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Stand alone

PROJECT 1 –Writing A Song

What makes a good hip hop song? Is it the subject matter? The lyrical content? The beat? The flow? The artist’s tone of voice and vocal delivery? The meaning and messages inside the words? The emotion and mood of the song? The truth is, all of these things can contribute to making a great song. The most important thing is that it sounds like it’s coming directly from the artist themselves. An audience, particularly a hip hop audience, want to hear an artist speaking from the heart. So as long as you’re being yourself and not trying too hard to sound like someone else, you’re already off to a good start. If you’re writing about things that mean something to you, then your lyrics will be delivered with conviction and chances are they will mean something to the listener as well.

Be patient and be prepared to be imperfect. A lot goes into writing a good song. Artists are constantly refining, adjusting and reworking their ideas. A song will often go through several different incarnations before it’s finished, so don’t be discouraged if your ideas aren’t popping right away. Be prepared to flesh things out and follow a train of thought, even if you’re unsure where it will end up. You can always refine and edit things later, so write them all down and try them out before you decide whether or not to keep them. No song will ever be perfect, nor should it be. Hip hop isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being you.

Step 1 - Find the beat.

Find an instrumental hip hop beat that you can use as the basis for your song. This could be a beat you’ve found online, a beat you or a friend have made yourself, or even the beat you created out of loops in one of the earlier tasks. The most important thing is that you like it and feel inspired to write something to it.

Think about the mood and emotions you feel when you listen to the beat. What does it make you feel? What kind of lyrics could you write to it? Decide on the tone you want your lyrics to take and what kind of emotions you want people to feel when they listen to your song. You could even do the ‘Feeling the Beat’ task from the Pre-Visit section of these resources to help get some ideas flowing.

Check out Ableton’s Learning Music online activities in beat-making to get you started.

Step 2 - Find the topic

Now you have an idea of the emotion and mood you want to put into your song, it’s time to pick your topic. This could be the social issue you researched in one of the earlier tasks, or another issue that is important to you. It could be based on what you’ve learned about hip hop history or Australian hip hop. It might just be something that means something to you, or that comes to mind when listening to the instrumental beat you’ve chosen. It doesn’t matter what your topic is, as long as you find it interesting, and feel like it will suit the mood you’re going for.

Once you’ve decided on your topic, use a blank page to brainstorm some ideas associated with that topic. The more ideas the better, so don’t worry too much about making everything fit with the original idea. Write down every word or thought that comes to mind. Sometimes the best ideas come from the places we least expect. You might like to use your rhyme book from one of the earlier tasks for inspiration.

Step 3 - Find the angle

How is your song going to be different to other songs? How can you make sure it stands out? It’s important to find original and unique ways of presenting your music. If you know what your song is about and what you want your song to feel like, start thinking about how you can write the song to give it your own flavour. Is it going to be a story? A collection of different thoughts and ideas? Will it be written from your perspective, or someone else’s? These are all things to think about before you start writing your lyrics. The clearer you are about the angle you’re taking to present your song, the stronger your song will be.


Many hip hop artists use metaphor to add a deeper layer to the meaning in their music. In his song Flightpath, hip hop artist Mantra tells a story about a paper plane that goes to war. The purpose of the story, however, is to illustrate the futility of war and violence, and discuss how thoughts, ideas and communication can be far more powerful.

Step 4 – Write the song

When you’re ready to write your lyrics, there are a few different approaches you can take. You may already have an idea of how you want your song to go, in which case you might just want to start writing and see where it takes you. Another way you can go about it is by thinking about your song’s structure. Most songs have different sections – verses, choruses, bridges, intros, outros etc. Hip hop instrumentals often contain different musical sections already, so this can help you decide where your lyrical sections will go. Thinking about what sections you want to include in your song and how you want to arrange them can often help steer your lyrics in a certain direction. Some artists like to plan the sections out first, making dot points of what could be covered in each of the different parts of the song. This can be particularly useful if you’re taking a storytelling approach, as you can plan out the beginning, middle and end points of your story in line with the verses, choruses and other sections of your song.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to write song lyrics, so if it feels right to you, go with it. You can always refer back to the work you’ve already done. You’ve identified the mood you’re going for, decided on the song’s topic and established what angle you’re taking to get your point across. Once all that is in place, writing lyrics is the easy part! 

For more information about songwriting, see the Stand Alone Music Module.


The album cover is an iconic part of hip hop music and music in general. Over the years there have been countless styles, trends and movements influencing hip hop album artwork.

Your task now is to use your hip hop alias and your new artist logo from earlier tasks to create your own album cover. You can refer to the Design unit’s learning resources for some tips on getting started.

Hip hop album covers have constantly changed and evolved over time. The sky is the limit in terms of what you could include in yours and how it looks is completely up to you. Your cover could include photos, illustrations, computer-based graphic design or even a collage of different images. Here are some examples of Australian hip hop album covers that use a range of different design styles.

Urthboy - The Signal

Layla - Heretik

Sampa the Great - Birds and the Bee9

Mantra - Telling Scenes

L-Fresh the Lion - One


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