The First Technique to Practice For Better Raps
People relate most to the things they are familiar with. Often, before someone will accept a new idea, it has to be wrapped up in a package of familiarity. We can use this to our advantage as artists. To a writer, cliches are a curse to be avoided. To a rapper, cliches are a popular phrase to be bended to our will. The objective of a rapper is to use language in a unique way that creates surprise and amusement.
We can turn this idea into a technique that can be practiced. If you have been following my suggestions in a previous post, then you have been writing simple, single syllable rhymes in a stream of consciousness manner, using a random word generator. When writing your raps you shouldn’t be concentrating on a unique musical pattern (or “flow”) and you shouldn’t put much emphasis on being funny or witty. Your goal up to this point has been to program yourself that rapping is easy and effortless. Now it is time to add your first technique to your repertoire.
Technique #1: Using Cliches, Idioms and Slang
1. Google the phrase “Lists of Cliches”
A cliche is an overused term or saying. Terms like “A dime a dozen”, “on the money” or “eye for an eye.” There are so many to choose from and you will find that you use a lot of cliches in your speech anyway. Use the phrases that you find in the lists that Google provides as rhymes in your daily writing. You will find a lot of cliches rhyme with each other. Like ‘dressed to kill’ rhymes with ‘sex appeal.’
But, remember: at this point in your writing we are focusing on single syllable rhymes. So, try to focus on phrases that end in single syllable words, like the way 2Pac used “Against All Odds.”
2. Google the phrase “Lists of Idioms”
An idiom is a commonly heard expression. Many idioms are cliches as well. But when you search idioms in google you are likely to get different results. Some examples of idioms are: “actions speak louder than words”, “a piece of cake” and “raining cats and dogs.”
3. Search random slang terms on Urban Dictionary. Or use common slangs from rap songs that you like.
You are probably familiar with Urban Dictionary already. It is the world’s best selection of slang terms. They have a downloadable app and they have a random function that will choose a slang at random and give you a definition. But, remember, don’t choose multi-syllable words.
Plus, there are many rappers who have way more advanced slang than Urban Dictionary. All of the members of Wu-Tang Clan use a very complex slang lexicon in their raps. Especially Raekwon and Ghostface. Focus on the slang of the region closest to you. New York slang is very different to Atlanta slang. And if you come from one of these hotbeds of hip hop culture, you will probably find this section laughable. I am fully aware of this.
How To Use Common Phrases in Your Writing
There’s levels to this shit. As with every skill, you need to start with the easiest method of practice and progress to the highest paradigm. I was going to suggest that you make a list of idioms and then make rhymes off it. But, it is easier to just search a list and choose the first phrase you like with a single syllable end rhyme, then make a rhyme directly off of the list.
Since we are writing in a stream of consciousness fashion without editing, you can write several lines in a row with commonly used phrases and we will edit everything later to make it sound less contrived. Below is an outline of various ways you can write, not just with cliches and slang, but pretty much any material, such as references to things outside of rap or using figures of speech.
Set-Up and Pay-off
This is the standard technique for producing punchlines.
The set-up and pay-off usually consists of two bars. The first bar, the set-up, contains your base rhymes, and a segue into your second bar. The second bar contains your cliche, idiom or slang-term that you will be using as the pay-off.
A good example is Eazy-E’s “Eazy-Er Said Than Dunn”. The song has several examples of the use of cliches and slang. Most notably, the refrain that contains the title.
“Cuz Eazy’s doin it Compton style/ That’s the city, and you say you can get some…/ It’s eazy-er said than dunn..”
How To Use This Technique
At it’s best rap music becomes an idiom in itself, like the way Wu-Tang made the term “Cream” into a popular slang for money. At its worst certain phrases become played out because of its overuse. Nobody wants to hear Ellen DeGeneres say ‘bling bling.’ Sorry not sorry. That phrase is played out too.
Idioms can be used as titles for albums, like “Paid In Full” and “Word of Mouf.” And just think of how many song titles are idioms and cliches. “Me, Myself & I”, “What You See Is What You Get”… I could go on all day.
One technique to increase originality is to take a well known phrase and change it. Like the title of Diamond D’s debut album, Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop, which is a play on Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll.
Besides using idioms in song titles and refrains, another way to make a song more original, is to use the idiom as a concept. A good example is “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” by The Geto Boys. It offers differing perspectives on the theme of “mind playing tricks”. Scarface is desperate, suicidal and deluded about his relationship. Willie D is paranoid someone is following him. And Bushwick Bill (who is a little person) is having delusions about beating up a giant. The song is way better than I am making it sound…
Don’t Sweat The Technique
Look for examples of idioms, cliches and slang in rap songs. Now that you are aware of the principle you should see it everywhere. As you practice you will come up with ideas for hooks and concepts organically, but don’t worry about that right now. Just keep writing and remember to have fun!