The 6 best hip-hop songs about writing

More so than any other genre of music, hip-hop is steeped in language and wordplay, so it’s only natural that many of the greatest hip-hop performers are writers themselves.  Here are some of the best songs that celebrate the writing life.

6. Lupe Fiasco – “Hip-hop Saved My Life”

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Lupe’s contribution to the list is a simple story about an artist who struggles through writer’s block to prevail and realize his dreams.  It reminds us that there are still writers who, with enough tenacity, succeed in their craft–and Lupe wants you to know you can be one of them!


5. Kendrick Lamar – “Poetic Justice”

Lamar voices the essence of the writer’s condition when he says, “I could never right my wrongs unless I write ’em down for real.”  And like a true writer, he professes to the idea that we live and come nearest to our experience of the world through writing, “making sure my punctuation curve, every letter is true. / Living my life in the margin–and that metaphor was proof.”

4. Gang Starr – “The Words That I Manifest”

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Nothing but old-school swagger here.  Guru, Gang Starr’s MC, has no patience for the writer who hides their work from the world.  The message: get out there like you’ve got something to prove.


3. Blackalicious – “Paragraph President” & “My Pen and Pad”

“Paragraph President” via Soundcloud
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In the #3 and #2 spots, the duo Blackalicious ties with themselves for two excellent songs, both of which find Gift of Gab, the duo’s MC, living up to his name. The first, “Paragraph President,” is a frenzied stream-of-consciousness Pledge of Allegiance to “the pen and the pad,” while “My Pen and Pad” itself captures the ecstatic serotonin rush a writer feels when you lock into a streak of brilliance.

1. Mos Def – “Love”

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I start to think, and then I sink
Into the paper, like I was ink.
When I’m writing, I’m trapped in between the lines
I escape, when I finish the rhyme.

It’s true that Mos Def didn’t come up with this hook entirely on his own–it’s adapted from a line on Eric B & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul,” but “Love” far surpasses its originator in capturing the change that takes place in the writer’s mind when you take up your pen and begin.  At first, there is the all-consuming creative urge…

It was love for the thing that made me wanna stay out.
It was love for the thing that made me stay in the house
Spending time, writing rhymes,
Trying to find words that describe the vibe
That’s inside the space
When you close your eyes and screw up your face.

…and yet by the end, we’re left with only the mystery.

Were there any songs you think we missed?  Let us know!

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • matthewdavidpearson says:

    Lil Wayne, Dr. Carter. Kinda writing center-ish even!

    • Mark Jacobs says:

      Yeah, you’re right. On second thought it definitely deserves a spot up there. If not for the sick David Axelrod sample alone.