If you want to write rap / hip hop songs that speak to your listeners and create verses that linger on people’s minds for days after they’ve heard your song, you have to learn about rap punchlines.
A rap punchline is, simply put, a line that is meant to be thought-provoking and to grab your listener’s attention. Punchlines may vary in length and size depending on the lyrics.
In this article, we will give you a step-by-step guide on how to write rap punchlines and tips you can use to improve your wordplay, as well as some famous examples from the real world.
Tip: If you’re a beginner in the rap music world, make sure to check out our How to Rap article for tips on becoming a better rapper.
Types and Examples of Rap Punchlines
As said before, rap punchlines will vary a lot regarding length, size, and function inside a song, but they all have one thing in common: they need to be strong and thought-provoking to work. There are a few common practices that are widely applied by rappers when writing this type of hook, especially wordplay and double/different meanings in the same line.
There are basically two types of rap punchlines: one-liners and buildups. We will get to learn about each of them below.
One-liner rap punchlines are meant to be delivered in one bar. They’re especially useful for ending verses so that the rapper creates a lingering feeling in the listener, but they are effective pretty much anywhere in the lyrics. Here are some famous examples of one-liners:
Kanye West – Touch The Sky
“I’m tryin’ to right my wrongs
But it’s funny them same wrongs helped me write this song, now”
As you can see, Kanye’s line sounds very provocative. The rapper uses the paradigm that even though he is trying to improve the parts of himself that he judges as wrong, they still helped them write this song. This is a perfect example of a rap punchline as it will probably leave most of us thinking about this concept long after we’ve listened to the song.
The following example is a punchline from Jay-Z. Notice the wordplay and pun with the word businessman:
Jay-Z’s Guest Verse on Kanye West – Diamonds Are Forever (Remix)
“I’m not a businessman
I’m a business, man”
Here is another punchline by Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg. Pay attention to how some words are adapted to fit into the flow and into the rhyme scheme:
Dr Dre feat. Snoop Dogg – Nuthin But a G Thang
“One, two, three and to the fo’
Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the do'”
It is important to give your punchline a strong meaning, but making so in a way that people are able to understand it quickly may give it even more impact like 2Pac did in this line:
2Pac – Keep Ya Head Up
“You know it’s funny when it rains it pours
They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.”
How To Write Rap Punchlines: Buildups
With buildup rap punchlines, the rapper creates tension for several bars before delivering the concluding line, thus creating apprehension on the listener and making it more impactful when the tension finally drops. The important factor in this type of punchline is to create cohesion between the whole verse. Example:
Eminem – Rap God
“Lyrics comin’ at you at supersonic speed (J.J. Fad)
Uh, summa-lumma, dooma-lumma, you assumin’ I’m a human
What I gotta do to get it through to you I’m superhuman?
Innovative and I’m made of rubber so that anything you say is ricochetin’ off of me and it’ll glue to you and
I’m devastating, more than ever demonstrating […]”
This is only a small part of one of Eminem’s lines in the song Rap God. In fact, the whole third verse of the track could be considered as a very long punchline: there is buildup and tension release and it is impactful as a whole.
Kanye West – Can’t Tell Me Nothing
“I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven
When I awoke, I spent that on a necklace
I told God I’d be back in a second
Man it’s so hard not to act reckless
To whom much is given, much is tested
Get arrested guess until he get the message
I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny
And what I do? Act more stupidly”
Kanye tells a story for 8 bars before he finishes the punchline with “And what I do? Act more stupidly”, which acts as a conclusion and creates an extra impact on the listener.
Now let’s look at Drake’s verse on the introduction of Travis Scott song SICKO MODE:
Travis Scott – SICKO MODE
“Sun is down, freezin’ cold
That’s how we already know winter’s here
My dawg would prolly do it for a Louis belt
That’s just all he know, he don’t know nothin’ else
I tried to show ’em, yeah
I tried to show ’em, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Gone on you with the pick and roll
Young LaFlame, he in sicko mode”
Take a listen to this track and you will see that Drake, through this build-up punchline, sets the mood for the whole track and builds tension several bars before Travis comes in with the main hooks. By then, the beat of the song also gets completely changed creating a sense of unexpectedness.
Tip: For improving your writing skills even further, consider checking our article on How to Write a Rap Chorus.
10 Steps on How To Write Rap Punchlines
Below, we are going to cover how to write Rap Punchlines in 10 simple steps.
- Define The Theme of Your Rap Punchline
- Get Some Inspiration
- Know the Arrangement of Your Beat
- Fit Your Punchline To The Structure Of Your Lyrics
- Use Multiples Types of Rhymes
- Use Puns
- Use Metaphors/Similes
- Know How to Use Irony
- Pay Attention To Your Flow
#1 Define The Theme of Your Rap Punchline
You should define the theme and style of your punchline long before writing it. It is useful sometimes if you lay down the overall theme of the song and the emotion you want to convey with your lyrics before you write them too. Brainstorm a little bit and think about some keywords that may help you speak better to the listener.
#2 Get Some Inspiration
As obvious as it may sound, it is essential to gather the right inspiration before you start writing your punchline. Instead of going the traditional route of listening to different songs, try reading a book or some poetry as there are a lot of gems in these materials.
It is also worth saying that you should have a notebook or a note app ready while going through your day-to-day life, as a cool idea may strike us from out of nowhere. For example, when you’re sitting in public transportation and some random conversation or story catches your ears.
#3 Know the Arrangement of Your Beat
It is essential to know the arrangement of your beat well before you start writing your lyrics or your punchline to it. That is if you’re writing to pre-recorded music. But even if you don’t have the instrumental to your song just yet, consider how well your words are going to fit into the final result.
Song arrangement is pretty easy to learn even if you’re a beginner rapper. Most rap songs feature an intro, verse, chorus, and bridge, as well as variations for each of those sections such as a post-chorus.
To start off, you should determine how long each section will be in bars. For example, you may have the verse going on for 16 bars and a chorus of 8 bars after it. That will help you find yourself within the song and shape the delivery of your message by dividing it into introduction, development, and conclusion.
Rap punchlines are all about the perfect timing. Once you have your arrangement figured out, determine where you want to put your punchlines and what function they will take: building or releasing tension, closing a section, etc.
#4 Fit Your Punchline To The Structure Of Your Lyrics
The different structures within the lyrics can make or break a song, and with punchlines, it is not different.
The first part of the structure we should pay attention to when creating punchlines is the rhythm of the words. Try to adapt and use synonyms if you can’t fit a specific word into the rhythm of your line/beat.
One thing must also be aware of is the number of syllables in each word of your line. If you’re writing a punchline with more than one verse, it is a great rule of thumb to keep all the verses at a similar number of syllables. Don’t take this as a hard rule, though.
#5 Use Multiples Types of Rhymes
There are multiple types of rhymes you can use to form your rap punchlines, and many artists are not paying enough attention to this matter when they write.
For example, a verse with internal rhymes (rhymes between the words inside the line) will likely sound smoother than one only featuring end rhymes (rhymes between the last words of the lines on the verse). Not that there is any problem with the latter, it is just a matter of making things flow better.
There is also the multi-syllable rhyme, which is when all the syllables inside two words rhyme with each other. For example double and trouble, taste and haste. This style of rhyming is a little bit trickier to master but it could make your punchline sound much better.
#6 Use Puns
Most of us are familiar with puns. Puns are a comedic tool that explores the similarity between two words to create a joke. These similarities can be either in the way the word sounds or a word with double meaning.
Of course, if you intend to make a pun in your rap punchline you should think about it carefully so it doesn’t sound too out of place. Here is a great pun example in the song No Love by Eminem feat. Lil Wayne:
“You can still get roasted because Marsh is not mellow”
Eminem’s real first name is Marshall. The rapper makes a clever wordplay with his name and the word marshmallow. There’s also a double-meaning word: roasted, which could both mean roasting a marshmallow or confronting/criticizing other people. That’s a perfect example of how a little bit of “comedy” in your punchline can go a long way.
#7 Use Metaphors/Similes
Metaphors/similes are one of the most popular figures of speech there are. It is simply a clever way to make a comparison between two things or describe things outside of their literal meaning. For example, time is money or the sun is glowing like gold.
As you can see, a metaphor isn’t literal but they help you paint a picture in the listener’s mind and make it easier for you to deliver your words. A few examples:
Rihanna – Diamonds
“Shine bright like a diamond”
Eminem – Lose Yourself
“He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting”
Post Malone – Motley Crew
“I get the commas, period
Covered in ice, Siberia“
Fitting two or more meanings inside one punchline is one of the most amazing strategies to make your line more interesting. That’s what double-entendres are. This figure of speech is widely used across all kinds of music.
Here is an example of a double-entendre from Eminem’s Rap God:
“Cause I use it as a vehicle to bust a rhyme
Now I lead a new school full of students”
There are two meanings to this punchline. Eminem uses the similarity of the word bust with the word bus to compare himself with a school bus driver – the students are his rhymes and lyrics and he delivers them. That can also be considered as a pun.
The second meaning to this line is the literal one: he is a rapper busting rhymes. There is also a little reference to the artist Busta Rhymes.
#9 Know How to Use Irony
Many people are familiarized with irony but few can master this art with confidence. Being ironic is simply saying the opposite thing you actually mean to tell a story in a more engaging way. Most A-list artists use irony frequently in their lyrics and punchlines.
There is no better way to get better at this than to listen to how your favorite rappers apply this figure of speech and to expand your vocabulary through books, poetry, and even daily conversations.
#10 Pay Attention To Your Flow
Finally, it is not enough to just write a good punchline. You must deliver it right to keep the thought-provoking factor and the impact in check. That’s where flow comes in.
In rap music, flow is, simply put, how well you can match your lines to the beat and keep up with the pace of the song. We recommend that you start practicing this skill on a daily basis, as it is one of the most important for rappers to have.
Many factors will help determine if your flow is good or not, such as speed, clearness, and pronunciation. You can learn more about how to improve your flow on our How To Flow in Rap article.
Bonus Tip: Freestyle
Many of the greatest rap punchlines are often said before they’re written. Build up your freestyling skills enough and you will be able to throw an amazing punchline idea off the top of your head.
Adding some freestyle rapping to your daily practice can also have the benefit of improving your way with words, as well as your vocabulary and flow. It is a win-win scenario. If you already feel confident with rapping in front of an audience, try getting in touch with your local rap community and get to know about freestyling events in your area.
Bonus Tip 2: Test Your Punchlines in Front of an Audience
You should always try to test your punchlines in front of an audience and do some changes if necessary so you can get the delivery just right. Try, for instance, rapping your lines to your friends to see what they think about it.
What Makes Rap Punchlines Have Heavy Impact?
What Is A Double-Entendre?
What Are The Main Characteristics Of A Great Rap Punchline?
1. A well-defined theme.
2. A meaning that speaks to the listener.
3. Proper rhythmic and syllabic structure.
4. Proper rhyme structure.
5. Cohesion with the rest of the lyrics.
7. Figures of speech such as metaphors/similes and double-entendres.
8. Most importantly, be thought-provoking and cause an impact on the listener.
These were a few of our tips on how to make rap punchlines. Rappers need to learn how to incorporate all of the tools in their arsenal to create engaging music and impactful lines, as well as master the performance part of rapping.
Overall, the key factors for creating a good punchline are to build up your vocabulary through daily life and your wordplay skills. Practice and write frequently. Don’t be afraid to get your ideas out of your head: we often have filters in our minds that keep us from expressing ourselves, but you should work on bypassing them.We hope we’ve helped you with this guide. Please make sure to check our relatedarticles if you’re looking to improve your rappingskills. If you have any more questions or would like to discuss further about punchlines, please feel free to hit us up!
Ian Sniesko is an experienced music producer and musician who loves to share his knowledge about the best audio equipment for making and enjoying great music. For the past 6 years, Ian has written extensively about the audio equipment industry and has contributed to many of the top music magazines.