Writing Rap and Hip-Hop Songs

I’ve been asked by a few songwriters for advice on how to create good Hip-Hop and Rap songs. Because this is a little outside of my usual style, I asked a couple of successful Rap producers and label owners to help me out.

HIP-HOP SONG FORM
Hip-Hop relies on a 16-bar verse form followed by a chorus/hook section. Often there are three verse sections with each one followed by a chorus or hook section. Sometimes the third verse is replaced with a bridge, a section with different chords or a change up  in the rap style or content. The hook/chorus provides an anchor for the listener while the verses tell the story, paint a picture, or express the personality of the rapper.

I’ve noticed that some very successful rap songs open with the hook – the catchiest part of the song –  to grab the listener’s attention right at the start.   Use these repeated hook sections to make a statement that sums up the heart of your song. These are the lines your listeners will remember so make them emotional, honest, and unique.

Crossover Urban hits like Keyshia Cole and Missy Elliott’s “Let It Go” or Kanye West and T-Pains’s “Good Life” have big melodic choruses that break up the rap verses. You can use these songs to help you frame a solid song structure in this style. Just make your rap is the same length as theirs and drop your hook where they do.

Producers’ advice: Whether you sing or rap your chorus hook, use plenty of contrast. Try jumping to a high note to start a melodic hook and smoothing or stretching out the delivery. For a rap hook, change up the pace or rhythm pattern – slow it down or shorten/lengthen your phrases. Start on an unexpected beat or emphasize an unusual beat. Your goal is to change up the rhythm of the words or melody enough to catch the listener’s attention. Continue reading “Writing Rap and Hip-Hop Songs”

365 Sparks: The Songs of Daveit Ferris

Daveit FerrisSongwriter Daveit Ferris has taken on the challenge of writing, performing, and recording a song a day for a year. He calls his project 365 Sparks. While he’s not the only brave or crazy artist to undertake the Everest of songwriting, he’s the best and most consistently good I’ve ever come across. Every song I’ve heard has its own quirky, emotional, fun, dark, sweet, thoughtful, or just-plain-catchy appeal.

I’ve had to write fast in my life – I once had a  three-year gig that required me to write three to four songs a week for a TV series. But I got paid for it and I didn’t have to perform it and record it myself, so I feel like a loafer compared to this guy.  In any case, I can’t help asking: How does anyone do this? WHY does anyone do this? And what happens after the first 100 or so days?

Instead of just wondering, I decided to ask. And he answered. How he found the time to answer, I don’t know. He’s got songs to write. In case you want to listen while you read, he posts his songs on 365sparks.com  and Soundcloud.

1. What did you set out to do with your 365 Sparks project?

Daveit: My goal with 365 Sparks was to try and do something extraordinary that would truly test my skills as a songwriter, musician and producer; in that order. The project itself was inspired by a near-death experience that I went through in October 2013 that made me realise I could have left this earth with hard drives full of hundreds of half-finished projects (songs, poetry books, albums, novel ideas, scripts etc.). I decided on that hospital bed that my next project was going to be A) Grand and B) Completed.

2. Where do your song ideas come from?

Daveit: Songwriting is probably the only passion I have in this life and it’s been that way since I discovered the art when I was around 15/16. I only know how to play instruments because I realised this was essential in my pursuit of writing my own music.  Continue reading “365 Sparks: The Songs of Daveit Ferris”

What Are You Really Writing About?

Bright ideaYou’re Inspired! You woke up in the middle of the night with a killer first verse running through your head. You actually sat up in bed and said: “Man, that’s killer!” You managed to write it down before you forgot it. Maybe you even got up and plunked a few chords on the piano. Suddenly you felt like Sting writing “Every Breath You Take.” You even recorded your inspiration onto the Voice Memo on your Smartphone before going back to sleep.

Now, in the cold light of morning, you listen back to it. Amazingly, it still sounds good!

So now, you need a chorus. Nothing pops into your head right away, so you go to the notebook where you keep lyric ideas. (Good for you for keeping a notebook!) There’s a line you’ve wanted to use for months and this looks like a good opportunity. Bingo! You’ve got the first line of your chorus. You can’t really think of a second line, so you just repeat the first one a few times.

But wait a minute. Repeating a lyric phrase, even if you change the chords and melody underneath, can feel static. There’s not enough development to keep the song moving forward and listeners involved. And you can’t think of anything at all to say in your second verse. These are signs that there’s trouble up ahead.

As you continue to work on your song…

  • Nothing seems to fit with your first verse.
  • Everything you write sounds forced and unnatural.
  • You can’t get back to the inspired feeling you had.
  • Your lyric “voice” has changed. It sounds like someone else is writing the song.

After struggling with a chorus and second verse, writing and rewriting hour after hour, you begin to get tired of this song. You don’t like it anymore. You put it away and it becomes one of the Unfinished Ones. But it was off to such a great start. What happened?

Writing from inspiration

Inspiration is a wonderful thing and it always has a big role to play in the writing process. It gives us those gems that add color and life to a lyric, special insights that create depth, unique melody twists that surprise us at just the right time. Inspiration is playful, exciting, and refreshing.

The problem with inspiration is that it is neither linear nor selective. It gives you everything all at once! It might even be giving you ideas for a different song. Inspiration is either ON or OFF. And once it’s ON, like dreams, it will work on anything that’s happening in your subconscious. Continue reading “What Are You Really Writing About?”

Which Genre Is the Right One?

I got a question recently from a songwriter who is torn between two very different song genres – Pop and Contemporary Folk. He loves both and sees the strengths in both. But because he can’t decide which to focus on, he’s having trouble getting started and working on a song. Which style is it going to be?

Which genre am I writing in?

The whole question of choosing a genre can be frustrating, especially if you’re drawn to a couple of the big ones – like Pop and Folk. Every style – from Pop, Country, and Rock to R&B, Folk, and Blues, etc. – has a different approach to melody, lyrics, and production. Veering between two styles within a single song can be a disaster. And working on a Pop song while wondering if maybe it should be a Folk song can distract you from the things you should be focusing on. Continue reading “Which Genre Is the Right One?”