Putting my rhymes where my teach is

At the end of last semester, some of my students expressed chagrin that a writing class about rap never asked or taught them to write raps. So at the beginning of this semester I slotted a day for “Writing Raps?”–question mark and all, because that ish makes me nervous–and today I finally had to face the music. Literally.

We started off by talking about what Jay-Z describes in his book Decoded as the two kinds of beats in rap–the constant, foundational musical beat, and the variable meter of the rhymes–that is, a rapper’s flow. I explained that rap songs generally have four beats per line. Older raps usually have around 8 syllables per line, while newer lyrics have closer to 16–double time!

We talked about end rhyme, internal rhyme, and figurative language, then brainstormed some potential subject matter: why I’m great, why you suck, school, my hometown, money and material goods, fantasy, what I did today, random anecdotes, personal struggles.

Then we read the first verse of “We Don’t Care” aloud to, you know, get in the groove. We decided the beat we’d work on was the track from “All Falls Down.” The hook is on there, which is a nice thematic jumping-off point, too. And then–we were off. I suggested folks try to build units of 2, 4, or 8 lines, with the ultimate goal being (of course) 16 bars! To show solidarity, I promised I’d write and perform some verses with them, too.

At the end of class, about 6 people performed. So great! My favorite rhyme was from a girl spitting about her chemistry exam: she rhymed “Boyle’s theory” with “Can you hear me?” Ever the storyteller, I delivered 16 bars about my leaky travel mug.

note: not my actual mug.

Man I promise, I’m so damn tired

Woke up this morning ‘fraid I got fired!

Like my contract expired, air from my tires

Gone to the moon, asleep in my room.

Woke up, got up, make some coffee

It’s my new best friend, named Mr. Coffee

Not that hazelnut toffee, it’s the realest shit

Pour it in my travel mug and seal that bitch

Then I’m ready to go, till I see it drippin

Damn Mr. Coffee, I’m like, You been trippin?

Like my day been clipped, like my coffee mug is shit!

How’m I gonna drink this when the top don’t fit?

Right, that’s right, the top ain’t tight.

The seal’s too loose so the juice take flight.

Now I gotta go to class with these stains on my pants.

Should I go home and change them? I can’t take the chance.

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