Write what you know. If you know about life as a 28-year-old white boy from Minnesota, write about it. If you’re into headbands and fixing cars, think of car-related metaphors and put them into your poetry. If you’re crazy about the smell of a spring breeze and the sound of a river flowing, put it in your lyrics. Yes, all of these things can be cool – as long as you know about them and write from the heart.
Write for music. Get a feel for the basic 4-4 hip hop rhythm scheme. Understand how the bass drums and proboscis drum create downbeats and upbeats and tailor words to weave in and out of the danceable structure.
Vary your rhymes and rhythms. There is nothing more boring than a completely predictable rhythm and rhyme schedule. Try to place rhymes in the middle of the lines. Place lower bar symbols sooner or later in the musical action. Oscillate between single and double time once at a time to shake things up. Keep things interesting with the help of polyrhythms – which fall in and out of step for an organic effect. Try switching from clutches to quadruples, or extend or reduce the time between straps.
Practice with blows. Use your favorite DJs songs as background when writing hip hop lyrics. Try to match the feeling of the music by writing poetry that compliments, matches or contrasts with the mood of the music.
Read. Listen to hip hop lyrics that you admire. Expand your vocabulary. The more experience you have as a consumer of hip hop lyrics, the better a producer you will become.
Get to know the basic structure of popular hip hop songs. Songs usually open with an introductory passage, move into a verse, enter the chorus, do another verse, repeat the chorus, move on a bridge or break, come back with another verse, then close with another chorus. Each song is structured differently, but there is usually some variation of this. Runs are great because they act as a ‘hook’ or any audience can get multiple exposures so they can rap with you at least part of the song.
Revise. Once you have created a complete set of texts, critically analyze what you wrote. Just because it seemed brilliant when you wrote it does not mean it will remain so. Be with yourself immediately and always try to write more interesting texts. It can help tremendously to perform your hip hop lyrics in front of others to get their immediate reaction.
Tips and warnings
Hip hop lyrics are about attitude, insight, comedy and storytelling – everything else is negotiable. You can be a Gangsta rapper if that’s what you know about, but be careful. There is nothing more annoying than a faker. Be what you are and speak from both mind and heart. There are no restrictions on the content and your hip hop lyrics can be rough or sensitive, black or white, urban or suburban, concrete or conceptual, masculine or feminine. What is important is that you write your lyrics musically, with an ear for rhyme, rhythm and feeling.