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In the summer of ’95, I remember having a conversation with a somewhat famous gangsta rapper regarding his lyrics. I questioned this Snoop Dogg affiliate about the negative content of his music and asked him if he had considered his influence on younger fans. He told me that he had grown up in the hood and rapped about the only things he knew: gangs, crime, women, and the streets. He said he’d be more than willing to rap about other things if someone would teach him. Taken back by his honesty, I gave him my contact info and naively encouraged him to call me if he was interested in exploring new topics for his music. Of course, I never heard from him again. The truth is, I can understand why a grown man would be reluctant to call a complete stranger to probably have the most awkward conversation in his life.
Since that time, I’ve worked with countless aspiring rappers, most of them between their teens and early twenties, whose limited life experiences and small minded desire to copy mainstream artists have drastically limited their range of subjects to rap about. What so many artists fail to realize is that most of our Hip Hop luminaries have become so as a result of their originality, individuality, and risk-taking attitude. We see these characteristics in those whose music has stood the test of time. Icons such as Rakim, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, and Afrika Bambaataa as well as contemporaries like Eminem and Jay-Z are examples of artists who have pushed the creative envelope, delivered thought provoking lyrics, and stood out from the pack. None of the rappers we now call legends have achieved this status by rapping about drugs, sex, and violence on every song like so many do today. Fortunately, when called out on this issue, most up and comers acknowledge their shortcomings and welcome the help and creative push.
So, for all those rappers out there who simply need a little guidance and are open to exploring new topics in your music, here’s my gift to you.  Allow me to provide you with a few subjects you might consider rapping about. Some of these examples are about current events while others pertain to politics and social issues. Each link will give you some general information about the topic and hopefully inspire you to include bits of this new found knowledge in your lyrics. Trust me, Hip Hop fans around the world will thank you for it and you’ll get more respect for being a well rounded artist. God knows we need it!

Nelson Mandela and his legacy

 

Mass incarceration of Black males

 

The business of private prisons

 

Stop and frisk secret recordings

 

The government’s spying problem

 

iPhones, iPads, and sweatshops

 

100’s of schools shutting down nationally

 

How Hip Hop is exploited

 

NYC stop-and-frisk data: Whites more likely to carry weapons and drugs

 

Genetically modified food

 

Payola

 

Where’s the money Haiti was given to rebuild?

 

School to prison pipeline

 

The West Still Pillaging Africa

 

The truth about iPhones

 

Or pretty much everything I write about. Sorry for the shameless plug!

 

The list of things to rap about is endless…or at least it should be. The examples I offered here are mostly subjects I’m passionate about that go under reported in mainstream news (and definitely in the music world) but need to be brought to light. However, you should select topics that make sense to you. Do your research in order to get a good understanding of the subject at hand. This is your responsibility as an artist. Write interesting songs that will make you stand out from all the copycat rappers you’re competing against. With a little practice, you’ll start coming up with new topics to rap about and you’ll find yourself evolving, not only as an artist but as a person…without the help of this complete stranger!

 

Sebastien Elkouby is a Hip Hop Culture historian, freelance writer, creative consultant, and award-winning educator. Check out his educational program,Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture and blog, SebIsHipHop.wordpress.com. For more info about his services, contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @SebIsHipHop.