Songwriting is an art with no limits. It’s something every independent artist must master if they plan on taking their music to the main stage. In hip hop, it is ever changing, and to truly blossom in the arena of mainstream music, you’ll need to learn from the masters. So, in our quest discover what makes a great songwriter in the urban arena, we studied some of the most prominent artists and songwriters in hip hop, and compiled what we call…
ADVICE FROM THE MASTERS OF HIP HOP
- “Be memorable”
–Master Ye (Chicago Dojo)
From the South Side of Chicago, the first master on our list that we studied is Master Ye. Kanye West is a genius, or at least his 21 Grammy Awards say so. What we learned from Kanye is his death punch…make memorable lyrics. There is not one song that Kanye has had on commercial radio where you cannot recite at least a few lyrics outside of the song’s hook. He has a way with words, and he knows how to put them together to drive along a storyline, like a poet or an author. He uses lyrics that repeat at the beginning and end of a verse, or at the end of both verses (think “Gold Digger” or “All of the Lights”), making sure that these lines will stick out the most and make it easy to repeat next time the listener hears the melody.
Another thing that Master Kanye does is bring back popular sounds and lyrics. People always cling immediately to what’s familiar, and Master Ye is not afraid to borrow in good taste. Knowledge of this allows artists like Ye to take popular lyrics that others know and turn them into memorable Kanye lyrics. After all, “Fifty told me go ‘head switch the style up, and if they hate then let ‘em hate and watch the money pile up…”
- “Be unique”
-Master X (Yonkers Dojo)
Next, our journey took us to Yonkers, New York to study Master X. For anyone that was around for the era of DMX, they know that he is one of the most unique sounding major artists that the industry has ever produced. His technique was simple, have a unique style that your enemy has never faced. Everyone knows how different the Ruff Ryders founder’s rap style is, and it is exactly that which made him popular. Why follow the crowd? Why adopt the musical trends? Being different doesn’t mean being outlandish, it means standing out. Most artists sound like the next, and it’s for this reason that they never flourish. The reality is, they never try to truly be an individual.
Not only did Master X have his own style, everyone wanted to be a part of his dojo. He created an entire movement behind it. Ruff Ryders was major, and everyone wanted to be your dog. In fact, hip hop didn’t really use the word dog to refer to each other until DMX made it popular. His brand had a cult following, and it all came from his unique style. This is something that all artists need to grasp, as we are all different and most artists who follow the crowd or imitate another artist’s style never last long in the industry.
- “Bring energy”
–Master Luda (Atlanta Dojo)
Next, we traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to train with Master Luda, and learn his style of energy transfer. Ludacris is a great example of how to use your own unique style to bring energy to a song. Every one of his hits are high-powered and animated, and his delivery makes you want to turn up and have fun. If you want to gain a loyal following of people who like to party, you need to learn how to capture that energy and deliver it through your music.
Master Luda’s style relies heavily on emphasizing his words to make them hit harder. There is not one word that he does not articulate for his audience, and coupled with the emphasis of his lyrics, his words intentionally draw you in and make you want to participate, whether that means sing along, dance, or “throw them bows”.
–Master Tunechi (New Orleans Dojo)
The heat in the swamp was sweltering as we entered Master Tunechi’s New Orleans dojo after being blessed by a voodoo priestess. As unique and vicious as his quick-strike style is, we learned one important thing from him, to experiment with different styles and sharpen your skills to the point of lyrical genius. Lil’ Wayne is the king of lyrical experimentation, and he uses this to make psychological connections between otherwise meaningless words. This rare level of talent has been used by the greats for years in small doses, but never as often in rap as Master Tunechi has done.
Wayne also likes to experiment with his physical sound as well. Like it or not, he was one of the first “whiny” rappers; that is, he modified his voice to make it sound trippier. The world loved it, and they still do, as you now expect to hear Tunechi’s signature sound on every major feature (“Young moolah bay-bay!”). Don’t be afraid as an artist to try new sounds. Get a home studio and play around. You never know what you might come up with. Remember what you learned from Master X, individuality puts you in your own lane.
- “Master every flow”
–Master Hov (Brooklyn Dojo)
One of the best ways to be successful in the urban music industry is to be a sponge, paying attention to what’s popular, what works, and what you can gain from other artists to add to your sound. That is why we were extremely excited to train with one of the all-time greatest; the now retired Master Hov. Hov is essentially a jack of all trades, with a well-rounded style that can adapt to any fighter. What we learned from him was to study multiple flows and master them, calling upon them when they are needed. Master Hov spent a lot of his career mastering different techniques. This allowed him to utilize his own style, and then switch his flow to another popular style, adding his own twist to it. Why is this important?
ALL SONGWRITERS MUST LEARN TO MASTER DIFFERENT STYLES! It’s just that simple. Even for the emcee, this skill can keep you from boring your audience. Imagine having a single flow throughout an entire song. Most people pay attention to strong hooks and tune out the verses unless the artist keeps them engaged. Use one flow for a few bars and then switch it up to something memorable, like Master Ye teaches us. Be unique for a few more bars like Master X, and then re-capture the listener’s attention with your emphatic energy like Master Luda. Experiment like Master Tunechi, trying new vocal sounds and sharp flows. But above all, learn to master all, and like Master Hov, you yourself could be the next Master of Hip Hop.