So You Want To Be A Rapper 102: Pick A Lane
In So You Want To Be A Rapper 101 on SycosisMusic.com I outlined how to do the first essential step in becoming a Rapper which is picking a stage name or alias. In this installment I present to you the second step which is “Picking A Lane”. All that means is chosing the direction in which you would like your music to go. This includes
1. Your Style: Your voice, delivery, and lyric/song structure
2. Your Content: The things you talk about; subject matter
3. Your Likelys: The people you are mostly likely to be compared to or in competition with
There are a dozen categories your music can fit into and if you are talented enough you can do a little bit of everything. In fact most rappers use at least 2 lanes on a consistent basis. One for their singles, one for the majority of their projects. We’ll get back to these 3 components of a Lane in a minute but first let’s identify what the Lanes are.
What “Lanes” are there in Rap?
Currently I would say there are 5 major Lanes with other sub categories that Rap falls into. I identify them as…
I. Street Lane: (Young Jeezy, 50 Cent, T.I) The “Street Lane” is the most notorious and also the most overused lane that exist in rap. It includes content of violence, drugs, gangs, guns and in general tough talk. As a younger rapper you probably learn this lane first because the expectation is that the streets must embrace you and respect you first. The Street lane can be diverse if used properly. It originates in stories of overcoming poverty and adversity generally from the perspective of a young black male. However if used incorrectly it can glorify the worst parts of society. Two major subdivisions of the Street lane are
A. The Battle Rapper Lane (Murder Mook, Cassidy, Serious Jones) This lane has an emphasis on one of the fundamental elements of Hip Hop, the battle. In order to improve in the ranks as an upcoming artist, sometimes you have to lyrically assassinate another man’s character with carefully crafted sharply pointed punch-lines. Due to the fact that most battles are performed impromptu and live in front of an audience, an emcee can hone his skills of performing, stage presence, and crowd control through this lane. But be cautious, battle rap is an Ego sport not to be taken too seriously get too into this lane and you could end up a Rap Beef fiend always looking to show he’s better instead of letting other people tell him.
B. Psycho Lane (DMX, Eminem, Ludacris) This lane can cover anything between demented crazy or dark music to overtly silly and exaggerated funny songs. The key to this lane is to use the unexpected as an advantage. Say what you think people aren’t expecting and it will pay off as long as you not too damn weird.
II. LL Lane: (Drake, Fabolous) The opposite of the Street lane is the “LL Lane” named after its founder LL Cool J. The LL Lane has a softer focus with content of relationships, love, and sex. Drake is probably the best new example of this lane. Even tho he doesn’t take his shirt off onstage he has a large female fan base from his subject matter and look. Although like I said most rappers have at least 2 lanes they are good at. Fabolous would be all out of place in this category until you consider his singles/features dating back to the start of his career. Take “Throw It In The Bag” or “You Make Me Better” for example. This lane isn’t to be looked at as a bad thing or soft. In fact women represent a large amount of people who actually BUY albums. So if you don’t know by now have a track or 2 that’s a banger for the ladies and you will find success. Just don’t over do it i.e. Ja Rule
A. Lil Kim Lane: (Trina, Niki Minaj) A subdivision of the LL lane is the female version where the majority of the lyrics and the buzz are based on sexual lyrics of promiscuous nature. Sadly most new female rappers automatically jump into this one for acceptance but some actually show they can spit good lyrics on top of being able to give you wet dreams.
III. Dance: (Soulja Boy, New Boyz, GS Boyz) Although a lot of so called “True Hip Hop” heads look down upon this lane we can’t forget that some of the biggest records ever in the history of Rap were intended for parties. The problem is when it becomes a gimmick and the dance is more of the point than the song is. Nevertheless your good club song may or may not need its own dance to get popping nowadays just keep in mind once you choose this lane people aren’t too accepting of you doing anything else afterwards.
IV. Conscious: (Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Nas) Conscious Rap is almost a taboo lane to get into probably because the people that are associated with the lane in some cases are extreme. Not all conscious rappers are too deep to understand or too abstract to relate to the hood. In fact I would argue any artist who is introspective about his life or emotions is a conscious rapper. I could easily add Tupac to the list (although his dominant lane was Street) as well as other contemporary artist like Joe Budden, Kanye West, and the previously mentioned Drake. The key is to be versatile and you can use this lane as the most powerful form of Rap.
V. Pop: (Kid Cuddi, Flo Rida, Black Eyed Peas) As Hip-Hop expands to new frontiers (and sells less than it did before) innovation is bound to occur. The last 2-3 years has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of Rappers that don’t necessarily remind you of Rap in all genres. With the highest selling album of 2009, you probably don’t think of Black Eyed Peas as the same conscious Neo Soul Rap group as they started as. A small change in the line up (Fergie) and some minor adjustments to tempo and now you have a Pop Rap Super Group known across the world that you won’t probably ever even hear on your Rap radio station.