5 Tips to Become a Better Hip Hop Artist

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Press Releases and Articles
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So you’ve been in the lab (a.k.a. your room!) recording yourself rapping or making beats for a couple of years but nobody has heard your music except your crew and your mom…and that’s only when she’s asking you to turn the noise down!  How do you truly know you have what it takes to make it in this game?  Have you really studied your craft and developed your art or are you fooling yourself into thinking you have something special when all you’re really doing is sounding like everyone else?  You may be asking yourself, “If so many wack artists still end up successful, why should I waste my time trying to be different? I have a better chance if I just do what everyone else is doing.”  I can’t deny the fact that a whole lot of talentless artists are getting their 15+ minutes of fame. But if your goal is to be among them, this article isn’t for you. This is for all those young aspiring artists who are genuinely invested in their art and are looking to make a lasting impact, even if it takes a while to get there. If you want your music to be remembered for years to come, these 5 Tips to Become a Better Hip Hop Artist will guide you in the right direction.

  1. Study the Greats:

Hip Hop culture has been around since 1973. This means that a lot of incredible rappers and producers have come before you. Find out who these legends are and research their catalogs. Don’t worry about the number of albums they’ve sold. The business was different back then and sells weren’t the only way to evaluate an artist’s greatness.  Focus on their talent and skills. Even if you don’t like their music, try to understand how they’ve established themselves as greats.  If you were to learn how to play the guitar, you’d have to learn about the great guitarists like T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, and Jimi Hendrix who came before and helped to shape today’s rock music.  The same philosophy applies to Hip Hop.  You must understand the evolution of the art form in order to add on to it.

Go back and listen to Melle Mel on “The Message” and “Beat Street Breakdown”.  Melle Mel was considered one of the best of his time.  He had a powerful voice that displayed confidence.  His vocab was extensive and many of his subject matter were heartfelt.  You could feel it in his voice.  Those same qualities were found in Tupac.  No wonder both artists are looked upon as icons. If you’re too young to have heard Rakim (hard to believe any self proclaimed MC wouldn’t have), you need to check out the songs “Follow the Leader” and “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” among many others.  Without Rakim, rappers would have never evolved the way they did and there would probably be no Nas…and maybe no you!

If you’re a producer, go back before Hip Hop and listen to how legendary composers like Barry White, Isaac Hayes, and James Brown arranged their music.  They are the foundation of Hip Hop production.  Bring it back to Hip Hop and check out Marley Marl, Pete Rock, The Bomb Squad, DJ Quik, early Dre, DJ Premier, etc… Without them, there wouldn’t even be the software/hardware you make beats with!  Remember, there’s no future without a past!

  1. Battle and Perform:

There was a time when you couldn’t call yourself an MC unless you had earned your stripes through battling.  The scene is different nowadays but the importance of sharpening your skills is just as crucial for those who care about the art form and their reputation.  Thus, if you can, engage in battle!  This may include your typical cipher or an organized battle at a club in front of a live audience.  Either way, you need to feel what it’s like to be judged by your peers.  If you can take it, this kind of pressure will make you a better MC. You don’t want to be that guy you’ve probably seen in many ciphers, weak nasally voice, stumbling over his lines, and repeating the same few words over and over again!  Hasn’t anyone told him that he isn’t ready to play with the big boys yet?  However, battling isn’t for everyone but you’ll still need to earn your stripes in front of an audience to earn the title of MC. To this aim, you’ll need to perform at various venues and events to develop your talent as an entertainer.

In the early stages of your career, you should jump on any opportunities to do shows.  This may range from a school-based event to a showcase at a local club.  It may not sound glamorous and you won’t always do well but it’ll make you a better performer.  You’ll be able to practice projecting your voice, speaking clearly so that every word is heard, controlling your breath so that you don’t skip over words or pass out, and learn how to get your audience involved in the act.  The greats have all gone through it and you shouldn’t expect anything different.  Ultimately, the goal is to develop confidence, charisma, stage presence, and an understanding of how to move the crowd.  Otherwise, you’ll just be like all the other corny, no-name rappers you’ve seen perform before and swore you’d never be like.  For inspiration, check out live performances on YouTube from KRS ONE, Joell Ortiz, Doug E. Fresh, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Royce the 5’9, and MC Lyte, to name a few.

  1. Lose the Yes Men and Women:

Everyone has them.  Some are just scared to hurt your feelings, some couldn’t recognize talent to save their lives, and others just don’t give a damn!  All of them are bad for your health!  And your girlfriend/boyfriend doesn’t count.  You could sound like Soulja Boy on Novacane and they’d still love you! When it comes to your art, your best friends are those who keep you grounded with their honesty and understand that only the truth can help you grow.  In the past, I’ve had to tell friends that their skills were lacking.  It wasn’t what they wanted to hear but it made them go back to the drawing board and come back stronger.

Develop thicker skin and encourage your friends to give you honest constructive criticism.  Reassure them that you’re not going to fall to pieces if they have harsh feedback to give you!  Accept their criticism with an open mind and use it to make you a stronger artist.  Good athletes become great athletes by taking serious criticism from their coaches and peers.  There’s no way around it. Of course, make sure to surround yourself with people who have your best interest at heart and know something about music.  This will probably save you from making an ass of yourself and spare the world from having to put up with the next garbage artist!

4.   Challenge Yourself:

Some artists are one trick ponies!  They’re good at one style but can’t do anything else.  Some producers do nothing but use basic drums, a lot of bass, and a bunch of hi-hats and stop there!  It’s almost the same formula for every song. Some rappers get complacent.  They get locked into a routine and never step out of their lane.  If they’re known to go “hard in the paint” with their vocals, they stick to that recipe on every song until that style gets played out. When someone else starts a new style, they try switching up to adapt to the latest sound but it’s usually too late by then. It sounds forced and fans have moved on to the next flavor of the month.  Here are some basic ideas on how to become a well rounded artist.

  1. Freestyle: If all you do is spit written material, give yourself an opportunity to develop another part of your brain by freestyling. If you fear embarrassing yourself in front of others, record it and learn from your mistakes.  If you’re a producer, give yourself 10-15 minutes to create a full song. Use the first drum kit and samples you find and race against the clock to create something cohesive. Keep at it and even if you never become a master, you’ll still have developed basic improvisational skills.
  1. Write: Some MC’s are amazing freestylers but can’t write a song with a consistent theme.  If you’re pursuing rap as a career, freestyling can only take you so far (with few exceptions).  While freestyling allows you to express a broad stream of consciousness, real songwriting gives you a chance to cover specific subjects just like an author writing a novel on a particular topic.  Think of a very specific subject to write about.  Form a mental outline of the story including the intro, plot, climax, and conclusion.  Write with the intent of meeting a specific goal and imagine how you’d like your fans to describe your song.  You should aim to leave a lasting impression.  Producers should think about the type of mood they’d like the listener to feel and create a track with a few changes and arrangements.  Go beyond a basic 2 bar loop or 4 bar bass line and give your song depth and dimension.

  1. Experiment with Content: Try new words.  If your songs usually contain explicit lyrics, try writing clean.  Don’t be afraid to pick up a dictionary or thesaurus to spark ideas.  If you’ve never written a story rap, bring your story to life by developing a plot with characters (see Slick Rick’s “Children Story” or Immortal Technique’s “Dance with the Devil” for examples) You can also try writing a song from the perspective of another person or thing.  Organized Konfusion did it well a few years ago on the song “Stray Bullet” when Pharoahe Monch rhymed as if he were a stray bullet piercing through innocent bystanders.  Gruesome but effective!  If you’re a producer, simply experiment with different drums, keys, melodies, and samples.  Make a beat at a different tempo than usual or create a beat in the style of someone you sound nothing like!  Even if you don’t like the final product, you’ll still be able to take some of the lessons you’ve learned from your experiment and apply them to your sound.  The goal is to grow as an artist.

5.    Look for Ideas and Inspiration in Everything Around You:

If you look at the Top 40 rap songs in the nation on any given week, the themes generally revolve around the same few subjects: sex, partying, sex, bragging, sex, material possessions, sex, and…sex!  While these subjects have entertained the average listener for years, it’s safe to say that having a broader range of topics to rap about would benefit everyone!  After all, isn’t life more than just about sex and having fun?  Ok, maybe not for you, but the average person can relate to a lot more than the 3 to 4 subjects we hear repeatedly on every station across the nation. And so many of the beats sound the same!  A few years ago, everyone had that Dirty South Bounce.  Now, everybody wants a Euro-pop-techno-dance track.  If the next style ends up being country-rock-funk, people will jump on that bandwagon too!  Where’s the originality y’all?!

Are there unlikely places you can draw inspiration from?  Are there books, movies, or non-Hip Hop songs that inspire you to create?  Are there people in your life who have interesting stories to put into a song?  Are there any current events that you could incorporate into your lyrics?  Do you have insight into something worth sharing in your music? Can you take your own life lessons and add an entertaining twist to it?  Are there certain movies that make you want to produce a new soundtrack for? Truth is, the sky’s the limit.  Question is, are you willing to stand out and be all you can be as an artist or would you rather play it safe and follow what everyone else is doing?

These 5 tips aren’t the only suggestions to help you become better artists but they’ll definitely help you develop your talent.  Remember, no one can predict your future or guarantee success. Still, the choice to take pride in your art and to find new ways to grow is in your hands and will ultimately bring you closer to your goal.

Until next time…PEACE!


Sebastien Elkouby is the co-founder of S&H Public Relations, a boutique PR agency which specializes in promoting quality Hip Hop artists and related projects.  For more information about our services, log on to www.SNHPR.com and check the blog at www.snhpublicrelations.wordpress.com. You can also reach us by email at SNHPRF@gmail.com.  Connect with S&H Public Relations on Facebook at Facebook.com/SNHPublicRelations and Twitter at @SNHPR.


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