How to Write a Rap Chorus or Hook in 5 Steps
Are you interested in pursuing a rap career, but need a little help writing a catchy hook or chorus? Or have you been rapping for a little while, but just could you a bit of advice that brings your hook to the next level?
Well, whatever it is, have no fear. Because in this article, I’m going to walk you through the whole process and teach you how to write a rap chorus in five easy steps. Buckle up, and get ready to fall deeper in love with your own music than you ever have. This can be a seriously addictive part of the journey once you fine tune the skill and train yourself to repeat the process and apply it to your product.
So let’s get started.
How to Write a Catchy Rap Chorus
I’ve actually had people ask me how to write a rap chorus or hook before. And truthfully, I didn’t know how to fully reply at the time. All I could tell them in the moment was this: there’s a difference between a chorus and a hook. Any artist can deem a section of a song his or her chorus. But in order to have a real hook, you have to hook your listener, line and sinker. If you’re not catchy in your writing and delivery, there will never be any hook-type aspect to your chorus.
The full, proper conversation would have a required a collection of thoughts and resources to be gathered, which would also require that the listener be fully invested in the listening process. I’ve come to find a good amount of rappers I’ve worked with aren’t the greatest listeners because many of them are naturally hell-bent on projecting their own points and ideas.
I’m guilty of this act too, so that is why it helps to be able to convey these ideas through an article. It puts the power in the consumer’s hand, and allows me to process my uninterrupted work pattern and then verbalize it. At this point in my artistry, I’ve probably written close to 200-250 rap hooks, some with a good amount of singing and pop influences, and others with more of a focus on raw energy and lyrical metaphors.
So without further delay, here’s my first suggested step for you to take: think about the “listenability” aspect of your rap chorus.
Step 1: Listenability
Listen-ability. Put that word down, flip it, and reverse it. No, seriously. The “ability to listen” will define whether or not your chorus is actually a HOOK or not. If you can’t HOOK the listener into wanting more of the song, then all your lyrical skill that shines on your verses will almost definitely go unnoticed.
There are a ton of ways to go about being catchy, but above all, please always try and be original. No one likes to a listen to a carbon copy of another rapper. Listen to your beat, and understand the changes and structure. Find out where the best placement for the hook might be.
Find your best voice. Your normal voice isn’t always going to be your rap voice. Sometimes voices can change per song, or even per section in songs. Find your own lyrics inside you, create new flow structures, adapt to interesting cadences, throw in some melodic dynamics when it feels right.
Do what your voice naturally feels like doing, and then maybe work on throwing in some challenges. Sometimes changing the speed of one vocal pocket or even removing an unnecessary word can change your whole outlook on the song.
Don’t feel too stuck on any one idea, because a hook should feel relatively easygoing and it should happen naturally in order for people to receive it properly. If you struggle with writing and delivering the hook in the studio, it will show in the final product and ultimately lead to a bad review of the whole song.
Say the lines you’ve been dying to say your whole life. Sing the notes your voice sounds almost perfect in. I know there are mixed reviews about the subject, but you can learn A LOT about your voice through pitch correction plugins and filters, so don’t be scared to ask for some tuning in the studio, even just for experimental purposes.
Nothing is ever final until you say so, especially when you write the hook of a song. You are the main driving force behind the physical, spiritual, and mental connection to your audience, aside from the beat maker.
In my opinion, you should not move on to step #2 until you have some sort of idea of what you want your hook to SOUND like. I’m not referring to the message of your song, or some crazy bar you have planned, or even the beat transition.
Once you have assumed a position in your VOCAL RANGE and can envision the actual sound pattern (as an idea), then you are able to move forward. If you absolutely don’t know how it’s going to sound yet, then please be thinking about it VERY VIVIDLY as you write lyrics.
If you do not write listenable music, then the content and poetry and theme of your lyrics will generally not be received as well as it should.
Step 2: Begin the Writing Process
Use the ideas I gave you in step number one to start filling in a general idea of what you want to say in your chorus. This is the part of journey that will determine how impactful your song really is when received by the public.
If you already have verses written for your track, then try and be sure that the hook contains a general summarization of those same ideas. Remember these words don’t have to come from your voice specifically on the final track, but definitely sing or rap them out loud to yourself so you can be confident about their delivery.
Your lyrics should obviously rhyme (hope I don’t need to explain that much – especially to a rapper) and they should fit very well inside the pockets you imagined before you had words to fill them in.
Remember: COUNT YOUR SYLLABLES. Make sure your lyrics are fluid and that you don’t struggle too much transitioning from one word to the next. If you had a melody idea, don’t lose it. Modern rap has a HUGE market for melodic rap hooks that combine the beautiful side of music with the rugged side of rap. Throw some meaningful lyrics into that melodic pocket, and maybe even repeat it twice to make sure it stands out.
If you are writing lyrics for another person to sing a full chorus on, make sure everything is in key and that your note changes aren’t too drastic for their vocal range. Understanding a very small conceptual amount of music theory can go a LONG way as a rapper, so do not ever shy from opportunities to study.
Step 3: Decide to Record Your Music:
Whether you have an actual studio to go to, or you’re just going to use your phone or record your hook, it’s time to actually make the move to record something. Only then can you assess what you have and how you can improve upon it.
If the hook isn’t immediately great at first, this is not where you pack it up and go back to your fry cook job. There are two more steps to be taken that will build up your ability to create catchy choruses even though you still sound like a backpack rapper.
Step 4: Edit, Revise, and Get Better
Even if you aren’t in the studio, and you’re just rapping or singing the lyrics out loud to yourself, you should be able to tell where the strong and weaker parts of the chorus are. Maybe this rhyme is a little bit off and doesn’t quite rhyme like you want. There are plenty of websites that help find rhyming words but even if you search the thesaurus in your lyrical mind, I’m sure you can come up with the one word or phrase that really fits perfectly.
I’ll never stop being impressed by 50 Cent’s ability to rhyme the phrases “believe me” and “up and leave me” even though they seem relatively simple. However, truth be told, the world may never have come across that bar at such a caliber, had it not been for Nate Dogg’s effortlessly delivered hook on “21 Questions.”
There’s nothing better than struggling with a line and then scrapping it for one that works so naturally, like bread on butter. I’ve struggled with lyrics and given up on many wonderful songs in my past that could have been such solid compositions if I was willing to put in a few more minutes with my rhyme schemes, syllables, cadences and melodies.
There is no limit to how much you can work on your hook, but don’t bore yourself into hating the song. Keep it free, and keep it natural, but at the same time, make sure the people who hear it are going to need to hear it again. You want it to be so good that even your competition lets their jaw drop.
Dropping music with this mindset is the type of move that makes your haters start messaging you online with positive wishes and long-time-no-see texts
Put in the extra few minutes. Find a balance between lyrics and sound. Adapt to the track’s natural vibe while bringing in your own signature sound to develop a certain charisma that will attract your listener further.
Even if your message (and hopefully your truth) involves the dark topics of murder and street life, and your voice needs to come off aggressive and painful, so be it! If you are an undercover pop artist with a rap influence, don’t be scared to let that show in your songs at all!
There is an audience for everyone, but the important thing, as we’ve all heard before, is remain true to who you are. Do not change your lyrics or sound to fit any type of image that doesn’t actually represent you the way you’d want to have been perceived in the future.
Step 5: Make It Count
At this point, you know your song word for word probably, or at least have performed it out loud a couple of times and know how you want to “sit” in the beat and where your complex vocal pockets and melodic exchanges take place.
Essentially, you now know how to write a rap chorus. The final step in making sure it’s a catchy chorus or a hook is outside of the writing process. What you need to do now is definitely get into a studio, preferably a professional one. If it’s a home studio, let’s suggest that it be run a pro with a good musical sense and great engineering grasp on their shoulders.
Your friend who makes beats down the street isn’t always the best choice to go to for vocal engineering and final mixing. Believe it or not, these are two separate talents in themselves. Maybe you get lucky and meet someone with a critical dual-edged sword who can do both, like the iconic work done between Drake and his longtime friend and producer, Noah “40” Shebib.
Chances are you need a team of people who can focus on their own departments for the project or track. Your department is vocal performance and there are some skills to be applied that come with experience and time.
Personally, I’ve found that my skills were never super exemplified through making beats, especially because I’m surrounded by ultra-talented producers, who have always been solely focused on the art of beat making. With my heart being based in the life of a rapper, I always loved being on the microphone, and I knew that having full-time access to a studio would help me build my craft in a way that didn’t restrict me through time and money, like going to a professional studio for an hourly rate.
Over the last six years, I’ve developed a ton of recording techniques in my own home studio that I apply to my recording as an engineer in professional studios. I pursued some education in the field and now am certified in audio engineering; I found that the majority of my ideas and techniques I had developed in my sessions at home were more original and sound-shaping than most trained engineers and it gave my music a certain definition that most engineers don’t bring due to lack of real world experience with their own music.
All of this is to say two things:
1) Go to a great audio engineer for a great final track.
2) The final methods I’ll be discussing are going to be techniques that you can use AS A RAPPER to make sure your engineer can provide you the best final product possible.
-Presence: Record with the intent to make people listen. Don’t breathe too hard; record the hook in different sections if you’re running out of breath. Sometimes, with the right vocal mix, your lyrics could even overlap each other to make your lines fit properly in the beat. Don’t forget that your voice is the physical area in which you must always be exercising.
-If you are a lady and want a “boomy” voice that carries, then train that into your vocal patterns! Gentlemen, if you know you could sing if you just had a little bit of tuning, then keep on singing! There are no limits to what you can do, and the right engineer will always guide you to make good choices for the benefit of the song.
-Layers: Maybe the lyrics are hitting properly, and the beat is hard, too! But something doesn’t feel powerful enough about it? Throw in some vocal double tracks on top of your first layer. Maybe switch up your voice on these ones and try something softer.
-Maybe yell into the microphone and have your engineer turn the vocal take way down and throw some reverb on it. (You’ll love that, I promise.) A very talented example of an artist who uses vocal layers to strengthen his music is Young Jeezy, as opposed to an artist like Drake who generally only uses one main layer or maybe one very subtle doubled layer in the background.
-Catchiness/Hook-ability: Maybe that one bar at the end is so fire it needs to be heard twice. How about four times? A lot of music has a repetitive element that insists on leaving the song repeating in the head of the listener. Tequila. See? Maybe you have a couple ideas for adlibs – or filler words between bars – that would make the song more fun or flow in a way that represents your idea better. In essence, anything you can do to add to the listener’s desire to play the song on repeat, do that. Do something they’ve never heard from their favorite artists before.
Do it and make it count. There are a ton of different ways to go about the final hook, but your first and foremost job is to make sure you have something worth hearing. Next time someone asks you how to write a rap hook, just remember the difference between a chorus and a hook. I am confident that you are well on your way to writing some of the world’s next best music. Wishing you all the luck!
This article is a guest post written by Shawn A.
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