This week on Mondo DIY we’ve collected some rare statements from famous rappers on how they write songs. Beat first? Rhymes first? Read on to know.
Ice-T on Dr. Dre: “[Dre] said there’s a difference between a rapper and a songwriter. Dre says, ‘You’ve gotta write me a song. I don’t need bars — I know you’ve got skills, but we need songs, so give me the hook first.’ He says a lot of rappers get lost, but that’s what Eminem does. They write these incredible songs, and that’s basically what Dre likes to take to the marketplace.”
Joey Bada$$: “How I avoid writer’s block is always switching it up, like always switching up my structure. Sometimes I will be walking and a melody will come to my head and I’m like, alright, I’m just going to keep repeating it and keep adding on. Or I might be feeling another way. Like, maybe I just want to draw something out. I want to actually illustrate the picture to the listener.”
Tech N9ne: “I’ll sit there and just wait. In my living room, I’ll just wait for the word, and it always comes. So I sit next to my Google — I love my Google, because I gotta make sure I’m using the word in the right context, because words will just pop up in my head, I’m like, damn, what’s happening, who’s putting these words in my head?”
Eminem: “Like, I’ll get my starting line and I’ll try and figure out — just mumble words to myself until I find the right ones I wanna use. Or, sometimes, a word will pop in my head, I’ll be like, what the f–k? Lemme write that sh-t down. I put it at the bottom of my pad, and then I’ll start coming up with words and then OK, this goes here. It’s like a puzzle.”
Andre 3000: “I write all the time. Like I write down thoughts that I think would be interesting or things that are kind of just concerning me at the time. Sometimes I write them on a napkin, sometimes I type them in my phone. And when it comes time to do music, I go through and see what thoughts work for this song. Sometimes they’re in rhyme and sentence, and sometimes they’re just a thought. Sometimes it’s a melody. With phones now they have the recorder on it, so I can sing melodies or I can say lyrics right into my phone.”
Kool G Rap (author of the foreward in How to Rap: the Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC): “I wouldn’t really say there is a set process, it’s me just trying to go in that zone. I just try to zone out and let the beat tell me exactly what should be placed on it and let the beat give me the lyrics. Each track calls for something different, whether it’s a flow, whether it’s a subject matter, whatever it is. Some tracks call for you to be a little more hyper, some tracks call for you to fall back a little more and to just talk to them.
“[These days] I don’t use paper, I type now. It took a long time to do that transformation, but I finally got the transformation to typing now. I just type in my phone, I don’t really type on the laptop or nothing like that because who’s gonna lug a big laptop around with them everywhere, so I just type in my [Sharp] Sidekick. I can go to the studio or wherever, do a feature with somebody else and my phone is always gonna be there. Typing it [helps you play around with it more], because instead of crossing out, you’re going back and deleting words and replacing them. And it’s not sloppy, as opposed to writing—with typing it’s easy and simple and it’s not a bunch of cross-outs and scratches on the paper.”