5 Tips for Using Rhythm and Rap

"You cannot be an artist and not speak on the times." This is especially true of rap music, which was cultivated by people living through the height of racial tension in the desegregated world. Rap helps to express those trials, unpacking subjects like the school-to-prison pipeline, gentrification, and urban food deserts. What started off being considered a second-rate art form turned into a cultural epicenter for an entire community. Read on to learn how you can take part in this lyric phenomenon.

  1. Understanding the culture. During the tensions of the Civil Rights era, urban youth needed an art form that allowed them to both tune into the world around them and act as a much-needed form of escapism. Kids cut cardboard boxes into a flat face and began breakdancing on sidewalks. Some guy in the Bronx accidentally scratched a record in the late 60s and New York has been grooving ever since. Moved by this new musical culture, people began rhyming over the record scratches and beat drops. Rappers used their lyrical expression to become advocates for change in their communities by using their words as weapons.
  2. Pick a topic. There's an entire globe of things to write about! Think of what inspires you, things that move you naturally, and try to write from there. If you choose to follow in the tradition of social justice intersecting with rap, then you may want to write about your most recent interaction with an injustice or something that affects you every day. Don't hold yourself back! You're allowed to get free and explore new ways of building rhyme scheme and cadence. You can even try taking on a different (non-offensive) persona, which is an awesome way to find your voice and boost your confidence.
  3. Sit down and write. When writing your first rap, give yourself certain rules that take the ego out of the process. As writers we often micro-edit as we go along and it can challenge the authenticity of our work. Set "laws" for yourself like "Must keep hand moving," so that you give your creative thoughts center stage. Free styling is also a fun exercise that we recommend trying (you'd be surprised at how poetic you are when you speak from a place of spontaneity!). Make sure that you pay attention to any patterns in your typical rhyme scheme and try to switch it up. You may decide to write to a beat or allow your pen to move to the rhythm in your head. If you want to write a formal rap song, then you gotta know the lingo. Bars are lines in a rap, usually half of a rhyme but as always with poetry, nothing is set in stone (when Kendrick Lamar says "Soprano's see, we like to keep it on a high note / it's levels to this, you and I know..." that qualifies as two bars). A traditional rap verse in a song has at least sixteen bars of rhymes. Hooks are repeating riffs or phrases (you might know them as anaphoras in poetry). In pop music they're the looping, catchy part of the song we all get stuck in our heads. Lookin' at you, Call Me Maybe.
  4. Rehearse your rap. Rap is an oratory art; it isn't written to be read as much as it is written to be heard. After you've finished your rhymes you've got to speak them with confidence. This may require a few awkward rehearsals in front of the mirror but once you've gotten confidence and comfortability in your bars you're ready to take your words to the people. Find a local open mic and share your words with a community of active listeners and an engaged audience who wants to see you succeed just as much as you do. This will only help boost confidence in your own skin. Before you know it you'll have stage presence everywhere-- the world will become your stage!
  5. Other forms of lyrical poetry. Now that you've become a master MC try our some other forms of rhyming and lyrical poetry. Odes are a great place to start because their objective is to write about things that make you smile (yes, that includes pizza). The unison of rhythm and poetry has existed for as long as anyone can remember. Most of the work that philosophers and artists wrote several centuries ago were intended to be read aloud to an audience because lyrical poetry allows for inflection and emphasis by way of the voice. Many moder rappers say that Shakespeare himself used elements that resurfaced in Hip-Hop and have noted that his rhyme scheme and cadence is similar to that of artists like Jay0Z and Kendrick. This line from Othello: "Men would rather use their broken records than their bare hands," could be placed right next to this line from Wu-Tang: "The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams" and it would be really hard to guess who wrote what. The preconception that one art form requires more mental and literary sophistication than another is a myth. As writers and poets you can do anything, and now, that includes writing a rap. Add yours to PowerPoetry.org today.

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