instrumentals) and see what comes to you. If you’re just starting out, pick a beat that’s a little slow (try between 80-90 BPM), so you don’t feel rushed. See what kind of lyrics sound cool, and what fits the beat. People might think you’re a crazy person talking to yourself, but who cares? You’re the next Eminem.
After you’ve written a few lines, your lyrics will naturally be different in terms of tempo & rhythm, and may not fit in with the original song. As you write more and more, you’ll build up “ammo” that can be used later, when it fits the lyrical theme, rhythm, or feel of the next song.
The second option is to write lyrics for a specific beat. When doing this, keep the dynamics of the song in mind. When the song is slow and mellow, do you mirror that in your delivery or do the opposite? Are you following the breaks in the music, or filling the space during those breaks? One of the most powerful techniques when it comes to dynamics is to build up intensity in your delivery along with the song, then let loose at the peak. A good example of this is “drop the world”by Lil’ Wayne.
Switching up your delivery throughout a song can make a huge difference, and makes your music interesting and enjoyable for your fans. Listening to an artist yell throughout a song can be exhausting. Unless you’re Snoop Dogg, you shouldn’t be so relaxed that you’re nearly falling asleep, either.
Last but not least: get creative! Here’s a clip of Eminem making words that scientists say do not rhyme, rhyme. The possibilities are endless!
Now get off your couch and get some life experiences under your belt. No one wants to hear you rap about eating Cheetos and browsing Facebook.
Tempo & beats per minute (BPM): how fast or slow a beat is. 70-90 is slow, above 120 is fast. A bar of music: 1, 2, 3 4. Every time you count to four in a song, that’s a bar. 4 bars make a phrase, and 16 bars make a verse. If you have 2 or 3 verses, throw a chorus in between them and you’ve got a song. Rhythm (half time, double time, etc): on any given beat, you can match the speed of the song, go half as fast, twice as fast, or anywhere in between. Check out this example of Lil’ Wayne switching between timings on the track “No Love” with Eminiem. Dynamics: To put it simply, how loud or soft the music is. Metaphors & word play: metaphors compare two things that are completely different, using ‘like’ or ‘as’. For example, “Me without a mic is like a beat without a snare… I’m sweet like licorice, dangerous like syphilis.” – Lauren Hill on “How Many Mics,” The Score
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