Rap Rebirth Blog Hip-hop ghostwriting and lyricism


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Birthday Raps

We're pleased to present the latest addition to the Rap Rebirth family... Birthday Raps. Birthday Raps offers customized lyrics written by professionals to be given as birthday presents.


Breath Control & Lyricism

The mark of a true professional is breath control. A great MC can effortlessly fire off a series of dizzying multi-syllable rhymes and never skip a beat. It's essential for sounding professional, pulling off impressive flows and rhyme schemes, and presenting a strong presence on the mic.

So how do the greats do it? Turns out there's a few tricks.

1. Practice

The number one rule for almost anything applies to breath control as well. The more you rap, the more you train your brain to subconsciously account for difficult portions of the verse and take breaths at appropriate spots. Over time you also condition your lungs to hold more air and you can rap unimpeded.Do you have to be in great physical shape? Not necessarily. Many rappers we associate with being overweight show amazing feats of breath control. That said, they do have the benefit of years of practice. Their brains are finely attuned and their lungs are much stronger than their overall image would suggest. All else equal someone who's athletic will have better breath control, but being out of shape isn't a prohibitive factor.

2. Punching in

Punching in is the practice of rapping a few bars, hitting stop on the record button - catching your breath, and then jumping back in where you left off. It's commonly done every 4 bars, and it's a great way to initially build your breath control. Even the great Big Pun would often only rap one bar at a time. A challenge of punching in is matching the vocal pitch and rhythm you left off with (otherwise it will sound uneven, and the "punch-in spots" will be obvious to the listener). A great engineer or producer can make punching in a seamless process, but it can also be done in a home studio using software like ProTools or Reaper.

3. Writing

Before you even step into the booth you can account for breath control in your lyrics. Part of this is knowing your own limitations as a rapper (or if your client's if you're ghostwriting). Trying to pull of a series of double time multi-syllable rhymes right out the gate (like Eminem on "Forever") is extremely challenging. You can sprinkle in impressive lines between parts where the flow changes, breaks down, or where you stretch out words. A secondary benefit of changing your flow for better breath control is that it keeps your delivery interesting and the listener engaged. You can also put pause marks "[--]" in your written lyrics to remind yourself where to take a breath or slow down.


The Joy of Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting is surprisingly rewarding. Not only does it create a flexible lifestyle (you can ghostwrite from anywhere and all you need is a smart phone) but it also provides intrinsic rewards.

1. You get to express yourself in all new ways. When you ghostwrite you can write about things through another person that you normally wouldn't through yourself. Case in point: When I ghostwrite for a gangsta rapper I can become Martin Scorsese directing a crime drama. It's something I couldn't rap in the first person.

2. You learn about people. As a ghostwriter people tell you about the most intimate details about their lives. It's immensely interesting and rewarding to learn about different walks of life.

3. You help people express themselves. When an client receives lyrics that are a perfect fit they're ecstatic and they let you know. They get one step closer to reaching their dreams or cementing their legacy. It's a good feeling to be a part of that.

4. You get to collaborate. Often clients come to me with amazing concepts that I'd never think of on my own. It's exciting to put my lyrical skills in the framework of their concept. When great ideas meet technical skill the results can be amazing.

5. You have an excuse to listen to lots of music. This is my favorite. Part of my job is to be up on the freshest hip-hop tracks. I'm constantly combing blogs and YouTube listening to new songs and new artists so I'm up to date on what's hot. For someone with a love a of hip-hop this is a joy.

The joy of ghostwriting


The Science of the Rewind Effect

As a hip-hop writer you want to engage your audience and make them active listeners. You want them to say "what the fuck was that, that sounded dope" and rewind.

There are many ways to achieve this.

1. Say something off the wall and surprising. This will depend on your style and your reputation with the listener.

Ex: "Rhymes is made of garlic" - Ghostface

2. Say something that provokes thought.

Ex: "Just because no one can understand how you speak - don't necessarily mean that what you be sayin is deep" - Talib Kweli

3. Use a complex rhyme scheme.

Ex: "In the middle of Little Italy little did we know that we riddled some middleman who didn't do diddily" - Big Pun

4. Use inventive wordplay.

Ex. "Safe sex is great sex, better wear a latex 'cause you don't want that late text, that 'I think I'm late' text" - Lil Wayne


Ghostwriting vs Rapping

People often ask me if I record music personally. The answer is no. I'm purely a writer. I was thinking about this question today and it got me thinking about the different skill sets rapping and ghostwriting require.

Rappers must be performers. Their instrument is their vocal cords. Intonation, breath control, pitch, annunciation and rhythm must all be finely honed. And of the intangible quality of "mic presence" must be there as well. The best rappers change their voice to match their content or the audience they want to reach. Rappers must also embody a persona. Whether they want to be or not, they embody a brand that has certain consistencies (even if those consistencies include contradiction). The best rappers are in touch with what drives them and can clearly articulate it on a record. For mainstream rappers there's also the public persona which involves media personality, fashion, and choice of music videos. Rappers who write for themselves must also be lyricists, though this is not always a necessity.

Ghostwriters are lyricists first and foremost. They must be masters of the written word. Rhythm is a necessity too because what they write ultimately has to fit a beat. A ghostwriter must also be a passable vocalist because many clients require reference tracks. There are two less mentioned skills ghostwriters must possess as well. Those are empathy and versatility. Unlike a rapper, a ghostwriter must be able to deeply understand the artistic intent of their client. They must be sensitive to that person's experiences, style and world view. They must then be able to take that information and embody it. Versatility is required if a writer wants to work for a variety of clients and customize their lyrics in a personal way.

Of course many ghostwriters rap and many rappers ghostwrite. The line between the two often blur. Artists like Rhymefest, Skillz and Kel Spencer have been able to do both because their unique mixture of rapping and ghostwriting skills. The same is true of more mainstream acts like Nas, Jay-Z, J. Cole, and T.I. Regardless the distinction is still there.


Are We Hiring?

We've been seeing a recent uptick in emails asking if we're hiring new writers. For now the answer is no. But stay tuned.


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A Vision for Hip Hop

"Now I take a trip around the world twice - from knowledge born back to knowledge precise" - Rakim

In the mid 90s hip hop was lyrically dense. Verses were layered, internal rhyme schemes ruled, and "that buck that bought a bottle could've struck the lotto." Rappers like Nasty Nas made the grimy world of intercity living an appealing landscape of multisyllabic double entendres. The listening experience was a complex journey for the verbally visual mind. On songs like Camp Lo's "Luchini" the active listener was rewarded with deeper meanings the casual passerby missed. I'm still catching new things. 90s hip hop was a mentally stimulating experience that, contrary to public opinion, made you smarter as you listened.

Today it's more hit or miss. Underground artists like Fashawn, J. Cole, and Jay Electronica proudly wave the lyricist's flag. Aboveground rappers (who I'll leave unnamed) make emotionally compelling music but lack that complex 90s punch. I equate it to a delicious four course gourmet meal with low nutritional value. You love it while you're eating it. It taste great. But when you finish you find yourself hungry for more.

A lot of people will say this decline is due to commercialism. Once hip hop became a billion dollar industry it was only natural it would lose it's intricate lyrical nuance. I disagree. I think music fans are intelligent enough to appreciate complex lyricism. Look at Eminem's album "Recovery". It's as technically complex as anything that dropped in the 90s and is, so far, this year's best selling album. Look at a song like Big Pun's "Not a Player". His wordplay and flow are incredible and the song was a career defining hit. I think at some point rappers stopped caring. They got lazy. Good enough replaced above and beyond. It became a race to the bottom of lyrical standards.

At the same time the production quality of hip hop has improved. You have breathtaking, high budget beats from artists like Justice League, Kanye West, and Dr Dre. Don't get me wrong, I love 90s production, but today it's on a whole other level. Songs like Rick Ross' "Maybach Music III" sound amazing and set the perfect mood. Kanye's and Jon Brion's work on "Late Registration" was awe-inspiring. Live orchestration is no longer a novelty, it's becoming the norm.

With this in mind, I'd like to paint an alternate reality of hip hop. Imagine a musical world where artists with the lyrical sophistication of Rakim flow over Justice League beats. I think ghostwriters are the key to creating this kind of music. There's a generation of amazing writers who grew up listening to 90s hip hop. They're an untapped resource for rappers today. Their talent could be utilized in a crowd-sourced way to create the best lyrics for the most popular rappers (who may not have the time, talent or desire to improve their lyrics themselves).

Some may raise concerns of artist integrity. If a rapper's using someone else's lyrics then doesn't that make them less genuine? My answer is no, it makes them more resourceful. Rappers can still be the driving creative force behind a song or album. They can set the artistic vision and define specific parameters for writers to fill in. The easiest way to think about this is to compare it to film making. Martin Scorsese doesn't write the scripts for his movies but no one would deny that they're his artistic creations. He sets forth a larger idea and directs people under him who specialize in areas where they have more competence. If more rappers use ghostwriters as tools to reach more complex and interesting levels of expression then it's a win for hip hop fans the world over.


Great Article on the Positive Potential of Hip-Hop Ghostwriting

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What’s Coming to Rap Rebirth in 2011

Some things we're working on...

  • A lyric writing service for businesses, products and services
  • An e-commerce platform and social network for ghostwriters to sell their lyrics to rappers
  • A monthly newsletter for our clients
  • More free MC resources to help develop lyrical talent

We'd love your ideas and feedback.