Unlike every other genre of music, rap is always viewed as something you play. You never hear about the honky-tonk or heavy metal "games" -- those genres have "industries" and "businesses," but hip-hop is damn near universally viewed as a diversion or pastime of some sort.
But if rap is, indeed, a game, then what are the rules? It seems nobody has ever bothered to write them all down. Sure, everybody seems to know them. Slide in just about any mainstream rap CD, DVD or flip on one of BET's video countdown shows or leaf through a stack of copies of rap mags like Ozone, The Source, Murder Dog and Vibe, and you'll see all of these rules at play, so clearly it's all governed by an unwritten code, but a code is one step below a system of law. So here we're trying to serve as nothing less than the Hammurabi of the Rap Game, the very first publication to inscribe the official rules.
To do so, we consulted The Legendary K.O.'s Damien Randle and Micah Nickerson, two locals who know these rules quite well, since they have made a conscious decision to break them all. And I happened to find a rap on the Net called the "(How To) The Ten Commandments of Rap" written by a blogger named Panama Jackson that helped us with the framework.
The Ten Commandments of Rap
The First Commandment: Thou Shalt Embellish Your Background and Rep Yo Hood.
Jackson: Have a story -- you got to be a street vet / and get some credibility shit make it all up / make sure no one can check your references then shut the fuck up / the more work the better even if you ain't stack no cheddar / just say you can't talk about it then the game you are ahead of.
Randle: You have to have some story that is blatantly not true. Back in the day, it used to be that you had to be from Brooklyn. Even to this day, you get people doing that. I got a little cousin in Atlanta who wants to be a rapper, and you go on his MySpace and it says he's from Brooklyn.
Nickerson: LIE. LIE. LIE, LIE, LIE! Lie about everything. If you are 40 years old, say you are 30. If you are broke, say you are rich. If you suck, say you are different. Lie, lie, lie! And you have to represent a territory of your hometown. Even if you live in a totally different section or even a different city. Just be prepared to get tested by the haters that actually live there.
The Second Commandment: Thou Shalt Up the Ante
Jackson: Get shot in the leg, back, arm, head, and the toe / the more you know this shit worked for lots of other rappers / nine shots been done, go for ten -- its what's happenin' cap'n.
Nickerson: You have to get shot. 50 Cent got shot nine times. You'll either have to step it up to ten or come up with a more unique, nearly fatal injury. Something like the Crocodile Hunter. Kanye was cool because we got to see photo evidence of his face swelling up after the accident.
The Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Stay Fly
Jackson: Get a lot of throwback jerseys from the store or shit just borrow'em / up in Harlem you can get 'em on the corner for cheap / every rapper in the game got jerseys of niggas you need.
Randle: You basically have to get caught up in whatever is the dominant fashion piece of the moment. Right now, I think it's the grill, but I may be wrong. Whatever the item is, you have to rock yours in a way that makes others envy you.
Nickerson: Words from a well-known producer: "You Must Play The Part." If you are Mr. Super MC then you better look like one. Air Force 1's is a must right now. Get yourself a 7-XL Tee to match. Make sure your pants are hanging low. The lower the better. Get a chain that hangs really low. The lower the better. Grill teeth are optional. Don't worry about the older people hating on you. You do look like a clown, but you have to PLAY THE PART.
The Fourth Commandment: Thou Shalt Beef
Jackson: Simply stated but underrated nigga you need some street beef / Call out some famous rapper and try to end his career / I suggest staying away from Em, Jay, 50 Cent, or their peers / One bad move can totally fuck up your rise to the top / Ask Joe Budden, Canibus, Pras, Ja Rule, and other niggas that flopped.
Randle: You need to make sure you call out some major artist that just released an album -- that way you can ride on his coattails. And you need to have it all pre-written and laid out and proofread by somebody before you release that diss track. Like Canibus and all them -- they went one diss track too far. They started dissin' over dumb shit, like the way somebody's shoes were tied. The key to beef is this -- you have to know when to stop. A three-song limit and then leave it at that. I would say two songs, but maybe three if they really get you good after that second one. And a central part of it is this -- after a pre-set limit, then you have to have a make-up period. You have to give some interviews where you say, "Yeah, we were beefin', but we on each other's albums now."
The Fifth Commandment: Thou Shalt Rock Hot Beats
Jackson: Number five suggests callin' Kanye or Dre's real producer / a hot track can overshadow the fact that you suck / see careers of rappers Ja Rule and his buddy Young Buck.
Randle: It's all about the beat. You can turn on The Box right now, and out of the top ten, eight of 'em will be wack rappers, but all of them will have good beats. Or in the case of "Laffy Taffy," I don't understand either one.
The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Hit the Bowflex
Jackson: Down on your luck? Is your esteem lacking fo shizzle? / Step six hit the gym bitch get buff and all chiseled / Work out incessantly -- sit-ups and push-ups, become da man.
Randle: That's kind of a bonus. Maybe if you could take your shirt off onstage, it would move you ahead three or four spaces. At the end of the day, it's all about the women. If women aren't buying your records or you don't have women in the clubs listening to you then you don't have much going.
The Seventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Flash Bling
Jackson: You need some fake jewelry and shit / though gettin' robbed can either end or start your career right quick / the more bling the better dumb as that shit may be...
Randle: Right when you get into the game you have to get a starter chain or a starter grill. Now these kids can't go out and get a $12,000 grill, so they go out to Sharpstown and get a $200 grill that they have to pull out every night. And you have to clean your teeth so they don't turn yellow or green. And before you set foot on the stage for the first time, you have to have at least a skinny-ass chain, some type of ornament on your chest.
The Eighth Commandment: Thou Shalt Honor 'Pac and Biggie and Keep Them Holy
Jackson: Now everybody needs a hero some nigga to try to copy / Step eight suggests Pac you know a thug nigga with a hobby / Everybody loves 'Pac and thereby has ripped his whole steez / check out the West, South, Midwest and the East / You can't go nowhere without feeling that nigga's presence...
Randle: Make as many references to 'Pac and/or Biggie as you can. Even better -- play six degrees of separation to show how close you were to either one of them. But if you truly, truly want to be a legend, and this is true of all music, you've got to plan to die early. Look at 'Pac and Biggie -- if they'd been around three or four more years, they both would have fallen off.
The Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Bust a Cap In Somebody's Ass
Jackson: Number nine should have been number one to me / If you ain't been to jail shoot a nigga first thing / Along with your story some jail time would help / Like 50 cent even a boot camp would do just swell.
Randle: Gotta do jail time, especially after a successful album. This ensures that your next album will outsell that one.
Nickerson: Any press is good press. Get stabbed, robbed, shot, whatever. Get arrested. DUIs are good, driving with a gun in the ride is a favorite. Get a divorce, beat up somebody, do whatever it takes to make people go buy your CD.
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The Tenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be a Smarty Pants
Jackson: And last but not least the most important thing to do / be able to read and rhyme simple words...You ain't got to be good -- hell most rappers suck.
Randle: If it doesn't have a hot beat, the song itself has to be so ridiculously simple that you'll feel guilty that you don't like the song 'cause everybody else likes it. Like "Chain Hang Low." It's the worst song since "Laffy Taffy," and everyone likes it. I don't understand why. So you need either a hot beat or to just put everything on a first-grade reading level so that everyone could potentially like that song.
Nickerson: Make sure that you are not that good. Talent brings more problems. You might get acclaim but not the fame. The better you are the more likely you are to get left on the shelf for the latest pop hit. GET MONEY! That is the theme of your entire music career. Fuck earning respect musically; if you have money you can buy respect. You can never have enough money. If you don't have it, refer to the First Commandment. LIE!" firstname.lastname@example.org