How To Rap Like Big L
Alright first of all let's clear up the fact you probably won't be able to rap like Big L. But that doesn't mean you can't learn some of the very specific things he was doing to sound dope. And then apply that to your own style.
Write your second bar first. Reverse engineer from the punchline.
Use compound multi-rhymes. Crack rock / Smack talk / Black thought / Laptop
Change your rhyme scheme every 2 or 4 bars.
Use wordplay. Simile, Hyperbole, metaphor and double meanings.
Big L is the perfect example of how to write punchlines with multi rhymes. He uses slant rhymes but mainly keeps it 4 syllable rhyme schemes and less. He keeps the rhymes tight and as close to perfect as possible. He doesn’t venture off too far from perfect compound rhymes.
This isn’t really for advanced rappers who already know this. BUT it’s a cool reminder to write your second bar first at times. It’s a great way to add a little punch to your bars. I forgot how fun writing raps is when you start with the end in mind.
Let’s look at one of his most famous sessions with the “7-minute Big L and Jay-Z freestyle”.
In my opinion he very clearly writes the second bar first. Which you could say is writing the “punchline” first. I put punchline in quotations because the second bar doesn’t necessarily need to be classified as a punchline. But could be classified as the main idea he wants to get across. But in these bars it’s pretty much a flurry of 2 and 4 bar punchlines.
I don’t claim to know Big L’s writing process for obviously, but if you go in and break down his body of work, there are some consistent patterns. For the record, The Big Picture was one of my favourite albums of all time. Big L blows my mind till this day.
Second Bar First
Like in this bar I could imagine he wrote the last line first. He PROBABLY wrote out “I started smokin’ dust and been insane since”
Then he worked backwards and found rhymes for “insane since”. BUT he tries to make the set up bars as relevant as possible to what his punchline or second bar is going to be. Started writing down rhymes for insane since. Like brain pinched and gang lynched. You could also do “front and get your name rinsed / Big L will have your whole gang flinch / I started smokin’ dust and been insane since” / It’s really very similar.
Okay i’m just going to spearhead an example of this. I will come up with the concept on the go right now and try to explain the process. So say I wanted to have the line.
“You better Google Docs”
That’s going to be the main punch of the second bar.
It has potential for double meaning. Like a dude who sleeps with a girl with no rubber and now he’s gotta google some doctors. Or google docs. Lol whatever, it’s something. Anyways not the most crazy wordplay example but i’m making this up as I write so it’s not bad to get the point across.
So now let’s search our brains for some rhymes for “Google Docs”, and then try to bend them to be relevant to the theme. OR jot a whole bunch down and pick out the ones that can work into the theme of a guy hooking up with no rubber.
Oh and just now as i’m writing this I feel like I can incorporate the double meaning even better. Like you can’t ‘SAVE’ it or you’re going to ‘LOSE IT’ so you need google docs or something.
Computer locks / uber stops / noodle box or noodle shops / beauties got / chewed her box / booty drops / fruity shots /
And just because something is a dope rhyme doesn't mean you need to put it in there. Cut the fat.
Hes with a cutie doin fruity shots
No rubber, used her box
Now hes worried hes gon lose it
He should prbly google docs
Lol okay kinda cheesy but still not bad. I think that illustrates the writing style of Big L throughout this whole “freestyle”. In a nerd format haha. I’m not saying Big L would rap about Google Docs but the process is the same. Big L tends to write like this A LOT. And I love it.
It doesn’t have to be with wordplay either. But say you wanted to get a general idea across. You would write out the way you want it to land. And work backwards. Reverse engineering is a great tool for rappers.
Use Compound Rhymes
Compound rhymes are just slant rhymes for compound words. Compound words are sets of two or more words that act in a single meaning. Like “Flowerpot” or “Chalkboard”.
So a compound rhyme would have the same matching vowel sounds for each syllable in the word.
You can break them down if you wanted.
Some that work together are Chalkboard / Rob Ford / Got Bored
Or Flowerpot / Shower stop / Counter Top
Big L uses these style of rhymes a lot and I believe he would choose words like this purposely because it adds a bit of crunchiness to the rhymes.
I mean it’s pretty obvious he wanted to say I never beg for pussy like Keith sweat. The set up bars illustrate and back up his point that he don’t fuckin’ beg for the pussy man.
He just looks for relevant rhymes for the compound multi “Keith Sweat”. Known to get a “Priest Wet” is a sick set up for this.
But you could replace “police jet” with almost anything relevant. “Big L is the complete set, known to make a priest wet / I never beg for pussy like Keith Sweat”
I think this is such a good way to write out lines. I love it. But you can’t do it all the time as it takes some of the natural flowability out of the structure. Changing up the amount of syllables you rhyme and include in a bar will also make it more interesting.
Change Rhyme Schemes Every 2 Or 4 Bars
I think this one is self-explanatory. Big L rarely lets rhymeschems drag on. He almost always changes up his rhyme schemes every 2 bars and sometimes he’ll do a 4 bar. This gives his flow a variety.
There is natural cadence in every sentence that we write regardless.
Like for this. Example. If I wrote. Each sentence. With a max. Of like three. Syllables. Everytime. It would be. Boring man.
Kill me. OR
Like for this example. If I wrote each sentence with a max of like three syllables. Every te.. It would be boring, man.
See how the cadence is changed just by the amount of syllables or words we put when we write in general? That’s goes for rap too. The same thing applies. If you have 6 syllable rhyme schemes throughout your whole damn verse it will get boring as fuck. Change it up.
This is something Big L does all the time. He will do a full stop in mid bar and pause. Wait for the next set to kick in and continue. Adds some dramatic effect in certain places.
I'm tellin' you shit is about to get drastic soon
I'm quick to blast a goon (this is a full stop and pause)
OR he’ll speed it up and add in an extra rhyme and spit a little quicker to stuff it in there. Pretty cool, right?
Gotta use quite a bit of interesting wordplay if you wanna sound like Big L. And we can go right to poetry and literary devices as nerdy as that is. Double meanings are his bread and butter, but he uses hyperbole, simile, metaphor. One thing to notice is that he doesn’t use cliche super well-known wordplay you hear all the time. If you think of some wordplay and aren’t sure if someone else has used it...best to leave it alone.
Big L uses simile a lot. It is one of the most used literary devices. (side note: I hate the term literary devices. I’m going to start saying word tools or something from now on.)
Similes use “Like” or “as” to draw parallels between two unique things.
“He’s as quiet as a mouse” / “hes got eyes like cue balls”
Big L uses it here:
The only difference between simile and metaphor is the “like” or “as”. Metaphor doesn't have like or as and simile does.
Simile: “And break a mothafucker like a plastic spoon”
Metaphor: “This mothafucker is a plastic spoon”
Hyperbole In Rap
For example Big L uses:
So he wants to say he’s “ahead of his time”. But when you add in the “I’m SO” before that it allows for you to get the message across differently. Hyperbole is usually an exaggeration like “im SO hungry.. I could eat my shorts” or “I’m so tired.. I can’t move a muscle”
These are obviously just some of the techniques he uses. There are so many more that made him one of the greatest rappers of all time before he passed. And still to this day.