Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.

arts Home > Book Reviews


The Art of Emcee-ing

The Art of Emcee-ing
Release Date:2005
Publisher:Boss Up Inc.

By Makkada B. Selah | Posted 5/31/2006

Rappers, writing random rhymes is not cool. One sentence you’re talking about all the bitches you fucked; in the next you’re talking about all the ducats you’ve got. Imagine if authors did that. You wouldn’t be able follow them, and no one would want to keep reading. That’s why more rappers need to write books.’s The Art of Emcee-ing discusses the importance of avoiding lyrics that are “run-on sentences” and verses that don’t develop a central idea. In fact, the Dead Prez MC claims that the ability to develop a central idea is what separates the mere rapper from the more powerful emcee. He even creates an acronym to help readers grasp the word’s meaning: An emcee has Effectively Mastered Communication, Expression, and Entertainment. penned this pocket book alone—with no ghostwriter. There’s an open, relaxed, and intimate tone, and it’s full of colorful anecdotes, from growing up to writing songs to tour stories. But early on puts forth a thesis: that emceeing is an art, a craft that must be developed through years of study. In this tome, he puts down what he calls his “limited and incomplete interpretation of the basics.” And like Saul Williams’ latest book, The Dead Emcee Scrolls, connects the high art of emceeing to the griot, the history-keeping figure in Africa.

He does not, however, claim that rappers should stick to “conscious” topics in their lyrics, writing, “commercial success and artistic integrity are not mutually exclusive and being a starving artist does not automatically mean you have skills or that you lack them.” He simply emphasizes that emceeing has specific forms and a method to be adhered to and respected. Songs must not only have a topic, but they must also have a concept: Tell a story and paint a picture. He suggests putting together an outline, includes writing exercises galore, and offers questions to help readers identify their strengths and weaknesses. And if you’ve got writer’s block, he includes a strategy to help you crack it: for example, note an interesting title of a book and write a song based on what you think the book is about.

But beyond actual lyrics writing, provides musical instruction, helping lyricists to choose or create music that fits the lyrics or vice versa. Art tutors readers in basic musicianship, enabling beginners to identify a chorus, bridge, or verse and to know the difference between tempo and rhythm. While this book is an easy read, with bulleted points and headings, more attention could have been placed on analyzing today’s hip-hop landscape and marketplace. There’s a short section on the logistics of obtaining royalties, but provides very little guidance toward breaking into the industry, and there is no discussion about what types of sacrifices are necessary in order to be an emcee professionally. In the words of De La Soul, “every woman and man wants to emcee,” but emceeing may not be for you.

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter