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How To Be A Rapper That Doesn’t Suck Part One: Mastering the 8 Minute Set

Written  By Shugabooga

I’ve realized lately is that while I don’t always love the way today’s hip hop sounds, what I really hate is the development of the artists. People are giving them horrible advice, or in some cases they don’t have ANYONE giving them tips. So over the next few weeks I’m going to do some blogs to talk about how I personally think artists can improve.  I’ve never been a platinum artist, but I’ve toured with them.  I’ve never managed a big time artists- but I talk to managers who have.  I interview good artists all the time.  I’ve seen them perform.  I’ve studied.  At the same time I’ve interviewed and studied far more bad artists.  Being good at this is hard.  But there are some simple things that you can do to be better.

I have hosted and performed at an estimated 1,000 shows.  I’ve been in the small clubs, block parties and house parties.  I’ve been at the Agoras, the Odeons, the Peabodys.  I’ve been at the Q and other Arenas (not just kicking it- performing).  I’ve seen thousands upon thousands of artists!  I know from experience what I’m talking about!


As a former artist I know how hard it is to put all of your creative genius into a short set.  You see Jay Z and Drake deliver these brilliant 2 hour sets with pyro and video screens and somehow you think you can capture that same brilliance with an 8 minute set at the Grog Shop.  One big difference- You have no hits.  You might have some songs your friends like.  You might have some YouTube hits.  You might get likes on your Social Media.

You don’t have hits. Yet.

Maybe one day you will.  I hope you do!  But for today, if you were to do a half hour set there is a very good chance that all you would do is take anyone who thought they MIGHT like you and make them like you LESS!!!

I’m going to introduce you to a tried and true concept: Less is More for the new artist.

Chances are you have ONE truly great song early in your career.  Maybe two.  You probably have a lot of songs that you THINK are hits.  You probably have a lot of songs that the 10 people that are coming to see you are going to like.  But the truth is, you have to extend your fan base.  So you are better off hitting them with your one sure fire hit rather than 8-10 minutes of filler.

Here is the typical set list for the underground rapper:

  1. Generic opener (I know you are trying to hype the crowd.  30 second is good- if your intro is really, really dope)
  2. Really good song- probably the hit. JUST STOP HERE!!!! The crowd liked it.  You aren’t going to do any better.
  3. Song about how much weed you smoke.  Now you sound like every one else.  Momentum is dying.
  4. Song Dedicated to your boy that died in the hood and how the streets wont forget him and everyone from you block comes on stage.  Now you have no crowd, you’ve alienated any new fans you were going to get and I’m at the bar.
  5. Fight with the soundman because your really good song had a good mix and master, but everything else sounds like trash, so you have to blame someone.
  6. 1 minute into your last song which is a throwaway cut, your music is cut off because you went over time, so now you are fighting with the promoter and the DJ.
  7. Horrible acapella that no one wants to hear. Never. Ever. Do. An. Acapella. Ever.

I have seen SOOOOOOO Many artists perform and really loved ONE of their songs.  Then they immediately drag me through 3 more songs that sound nothing like their big record and I lose interest because I realize that the one song they did was all they had in their arsenal. If they would have just hit that one song and gone on, people would think they were stars.  Two songs later they just sound like everyone else!

I subscribe to a theory called “Squeeze The Lemon”. I will write another article about promoting that mentions this too- but for now let’s apply this to performing.

Hit records are RARE!  Many artists go their whole career without ONE big record.  Joe Budden had ONE truly huge hit and he spent the rest of his career living in it’s shadow.  People take for granted how hard it is to be a One Hit Wonder.  With any luck, you make a million hits.  But you have to get ONE first.

If you have a really solid record, you have to ride it until ALL POSSIBLE MOMENTUM is gone.  You have to keep in mind that all though you and your close associates have heard the record a million times, other people haven’t yet. Famous artists are releasing songs like crazy, and putting out album filler level songs on iTunes separate from their album because they are getting paid for it.  But you aren’t there yet!  You have to give the audience your very best- and none of your mediocre.  For now- do your hit.  And then get out.

My advice goes directly against the artist’s ego.  But if a promoter offers 8 minutes tell them you just need 5.  If you want a little intro to hype the crowd that’s cool. 30 Seconds.  Then your best record.  Then give them your social media and WALK OFF like a G!  NO ACAPELLA “FREESTYLE”.  Leave now, and go sign autographs.

Shuicide Holla has had some successful records.  When I see him do a show he usually does an intro track, whatever single he is pushing and “Hit Dem Folks” which was a wildly successful record.  Even Shu would be hard pressed to put together a full 15 minutes because He’s only got a few songs that EVERYONE knows.  One day he’ll be able to do more.  For now he’s still squeezing the lemon.

Look at festivals. Ever wonder why an act like Kyle, for example, only does 10 minutes?  It’s because he’s got one hit.  If he does House of Blues he probably does 45 minutes or so.  You aren’t on that level yet.  One day you MIGHT BE.  For today, get your Kendrick on.  Be Humble.  It will Pay off!

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