Published on June 20th, 2023 | by Dr. Jerry Doby0
Rap Shoutouts: Five of the Most Common Categories
Rap is one of the world’s most popular musical genres. Since its heyday in the 1990s, this type of music has become incredibly diverse. Just to name a few popular categories today, there’s mumble rap, gangster rap, alternative, lo-fi, emo, crunk, and cloud—and those are just the more well-known divisions.
Rappers in each genre represent their unique perspectives through audio production—but the most important distinctive element is a rapper’s flow and lyrics. The former isn’t likely to switch up too much, even if an artist swaps to a new genre of rap. However, a rapper’s lyrics might change to focus on different topics with each verse, track, or album.
And despite the fact that rap is one of the most diverse forms of hip-hop music today, lyrics tend to focus on a few core topics. Usually, there’s mention of a struggle and community, along with home and belonging. But how these subjects are discussed is veiled in popular terms and phrases, along with plenty of wordplay. And when it comes to creating a double entendre or simile, many lean on other areas.
Keep reading for five of the most common areas that rappers like to borrow terms and phrases from. First up: poker.
Most people know the basics of poker and which mistakes to avoid, from misplaying a hand to not understanding table position. Since the early 2000s, the game has become a popular choice for online players—and many of its most commonly used terms have bled into regular life. Specifically, into many different types of music and, for the purposes of our article, rap. Even before the online poker boom, artists like The Notorious BIG was rapping lines like ‘We don’t play around, it’s a bet, lay it down’, an obvious callback to playing a hand in poker. Drake has also drawn on the game multiple times, including lines like ‘Put on your poker face, I’ll pull your card if you’re bluffing’.
There’s nothing that pairs with hip-hop music better than basketball. In fact, the NBA has long been a center for black culture—and music is no exception. Rappers, specifically, have often drawn on basketball plays and the world’s top players to convey their message. The number of catchy basketball shoutouts is simply too long to list. Once again, Drake often brings up the league and its top players. In one song, ‘Sicko Mode’, he makes multiple mentions in a single line, going from “wetty like I’m Sheck” to “wet like I’m Book”. This references Sheck Wes, a rapper known to be good at basketball, along with Devin Booker, a top NBA pro.
Rap places a heavy emphasis on where an artist comes from. In gangster rap, in particular, where someone comes from is often a direct callback to their identity and immediate community. In other words, it’s all about someone’s home city. Unsurprisingly, this has made geography an unexpectedly important part of rap. The Biggy-Tupac rivalry, for example, pitted the West Coast against the East Coast, leading to hits like ‘Still West Coast’ and ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’.
Though not quite as prolific as basketball mentions, video games are also a way for rappers to expound on their skills and outlook. ‘Chun Li’ is a great example, in which rapper Nicki Minaj explores the famous Street Fighter character. Lil Wayne does the same in his song ‘Dough Is What I Got’, saying he can kick it like Mortal Kombat fighter Liu Kang.
In keeping with the basketball references, it’s common for some rappers to mention both gaming and NBA series like 2K Studios NBA 2K franchise. For example, Flo Milli raps, “Play his ass like 2K”, referencing both basketball and video gaming.
Rappers are constantly drawing on recent events to make their lyrics more impactful. And few stories are as sensational as political news—or as complex and influential. For example, artists like Tupac made their name commenting on themes such as community justice. The same goes for modern rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Though it’s not uncommon for rap lyrics to focus on political issues, many artists also name-drop politicians directly. Young Jeezy and Jay-Z, for example, used their lyrics to laud the rise of politicians, including former president Barack Obama.