Teach You How to Teach: A Guide to Great Rap Tutorials

Abe Beame heard that you look like MC Hammer on crack. Everyone’s talking about YG and DJ Mustard’s Compton throwback, My Krazy Life and its standout track, “Meet the Flockers”. In the song,...
By    April 1, 2014

tutorialAbe Beame heard that you look like MC Hammer on crack.

Everyone’s talking about YG and DJ Mustard’s Compton throwback, My Krazy Life and its standout track, “Meet the Flockers”. In the song, YG gives us a brief overview on the fine points of home invasion. The song is glorious, but it’s hardly the first time a rapper has used a track as a means of instruction. Tutorials have long served as reliable, inventive concept for a rap song, the results often memorable. Rather than simply relating a narrative speaking to a theme; an act, usually one that speaks to a particularly resonant facet of modern urban life, is walked through, step by step, for the listener. Based on the level of detail and premeditation, the rapper doing the teaching earns authority (i.e. YG’s already classic direction to seek out Asian neighborhoods due to what he explains is their believable distrust of the American banking system).

REMINDER: We define a tutorial as a guide, a set of specific directions, before you start angrily tweeting the shit we missed. The following is a list of our favorites.

Digital Underground- The Humpty Dance (1990): The tutorial concept that predates rap itself is the dance song. Trying to instruct physical movement is often awkward, particularly the flailing motions favored by modern Hip Hop dances, but one guy truly nailed it.

“The Humpty Dance” is the only dance tutorial worthy of a place on this list. It remains Digital Underground’s biggest song, and it’s an introduction to Shock-G (via Humpty). In fact, the instructions are issued after 3 minutes and eighteen seconds. The dance barely factors into the song, or what makes it great. That’s not to say it’s an afterthought. Rather than literally taking through the motions of the dance, Shock uses metaphors and punchlines to keep the proceedings as funny as the rest of the song lyrics. Take note, rappers working on your dance tutorials: Any instructions that will make you look like MC Hammer on crack are worth following.

Ice Cube- How to survive in South Central (1991): Our own G-Funk historian Son Raw suggests this is the Godfather of the rap tutorial. As the first track on 91’s Boyz N the Hood soundtrack, it’s certainly the oldest non dance tutorial you’ll find here (And undoubtedly a major influence on YG). This is early Cube. Many of the raps feel convenient, as if finished simply because “handbook” rhymes with “rap crook”, rather than constructing a cohesive two bar rhyme. The tenants are pretty well worn post-NWA tropes: 1. Carry a gun 2. Trust No One 3. Don’t get “Caught Up”. The tutorial form is a loose structure for the song. Each verse opens with a numbered instruction, followed by loosely related suggestions.

The general message is South Central L.A. in the early 90s was a hostile living environment. It’s a message Cube would embed in a more clever manner a few years later with “A Good Day”, in which a pretty average day highlights how remarkable simple pleasures can be in an impoverished community. Of course, this is all masturbatory critical knit picking. For its early innovation, the song remains an instant classic, impossible to listen to without thinking, “This guy will certainly end up as a stock scowling cop character in 20 years.”

Redman- How to Roll a Blunt (1992): A few questionable practices here I have to check for 90s babies: You should no longer buy weed in a bodega. Even in the 90s, Philly blunts were never the best option. Vanilla Dutchies were mandatory in New York. That being said, there’s much to learn here.

First and foremost, you can talk about anything over a Golden Era Pete Rock flip, particularly a Mary Jane Girls Pete Rock flip, and it will come off profound. Songs like this made it clear that weed would be Hip Hop’s drug of choice in the 90s. before weed became a genetically engineered super drug, blunt smoking was the means of getting high most commonly employed by smokers who didn’t listen to Phish. By codifying blunt rolling, Redman expanded the range of what rap tutorials could be about. As a means of instruction, its much more faithful to the concept than Cube’s entry. It’s a technical manual that happens to rhyme. In addition, the song is related with the blend of humor, adept wordplay and expert flow that has made Red one of rap’s all-time great practitioners. However, it would be the act of selling drugs, rather than taking them, that became the most popular tutorial subject.

This song hasn’t aged well — kids use e-joints or volcanoes or whatever to get high. We need to start an official petition to get Reggie to make a 21st century remix to this song about dispensaries and wax.

Biggie- 10 Crack Commandments (1997): This is most famous of all rap tutorials as Biggie presides over a graduate level hood economics lecture. This is the pinnacle of the genre for a number of reasons. You can start with the excellent Primo beat, including the Chuck D scratches that cost the Wallace estate a hefty undisclosed sum.

Biggie didn’t just write a tutorial, he etched his in stone. It’s a brilliant move for the suggestion that this is a definitive account, as well as the round structure it lends to the song. Then there’s the execution. Llewyn Davis described a folk song as something that’s “never new and never gets old”. Writing a song of this nature requires a firm grasp on your subject, an ability to speak to truths that are specific and universal at the same damn time. Biggie doesn’t simply teach us how to sell crack, he’s espousing good business practice.

Master P- Ghetto Dope: There were very few things that pissed off backpack toting, Rawkus loving underground purists more than the late 90s wave of Southern Rap out of Louisiana. You’d imagine blatantly jacking “Eric B. Is President” to make a song about selling drugs would be No Limit’s cardinal offense. Of course, bringing one of those backpackers to Frenchman Street, getting a few Abitas in them and throwing this on at high decibels might’ve helped them see the appeal. It’s a great song.
This would normally be the part of the blurb where I incisively discuss the tutorial portion, but C-Murder teaches us how to cook crack. That is all.

Nas- Dr. Knockboot (1999):– Nasir schools us to this pimp game on “I Am”. While the Trackmaster’s beat knocks, this is arguably a concept that never should have made it out of his book of rhymes. The structure is somewhat unique, with do’s and don’ts taking the place of numbered instruction, but let’s be honest: Nas should not make sexually explicit music about women.

There’s more than a few uncomfortable moments, as Nas takes ample time out to walk the listener through avoiding rape and statutory rape charges. It kind of plays like the cringiest moments of Martin Lawrence’s “You So Crazy”. The rest is mostly overly descriptive detail and pervy weirdness. Gotta love Escobar-era Nas.
Unfortunately, he forgot the most important lesson: Don’t marry Kelis

Jay-Z- 1-900 Hustler (2000)– I love this because Hov’s tutorial comes within a song imaging there is a premium rate hotline for drug dealers who need advice espoused by seasoned and available drug dealers. I’m going to take a moment to point out that Jay and Nas’ contributions to this list are kind of perfect in trying to contrast the two as artists and rivals. Nas spends a great deal of energy innovating with his song concepts, which hit or miss. When Jay took on a concept song in his prime, no matter how retarded the concept, he’d execute like a motherfucker.

Hov is at the height of his Mitchell & Ness phase here before he changed clothes. The wrinkle he adds to crack tutorials that came before him is what to do when you’re trying to set up shop out of state, a topic beloved to Big and Jay both, as dealers who both would distribute to the mid-Atlantic region. Jay is smooth as ever, clever without being obnoxiously so. He offers a few conceivable strategies for how to take your show on the road. Alongside Beans as a hilarious telephone operator and an early Freeway appearance, this song is one of a very few reasons to revisit Roc La Familia

G-Unit- Bad News (2002): This Nina Simone flip off the legend-making “50 Cent is the Future” gives you an idea how 50 got in position to leverage a bidding war and go on to sell nine million copies of Get Rich or Die Tryin. There was a lived in authenticity to his ghetto asshole persona that didn’t require a bunch of writerly details to come off. He was certainly buoyed by his backstory, had an incredible ear for beats, and most importantly, broke off historic run of blockbuster hooks. But Yayo’s tutorial on this great team effort is emblematic of the quality I’m referring to.

Yayo lays out eleven rules for successfully pulling off a hit. The rules range from obvious to barely intelligible, delivered in Yayo’s garbled bark. And yet, there’s a tangible, casualness to how Yayo walks the listener through a murder. Very little in the way of glorification, or simply acknowledging the act is extreme in anyway. It comes off as instruction from a native, a veteran too heavily embedded to realize he’s at war.

YG- Meet the Flockers (2014): A spiritual heir of “How to Survive in South Central”. By making a song dedicated to detailing how to conduct a successful home invasion, YG is highlighting a stark, bleek existence that would compel a young man to become an expert in the field. YG’s measured How-to is not just detailed, but immediate. As he walks us through the robbery, it almost plays like present tense second person, a new wrinkle in a genre that may have life yet.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!