Although rap songs are made up of several parts, the verse is by far the most important part. This is where the rapper demonstrates his skills, intellect and rhythmic ability, in addition to developing the ideas of the song in depth. Regardless of your theme, passion, or style, writing rap verses is an incredible method of artistic expression, as long as you keep a few tips in mind.
Method 1 of 2: Form the Verse
Step 1. Listen to the great rappers for inspiration
Rap is, in essence, a form of poetry set on an instrumental rhythm or track. Just as a developing writer needs to study the great poets, an aspiring rapper needs to listen to the great rappers to learn from the best. You must hear something that you enjoy, but here is a small selection of verses to get you started:
- AZ's first verse on “Life’s a B”, from Nas's “Illmatic” album.
- Notorious B. I. G in "Notorious Thugs"
- Black Thought on “75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction), from The Roots album“Rising Down”.
- Rakim on “As the Rhyme Goes On” from the album “Paid in Full”.
- Kendrick Lamar in "Backstreet Freestyle"
- Lupe Fiasco in "Murals"
- Eminem in "Lose Yourself"
Step 2. Get well acquainted with your rhythm
If you're rapping to a previously written beat, either because you love the beat or because you've been asked to collaborate with another musician, listen to it 4-5 times to get used to it. Get familiar with the speed, energy, and mood of the song.
- Songs with a fast beat (“People are Strange” by Das Racist) usually require fast verses with many words, while slower beats (“P. I. M. P.” by 50 Cent) tend to have quieter verses. However, this rule is flexible (see Twist's “Slow Jamz,” for example).
- Your verse should fit the mood of the song whenever possible. On A $ AP Rocky's “One Train,” for example, the rhythm is moody, dark, and cinematic. Consequently, the five rappers who have verses in the song talk about their struggle going from living in a poor neighborhood to being international superstars.
Step 3. Find a story or idea to keep the verse uniform
Even though talented rappers can cover multiple tracks in a few lines, all good verses have a main idea or theme that makes up their backbone. This idea is usually as simple as "I'm the best rapper ever", but many verses tell stories (the second verse of Kanye West's "Golddigger"), explore social issues (the lines of Killer Mike in "Reagan") or they simply reflect on a question or topic (Mos Def using numbers in “Mathematics”)
- You don't need to be completely attached to this topic, but it will help you come up with ideas and keep your verse cohesive.
- If you are providing a verse to another artist, talk to him about the song's themes.
Step 4. Determine how long your verse should be
Most rap verses are sixteen bars long, which generally means you have two rhymes per measure (the length of each verse in Cruel Summer's “The Morning”). If you're collaborating with someone, be sure to ask how many bars they want. Most rappers put at least two rhyming lines in a single line: “I treat the label like money from my shows / G. O. O. D. woulda been God except I added more Os”is equal to one measure.
A compass is a measure for the beats. Every time you count "1, 2, 3, 4" you have counted one measure
Method 2 of 2: Write the Verse
Step 1. Start by writing lines about your topic
Using your topic as a starting point, start writing down your thoughts, trying to rhyme the last words of each line. Once you've gotten a set of rhymes, start another and write lines until you run out of ideas. Explore ideas related to your topic until you get ones that you enjoy or know best.
Don't worry about getting your lines to perfection just yet. This first stage is only to create material to build your verse
Step 2. Build a rhythm scheme with your favorite lines
A rhythmic scheme is a pattern that gives structure to your verse, that is, a blueprint for which lines should rhyme with each other. If, for example, you rhyme the first two lines with the word "I" and then rhyme the next two lines with the word "you," then you have a couplet. For the rest of the verse, you will normally use couplets in all your rhymes (listen to “Beef Rap” by MF Doom)
- Most rappers have mixed rhythm schemes, rhyming 2-3 lines and then rhyming a larger number, 4-5 lines (Nas's "NY State of Mind").
- Don't feel obligated or trapped by a rhythmic scheme. Rather, use it to help you build your verse.
Step 3. Add metaphors, symbolism, inner rhymes, and poetic language to spark your lines
The best rappers know how to use poetic language and techniques that have been around for centuries, giving their words a power and rhythm that many genres ignore. Some good ideas to get started include:
Alliteration / Insonance:
Similar sounding words are put together, such as "Two tip-top teacher" or "apple attitudes." Listen to “Waves” by Joey Bada $$.
Rhyme words that are not found at the end of a line but in the middle of it. For example, Madvillain's “Rhinestone Cowboy”: "" Made of fine chrome alloy / find him on the grind he's a rhinestone cowboy"
Simile / Metaphor:
Very connected, both occur when a writer compares two objects that are not usually alike to convey a message or make a joke. Listen to any song by Lil’Wayne to hear verses composed almost entirely of similes and metaphors.
A line that is repeated at various times for emphasis. For a master class on how to use a chorus, check out Kendrick Lamar's "The Blacker the Berry."
When the first part of a line repeats but the rest of the line changes, as in Eminem's “If I Had”, where all lines start with “Tired of…”
Step 4. Start with a powerful line or hook
The opening lines of your verse should serve as an introduction and capture the listener's attention. Ask a question (Kendrick Lamar on "The Blacker Berry"), create an interesting metaphor (Tyler, the Creator on "Yonkers"), or dazzle the listener with some clever pun (Outkast on "The Way You Move") - any something that serves to introduce you and make you stand out.
Step 5. Develop a flow or rhythm for your rap
Once you have your words written down, you need to figure out how to say them. Flow is the way a rapper sings his verses to the beat. Listen again to the beat you're rapping on and practice adjusting your lyrics to it. Are there any words that need to be emphasized? Should you sound angry and quick or calm and thoughtful? Your goal is to sound natural, as if the words are coming out of you spontaneously.
- Listen to A $ AP Rocky's “One Train” again, where five different rappers have verses on the same beat. Notice how each one has a different attitude: imperious, happy, angry, thoughtful.
- If you know some poetic metric, a traditional rhythm of poetry, you can use it to help you design your flow. Eminem famously used Shakespearean meter for his verses in "Lose Yourself."
Step 6. Rewrite your verse to match the rhythm
As you practice your flow, don't be afraid to go back and rewrite your verse to better fit the rhythm. If you are having trouble fitting all the words, find a way to shorten your lines. Once you know who the chorus is or what the other rappers will be talking about, you can tailor your lyrics to better fit the song; like Lupe Fiasco's final verse in “Touch the Sky”: "Now let me end my verse right where the horns are like horn section blasts in."
- Make sure you stay on topic. If you stray too far from it, you could sound like a bad rapper or, at the very least, a bad verse writer.
- Keep writing new verses as much as you can. The great ones are great because they practiced a lot.
- Never steal beats or rhymes from other rappers. There is no quicker way to disgrace yourself in the hip-hop community.
- Do not lie. Otherwise you risk being called an impostor, fake, failure, or just plain bad.