Unique Ideas For How To Write Lyrics For Rap
The Reptilian Brain
There is a theory that humans react instinctively from the part of their brain that’s on autopilot. Have you ever driven somewhere and then realized that you don’t remember the drive there at all? That’s because your reptilian brain takes care of those tasks. Like brushing your teeth without thinking about it.
The reason this is interesting for rappers and how it applies to good rap lyrics, is because quick decisions are made with this part of the brain. Meaning if you can adjust your rap lyrics so that it hits some of these key points, you can get your message out to a wider audience.
There are 6 stimuli in total that the reptilian brain reacts too. Let’s see how we can touch upon each of these to make sure our rap lyrics are actually heard.
People are self centred. They care about themselves
Contrast night and day before and after
Beginning and end
People are self centred. They care about themselves
It’s honestly true, you know it and I know it. That’s why when rappers spam their new music in forums and groups, people ignore it. What incentive do they have to listen? How is it going to benefit them?
Speaking with ‘you’ type language is a great way to capture people’s interests. Even if you are rapping about yourself. You can still say it as if you’re talking to them.
Yes, there is an argument that you want to rap about yourself and blah blah. But that’s honestly not going to get anyone’s attention. Wrap up your raps in a way that you are showing your audience something about themselves, and it will have more of an impact. Definitely something to keep in mind when writing lyrics for rap.
Communicate A Theme
Rap doesn’t always have to have a theme. Let’s be real. But it’s a great way to get your creative process started. Structure breeds creativity. I think someone said something like that once.
But when you organize a theme, make a little more specific than you might think too. A cool way to think about theme is to combine an idea with an opinion. That would equal your theme.
Idea + Opinion = Theme
So if you wanted to talk about the topic of “procrastination”.
THEME: Procrastination is killing your friendships, your work life, and your ability to find the passion you deserve to live everyday.
That’s an opinion and an idea. It definitely shapes the rap song and gives it much more of an interesting direction than just “procrastination”.
Examples of contrast are: Night and day, before and after, small and big, dark and light, good and evil.
You can apply some of these themes to your rap lyrics or your music videos or even your rhyme patterns and rap flow. There are a ton of ways you can manipulate contrast to fit in with your style.
Short rhyme to long rhymes
Fast and slow flow
Choppy then smooth words
So not only can your lyrical content have contrast, but your actual style can have contrast as well. Pretty sick to think about.
People have a stronger initial reaction to real things. So instead of portraying the idea of love by just saying it’s love. You would use something tangible that represents love. Like a “red heart cut from construction paper”, or roses, just the colour red. Things people can actually see physically.
This is where showing instead of telling comes into play when writing rap lyrics. When describing real things, it’s much more interesting and easy to relate too.
So for example, instead of just outright saying in one of your bars: “Yo I woke up late for work after doing a ton of drugs last night”
You can make it more impactful by using tangible objects to set the scene. Woke up and tapped snooze on my phone alarm buzzing/ Smell stale beer from empty corona bottles / nightstand has smoke ash / check my wallet, no cash
This is much more interesting to hear and it’s more fun to write when you’re writing rap lyrics. So this is a win-win for you and for your listeners.
Use these when thinking about forming your lines.
Beginning And End
People have been proven to focus more on the beginning and end of stuff. This can be applied to rap lyrics in many different ways. George Lucas even said that you can make a good movie by having an amazing beginning and an awesome ending, the middle is less important, just don’t muck it up too bad.
So that being said you can apply this to the beginning and end of the full song. The beginning and end of a verse. The beginning and end of a 4 bar sequence. OR even the beginning and ending of a 2 bar sequence.
What this tells us for writing rap lyrics is to place our most impactful lines at the beginning and end of everything we do. It’s a great way to structure. And know that it has a ton of effect.
Take the show LOST for example. They had an amazing pilot episode which got them a full production deal. BUT they didn’t think about how they were going to end it ahead of time. Well, at least it seemed that way, considering the public outrage at the ending of the seasons.
This is why shows that drag on toooooooo long like The Walking Dead have less of an impact over time because there is no conclusion. There is no ending. And everyone watching are stuck in limbo, stuck in the middle.
Conveying emotions in rap lyrics is super important. Since our first initial reaction when we hear something is a feeling. You get a general feeling when you put on a song you want to listen too. That’s why sometimes the lyrics matter less and less over time. It’s about cadence and vocal tone and flow and delivery.
Putting passion or feeling into your lyrics will definitely have an effect on how it comes out. But writing that into your lyrics is easier said than done.
This kind of ties back to the tangible stimuli, because you can express an emotion or get someone to feel an emotion without actually saying, “Yo he was straight pissed off”. Use something tangible to get that across.
Like, his knuckles started turning white like a blizzard overnight.
You can also add in things like simile and metaphor to make your point stronger.
Keep in mind this isn’t something you always have to do. You can do whatever you want to be honest. But there are terrible rappers and good rappers. You will find the quality rappers often hit on emotions without directly telling you what to feel. People don’t like that. Show them, and let them make up their minds.
The concept of “love” can be interpreted differently by everyone as a good thing or a bad thing. So using these abstract types of words you can’t see, touch or taste might fly over your listeners head.
The last stimuli is visual. Which is hard for rappers because we make audio music. But in today’s age it is possible to hit this stimuli in a variety of different ways.
Graphic art for your song cover which will show while the song is playing on Spotify, Soundcloud, Youtube whatever.
Also, music videos have much more of an impact over songs with no video. Even if you get someone to create a video for your track and add animated lyrics to it. This can have a strong lasting effect, and gives you a chance to become more viral as a rapper.
You can also chop together a simple video nowadays with general stock video footage that will represent your song. Just grab a bunch of clips and split em together. Get Youtube to add the lyrics transcription and you’re good to go.
Metaphor & Simile In Rap Lyrics
A metaphor is a statement that pretends one thing is really something else.
“My car is a running back” “The world is your oyster”
It can be a powerful way to get your point across using tangible things to express an emotion or an idea.
A simile is a statement where you say one object is similar to another object. Similes use the words “like” or “as.”
“I drop beats like a clumsy farmer” “You couldn't rap this dope as a zig zag”
Write Rap Lyrics About What You Know
The reason this is powerful is because people unique experiences and perspectives more interesting than something they’ve heard a thousand times before. If you are writing about how the rain affects your mood. Give very specific details that maybe only you have ever experienced before. Be very specific. Street names, landmarks, feelings that can only come from your experience in life and what it reminds you of.
You should stay away from cliches and the obvious. Like the “grass is green” and “the freezer is cold”. Everyone knows these things, you don’t need to remind people. You don’t need to mention the freezer is cold unless there is something unique you have to say about it that the listener doesn’t already know.
Think of it like looking at the wind blowing. You can’t really see the wind technically, but you can see what the wind has an affect on. Maybe tree’s are blown over, birds are having a harder time flying. What kind of impact does the wind have on the surrounding area?