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So You Want To Be A Rapper, (Or) The Ten Rap Commandments

Rapper

1. Know The Art 

Hip-hop has four disciplines: Graffiti, Break-Dancing, DJing and Emceeing. Rapping has its origins from the slave trade and Jazz music. Slaves used to play “the dozens” a game where slaves use insult each other.   Jazz musicians used to “scat” which is a form of improvisation using wordless vocals to melodies and rhythms.  Hip-hop started in New York with crews battling for local fame and recognition.  I suggest if you want a deeper body of knowledge you check out “Hip-Hop Evolution “on Netflix.  The past is prologue.  How are you going to know which “throwback talent” to bring on that Summer Jam Stage? 

2. You Have To Have That “Kanye Belief”  

You mean Kardashian Kanye? The Kanye who interrupted Taylor Swift? Or the Kanye who had the mental breakdown? Neither.  I’m talking about the Kanye who produced five of the thirteen tracks on Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint Album.” The Kanye who got into a life threatening auto accident, and broke his jaw.  The Kanye who got turned down by Dame Dash when he wanted to be an artist.  The Kanye who financed and showcased his own mixtape with videos where he rhymed through his wired jaw.  Listen carefully to “Through the Wire” you can tell he’s not opening his mouth.  The point is nobody is going to believe in you until you do.  

3. Know The Business  

Know what a 360 deal is. Know what a production deal is. Be familiar with points, advances, sample clearance, recouping, and publishing.  Know who owns your masters. Decide if it’s better for you to be independent or to sign with a major label. People will steal and take advantage of you. (See the New Edition Story)  Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty sued her accountant’s for ten million dollars.  “B**** Better Have my Money” is not just a club song; it’s autobiographical. 

4. The Internet Is Your Best Friend

Expose yourself and your craft.  Fill up your Sound Cloud with songs. Link it to your Twitter and Facebook. Freestyle on your Instagram. There is no such thing as overexposure.  Submit your music to award winning critically acclaimed sites like DOPECAUSEWESAID.  Masterpieces in the deep dark recesses of your hard drive don’t get likes, press, followers, A&R attraction or money.

5. Listen To Different Genres Of Music   

I love Nas like I love “TV on the Radio, The Strokes,” Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, (R.I.P Chris Cornell) and Radiohead.  Appreciating other genres of music only grows you as an artist. On The Roots song “You Got Me” featuring Erykah Badu, Questlove the drummer plays “drum and base” on the track. Jay-Z collaborated with guitar shaman Lenny Kravitz, and had one of his greatest verses on a Coldplay song.   Plus, who are you going to sample from if you only know Hip-hop music?

6. Write And Rap What You Know!

If you don’t have 2 Chainz on and “Beez in the Trap” flooding the city with molly and Percocet then don’t rhyme about it.  Kanye, Cole, Kendrick, Childish Gambino,  Logic.  There are plenty of artists that attain mainstream success without being Pablo Escobar. Also, just because the most successful Hip-hop act (Drake) in the world sings on a record doesn’t mean you need to. In fact the only reason we tolerate J. Cole’s singing is that he’s great in all other categories. Let’s just say the song isn’t called “The neighbors thinks I’m sanging”, artists are great when they remain vulnerable and true to themselves.  Nobody else can market and sell your best you like you can. 

7. Learn Audio Production And Engineering

Learn how to use an Akai Mpc or Maschine Workstation etc. Lean how to use Logic Pro, Fruity Loops, or Ableton.  Producers are expensive and you have to fork over that publishing. Knowing how to produce music is a skill you can market to other artists.  It’s not like it was when I was coming up you had to find somebody to teach you how to sample and sequence. Nowadays, using the internet there are so many sites and resources that will tutor you to a hit. Take an audio engineering course.  There is nothing worse than putting on headphones and listening to the track crackle and pop like a campfire in a horror movie.

8. Watch Out For Culture Vultures 

Hip-hop is like Coco-Cola; it goes with everything.  From beer to clothing, Hip-hop is the soundtrack.  Before you sell your services make sure you are compensated heavily.  Should you collaborate with other artists outside your genre?  Most Definitely!  Just don’t let somebody “Hannah Montana” your culture unless you are getting paid.  Let Katy Perry janky dance all over your music, provided she cuts that check.  

9. Diversify Your Career

Yell “Ice-T” in a crowded room and people will pontificate on their favorite “Law & Order Episodes”  They won’t quote “Six in the morning,” “New Jack Hustler” or “Colors” (Bud Lite uses it in a commercial). D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince gave me childhood anthems like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime.” Say Will Smith… You’ll hear Hitch, Bad Boys, Men In Black and a whole bunch of other movies.   Even N.O.R.E of the underground group Capone & Noreaga has an award winning podcast (Drink Champs). Think about 50-Cent? What comes to mind? Get Rich or Die Trying, G-Unit, and Power.  Try Vitamin Water; he made a purported seventy million after taxes from a flavored beverage.  

10. You Have To Have Vision 

If you would have told me in 1997 there would be sites where you could pay $9.99 a month and download as much music as you want I would have told you to put the blunt down. Furthermore, if you told me that the rapper who made “Reasonable Doubt” would own one of those sites I would have recommended rehab.  Times change. The producer who made “Nothing but a G-Thang” sold his headphones to the most successful tech company in the world for a substantial chunk of change.  See the future and bet on yourself; you might be a multi-millionaire.