I’ve been rapping for a little over 18 years and have been teaching on the subject of how to rap for about 1 1/2 years as I write this. In this article I will give you inside information on what I’ve found to be the top 5 mistakes I’ve found rappers making while their learning how to rap. I hope this article will help prevent you from making the same mistakes and give you more of a focus on the steps you need to take in order to get better at rapping quicker.
1. Can’t Identify Beats
If you’re wanting to learn how to rap there is a certain order that you need to follow in order for everything to work together like it’s supposed to. I’ve noticed quite a few rappers either skip this step or just don’t spend enough time on it before moving on. Consequently they rap off beat and their lyrics lack structure which makes it nearly impossible to rap their lyrics the same way twice.
Being able to count beats is the foundation you will be building everything else off of. A house is only as good as the foundation that it’s built upon so do not rush this step! In my opinion this is the most critical area to becoming a better rapper and it’s also the very first step.
A good exercise is to get in the habit of counting quarter notes, eighth notes, and then 16th notes to any song you listen to. Also try to do this without any music and see if your able to space the notes out evenly using your own internal tempo and play around with speeding it up and slowing it down.
A good indication that you’ve gotten good enough at this step to move on is when you listen to music and you can instantly lock into it’s tempo and easily do all the different counts without even having to think about it. At this point it becomes more naturally and instinctive.
Being able to count beats will also enable you to count bars. So when someone hits you up to be featured on a song with them and they ask you for 16 bars you will know exactly how long your verse should be.
2. Can’t Identify Drums
I must admit that at first this one took be my surprise. After working with many rappers I discovered that quite a few wasn’t able to identify the kick and the snare drums in a song. This kind of ties into the previous mistake I just mentioned because kick and snare drums typically fall in line with the 4 beats in each bar. Being able to identify the kick and the snare gives you anchor points and kind of acts as training wheels .
I actually have gotten in the habit of asking my friends randomly if they know what a kick or a snare is and if they can identify them in a song. Most can’t because they simply haven’t trained their ears to do so. I first was officially introduced to music as a kid when I joined my elementary schools competition band so I’ve always been around a lot of different instruments and can easily identify them in a song.
However many people don’t have a musical background to fall back on when they start rapping so they don’t have a point of reference when trying to identify kicks and snares in a song. Your rap skills will benefit greatly once you’re able to identify the kick and snare drums as they will help keep you on beat. So spend some time training your ear to hear these two different percussive instruments as they will help keep you on beat and guide you as you start developing your flow and lyrics around them.
3. Can’t Identify The Structure Of An Instrumental
Another common struggle for many rappers who are learning how to rap is understanding the song structure of an instrumental. This can cause you two write verses and hooks in the wrong places and also cause them to be uneven in length.
Once again this can fall back on not being able to count beats. As there are 4 beats in 1 bar and typically 16 bars in 1 verse and 8 bars in 1 hook. Being able to count the bars out will give you a good indication of what section of a song you are in.
Another thing to pay attention to is different sections of a song typically sound different. For example intros and outro’s often have less instruments in them than any other section of the instrumental. Intro’s and outro’s often times don’t have any drums in them as well. Typically hooks are the highest point of the song and often have the most instruments. And verses typically have fewer instruments than the hook to create more room for the main vocals.
Spend some time breaking down each section of the songs you’re listening to so you can more easily figure out the songs structure.
4. To Much Focus Put On Rapping
You may be wondering how can someone put to much focus on rapping? Think of what happens when your eyes are focusing on something close up, everything that you’re not focusing on becomes blurred and out of focus just like how a camera works. However when you zoom out of that ultra focused position you can see everything at once.
Well there’s more to rapping than just rapping right? What do people rap?……LYRICS!! I’ve found rappers who are just learning how to rap tend to put more focus on their flow aka cadence than they do their lyrics. But here’s the problem, they both work together and each of them need much focus.
For example if you come up with a nice flow to a track and then just haphazardly write your lyrics then their not going to play well with each other. When you’re scatting to a track in theory you’re randomly playing around with creating different cadences. Once you’ve come up with a few cadences that you like you then need to write your lyrics to the cadence. This can take time in order to pick the right combination of words that have the right syllable count to play well with your cadence.
Also I’ve noticed a lot rappers don’t put much thought into the song they’re about to write before hand. They just simply start writing and hope it comes out dope. This is a big missed opportunity because in many cases it produces a song that’s either to predictable or lacks any structured format at all.
Song writing is a skill in and of it’s self. Most rappers are not aware of techniques such as Story Boards that can make their songwriting process much more entertaining and well thought out. Using story boards also makes songwriting much easier because it allows you to plan your song out ahead of time so when you being to start writing your lyrics you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.
5. Not Practicing Enough
I’ve put countless amounts of hours in creating content that teaches artists how to rap. But here’s the thing, knowledge alone isn’t going to make you a better rapper you have to effectively apply it by putting it into practice on a consistent basis which takes discipline. Learning knowledge but not applying it will give you the same results as being prescribed medicine but not taking it. Always remember that a hard work ethic will trump talent alone any day of the week!
We live in an instant and on demand world. But the truth is that knowledge is only half of the equation. I’ve seen many rappers putting so much weight and pressure on themselves as if they are expecting to be in their prime overnight. Some have been rapping for years but haven’t seen the improvement they expected due to either a lack of practice or an uncertainty of what they need to specifically be working on.
Consequently these type of rappers end up getting frustrated and seriously consider quitting all together. If you identify with this scenario I would say this to you.
You probably starting rapping because it was fun right? You also likely found it to be therapeutic as it’s an avenue that allows you to express yourself. Never loose sight of the beginning and take all of that unhealthy weight and pressure off yourself. This isn’t a race it’s a journey so pace yourself. It’s okay to be new at something and nothing grows to it’s full maturity overnight. I’ve been rapping for over 18 years and I’m still learning and growing. Take your time and practice a lot with implementing the knowledge you’ve learned.
And if you ever need some honest and detailed feedback on where you’re at and what your development opportunities are I would be more than happy to do a music review for you. Or if you feel like some 1 on 1 coaching would be more beneficial I would be more than happy to do that as well. I’m here to help you as much as possible along the way so hang in there and keep up the hard work!
How Did I Do?
Did you find this article helpful? What’s the toughest thing you’re struggling with as a rapper? I’d love to hear from you so make sure you drop your 2 cents in the comments section below!
Filed Under: Be A Better Rapper Now, Encouragement, How To RapTagged With: cadence, how to rap, mistakes, music theory, practice, rhythm, song structure, songwriting
Amid the latest Kanye West saga – his demand that Beck renounce his Grammy for best album in favor of Beyoncé – the winner of this year’s Grammy for best rap album, Eminem, hasn’t been talked about much. It’s not because his winning work, The Marshall Mathers 2 LP, was so amazing, because it wasn’t. It’s because, in a subpar category, Eminem’s latest served as the bulwark against Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic – a victory that would have been, in the opinion of most tastemakers, a catastrophe of Milli Vanilli proportions.
To be sure, the Grammys are too white. As Kris Ex wrote for Complex, opening the show with AC/DC was like “the planting of a great, Viagra-stiff, Dad Rock flag emblazoned with the words ‘Fuck You’ via arthritic hands”. Not to mention that, at a time when the sound of pop music is very black, the artists performing those sounds, as least the most popular ones, are very likely to be white. From Miley to Iggy to Macklemore, the concept of black appropriation came to the surface again this year, everywhere from Azealia Banks’s Twitter feed to glossy magazine think pieces.
On the subject of Macklemore, the Seattle rapper’s victory over Kendrick Lamar last year was seen as an epic calamity – not just because Lamar is black, but because his 2012 album Good Kid, Maad City was a once-in-a-generation work. At least Macklemore had the good sense to feel bad about the whole thing.
Iggy Azalea v Papa John's: has feral fan culture gone too far?
At the 2015 Grammys, Eminem himself took an award away from more deserving black performers, but it was for best rap/sung collaboration, winning for The Monster with Rihanna over Tuesday (ILoveMakonnen featuring Drake) and Bound 2 (Kanye featuring Charlie Wilson). The best rap album category, on the other hand, was undeniably weak. Run the Jewels 2 came out too late in the year to be eligible, and the works that did make the cut – from otherwise compelling artists Schoolboy Q, Common and Wiz Khalifa – were not their makers’ best.
For sure, The Marshall Mathers 2 LP’s victory may have been another case of a glorified lifetime achievement award, similar to the best actor Oscar finally awarded to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. (The Grammys’ 2001 decision to give album of the year to Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature rather than Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, after all, requires unceasing penance.)
But the main reason people aren’t complaining about Eminem’s victory is that, quite simply, he has unequivocally demonstrated his love for hip-hop as a culture and a genre. He long ago recognized his white privilege (“If I was black I would have sold half”) and committed himself to the old-fashioned aesthetic of masterful lyricism. That he became the world’s biggest pop star almost seemed like an accident, whereas with Iggy Azalea it seems to be the main goal.
Still, it’s not Azalea’s success that most critics have a problem with. It’s that she often seems to be appropriating aspects of the culture (from her lyrical tropes to her patois) without putting in the hard work – and, further, that she has refused to be introspective in the wake of criticism from folks like Banks.
At this point, about the only thing Eminem and Azalea have in common is that they’re both white rappers. Eminem has blended into the hip-hop landscape thoroughly enough to nearly transcend race. For Azalea, however, race remains her primary identifier.