Rap songs have some of the most emotive and poignant lyrics in the industry. If you have a story to tell or a message to get out there, writing a rap is a powerful way to express yourself.
Writing a rap song is compared to writing poetry; both focus on rhythm, imagery, and rhyme. Rap songs usually follow a basic structure and are made up of bars, verses, and a hook. But it’s the writing techniques rappers use that take their lyrics to the next level.
There’s quite a lot of crossover between rap music and poetry. If you want to write rap songs, you’ll need to be a keen wordsmith and rhymer. Poetic language might not come to you naturally, but this article will walk you through the whole process with tips on how to write a good rap.
How to write a rap song for beginners
Professional rappers make their lyrics and bars sound effortless – but behind the scenes, a lot of work goes into making a rap song sound so effortless.
Writing a rap song can be tricky for a beginner, but it can also be really rewarding and one of the most powerful genres of music to write. If you want to try your hand at writing raps, here are 5 steps to write your first rap song:
How to write a rap song for beginners step by step
Step 1: Choose your beat
Before you start writing your song, find your beat first. A lot of songwriters come up with their melody before their lyrics, so knowing what beat you’ll be using in your song will get you familiar with the sound and feel of your track and inspire you to create lyrics that match.
You can search online for a pre-made beat to work with or you could make your own beats using sound equipment (or even record yourself beatboxing if that’s your thing).
Step 2: Write your hook
Once you’ve found your beat, the next step is to write your chorus (also known as your hook). Rappers and lyricists almost always write their chorus first, because it’s the part of the song that fans remember and carries the song’s message.
Your hook needs to be catchy and original and needs to embody the theme and tone of your song. To get some ideas flowing, listen to your beat and bullet point any random thoughts, associations, or images that come into your head.
Writing your hook first should make writing the rest of your track easier because it’ll set the rhythm and flow to your piece; allowing the rest of your verses to fall into place.
Step 3: Flesh out with lyrics
Now it’s time to write your song lyrics. Using your hook for guidance, brainstorm some ideas for the remaining verses of your rap. Build on the ideas you’ve already expressed in your chorus and try to create some more lyrics that continue and expand that train of thought.
Maintaining rhythm is really important in rap music, so keep listening to your beat throughout the songwriting process to keep your lyrics on track.
Step 4: Structure your song
Once you have your hook and your song lyrics, you’re halfway to finishing your rap. The next step is to structure and organise your lyrics by breaking them down into verses.
You might want to experiment with the order of your verses and move them about to see where they work best in terms of flow, rhythm, and rhyme. Most raps follow the same basic layout (more details below) so you’ll want to make sure your lyrics fit the generic structure of a rap.
Step 5: Practice and revise
The songwriting side of things is now complete, and all that’s left for you to do is practice, edit and record your track.
Vocalising your song and memorising your lyrics will really help you get a feel for the rhythm and flow of your track. Performing your lyrics aloud will highlight anything you want to tweak or change, and you can experiment with the tempo of your track each time too to see what works best with your style.
How to write a rap song structure
How do you structure a rap song?
Having a template to follow can make the songwriting process a whole lot easier. Rap songs tend to follow the same basic structure:
- Pre-hook/ pre-chorus
- Hook/ chorus
Once you’ve got your hook and some potential lyrics drafted out, play around with them and try to organise them into this structure.
The structure of a rap song is slightly different from the layout of a typical song, so by formatting your lyrics like this, you’ll guarantee that your song fits nicely into the rap genre.
How to write a rap verse
At its heart, rap music is like poetry. Every verse needs to follow the rhythm of the beat and have some type of rhyme scheme.
Rappers tend to use mixed rhyme schemes or end rhyming (when the last word of one line rhymes with the last word of another) in their verses. There’s nothing worse than a forced rhyme in a rap song, though. Rhyming for the sake of rhyming will only take away from the message of your piece and run its overall impact.
Writing rap verses and rhymes can be tricky to start with, so try following this basic exercise:
- Think of a central theme/idea for each of your verses.
- Free-write some words linked to your themes and then come up with words that rhyme with them.
- Pick your favourites from your list of rhymes and experiment with rhyme schemes (this could be end rhymes, rhyming couplets, internal rhymes, etc.) to see what sounds best.
- Flesh your rhymes out into verses and see how they fit with your hook and beat – if they don’t match the rhythm, redraft and rework them.
Rap lyrics freestyle
Freestyling and free-writing are great ways to come up with lyrics and ideas for your rap verses.
Just play your chosen beat in the background, and write/rap the memories, thoughts, or associations that first come to your head. Focus on the mood, tempo, and feel of the piece and how it makes you feel in turn – it doesn’t matter how weird or random your ideas are.
You can then look back at what you have and hopefully a theme or story for your piece will stand out to you. If you’re still not feeling inspired, there are lots of songwriting apps that can turn your wordpool into a song for you, or help you create rhymes and lyrics for your rap song.
How to write a hook for a rap song
Writing the hook (aka the chorus) for your rap song can be especially hard. A lot of rappers mull over their hooks for a long time before they’re struck by inspiration.
The best way to approach your hook is with thorough planning. The more planning and preparation you put into your songwriting, the better idea you’ll have of how you want your song to sound – and your hook will fall into place.
There are three key things you can do to make writing your hook a lot easier:
- Pick your instrument – if you choose a beat and instrumental that move or emote you, ideas and thoughts for accompanying lyrics will naturally come to you.
- Decide between a sung hook or rapped hook – whether your hook is melodic or rapped will affect the tone of your chorus. Deciding this early on can help you pinpoint the mood you need to create with your hook.
- Create mind maps and storyboards – jot down several topics that mean something to you, and that you might want to rap about. Mind map all the different angles and thoughts you have about each topic – then see how these fit with your beat and experiment.
Rap writing techniques
The best rap songs sound almost poetic, and there’s a reason for that. Rap is rooted in poetry and a lot of rap writing techniques are actually forms of poetic language and literary devices.
Rap embraces poetry and rhyme like no other music genre, and this gives rappers’ lyrics real resonance and impact. Rappers commonly use these writing devices to really bring the stories and messages of their tracks to life:
- Similes and metaphors
- Phonetic rhymes
- Internal rhymes
How to write rap bars
If you’re writing a rap song, then chances are, you’ve come across the expression “rap bars”. The thought of writing and counting rap bars can get really confusing; but in its most basic definition, “rap bars” is just another word for the lyrics in rap music.
A typical rap verse is 16 bars in length and generally has two rhymes per bar. Rappers don’t always stick to this pattern though, and verses can be anywhere between 8 and 24 bars.
Longer bars are usually used in raps with a storytelling structure, and if you opt for 24 bars in your verses, you might have to cut down on the length of your hook. If you’re finding it hard to get your head around the concept of bars and how to write and count them, check out this video.
If you’re looking for inspiration, using a rap generator can be a good tool to use during the mind mapping stage of writing your song.
You might want to use a rap generator to pool some ideas, and then go away and edit or rework the results to get a more authentic, original piece.
How long does it take to write a rap song?
There’s no universally applicable timescale for how long it takes to write a rap song. Some rappers can write a song in 15 minutes, while others may take days, weeks, or months.
The time it takes to write a song will depend on your experience, ability, and how much inspiration you have.
Some songs might naturally come onto paper quicker than others, too. Eminem, for example, wrote his hit song “Killshot” in 13 minutes. But some of his other hits took over a month to complete as he would revisit and revise the song multiple times.
How do you make a rap song at home?
You can easily create a rap song from the comfort of your own home. The first step to making a rap song is writing the lyrics – and this is usually the most time-consuming stage.
You’ll also need to find/create a beat to use on your track (ideally you’ll find your beat before you start writing.) To source your beat, you can look through free music archives online, collaborate with an artist, or you can create your own beat using a digital audio workstation (DWA) at home.
Once you have your lyrics and your beat, the next step is to record your rap song. This step is usually much quicker and easier than the songwriting stage and can easily be done at home. All you need to set up your own recording studio at home is a mic, preamp, computer, and DAW.
When creating your own recording studio, a soundproofed room (you can soundproof a room on a budget using blankets, pillows, and foam) without any windows will give the best quality audio. For all the tips on how to record your rap song at home, check out this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are good topics to rap about?
According to a 2020 study, love, life, money, depression, and heartbreak were the most-searched-for rap topics online.
- What are the most used words in rap?
“Chopper”, “stunting”, “flexing”, “mane” and “trill” are said to be the most used words in rap and hip hop. At the other end of the scale, “sea”, “sighed”, and “desire” are among the least used words in rap songs. For a full list of the most common words in rap music, visit ThePudding for a full analysis.