A great rap song title should pique a listener’s interest, making them eager to press play. The title might also embody the heart and soul of a piece of music, giving listeners a glimpse into a specific song’s themes.
For example, you know just from the title that Biggie’s “Everyday Struggle” is going to be about the perseverance of working-class Black people, struggling yet still finding a way to thrive. Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much A Dollar Cost” poses a more philosophical question, which makes you curious to dive in and search for answers. Future’s “I Serve the Base” is a double entendre that bluntly references the three minutes of coke raps and triumphant bass lines that lay ahead of you.
In recent years, underground rap has been leading an evolution in how artists approach titling their songs (and projects), with conventions being ripped up and replaced with something fresh. Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon to see titles that tell mini-stories or crack memorable subversive jokes.
One such artist is Chicago rapper Chris Crack. His song titles—such as “Cows Are Friends Not Food,” “Turning Down Pussy Builds Character,” “Gluten-Free Condoms,” and “Women Cum First”—don’t necessarily reflect the content of the music itself, but rather the artist’s stream-of-consciousness thought process and mood. Subsequently, they feel spontaneous and exciting.
Chris has shown his peers how they can intelligently tap into the surrealism of meme culture by coming up with song titles that are funny, self-depreciative, and ready-made for viral success. Chris’ fans are just as excited by the randomness of his song titles as they are listening to the music itself. This feat feels like a clever piece of self-marketing that will enable the artist, who has won plaudits from Earl Sweatshirt and Madlib, to differentiate himself from other rappers in the crucial early stages of his career.
Another prominent example of a rapper intelligently pushing song titles forward is Baltimore native JPEGMAFIA. Wry song titles like “Let’s Hit A Lick On The White House,” “Xanny Davis Jr.,” “I Might Vote 4 Donald Trump,” “I Just Killed A Cop and Now I’m Horny,” and “I Cannot Fucking Wait Til Morrissey Dies,” toe the line between comedy and being politically scathing. Such is the intrigue that FLOOD Magazine even ran a feature looking at the 10 best JPEGMAFIA song titles.
JPEGMAFIA, real name Barrington Hendricks, has admitted to studying music journalism in the past, stating in this interview that it might even have been his chosen career path had music not worked out professionally. Hendricks understands how news spreads across the Internet better than most of his peers. He is particularly aware of how media companies tap into trending cultural talking points for article titles that are both snappy and engrained in Internet speak; a behavior meant to draw in readers.
The bold song titles reflect how the punk rapper’s music so often channels the organized chaos of the Internet. Of course, there’s an argument to be made that JPEGMAFIA is taking on the same mantra media companies deploy when cultivating headlines. But while this process might well serve as a satire on his part, it’s fascinating to see someone approach song titles in such a different way.
And then there’s $ilkMoney of Virginia rap collective, the Divine Council. All of his album titles have a manifest disregard for internet search engines, highlighted by 2019 releases I Hate My Life and I Really Wish People Would Stop Telling Me Not To and G.T.F.O.M.D: There’s Not Enough Room for All You Motha Fuckas to Be on It Like This. On his glorious, weirdly worded new record, Attack of the Future Shocked, Flesh Covered, Meatbags of the 85, $ilkMoney showcases an awareness for making potential fans laugh at the snark of his titles (“White People Don’t Clean Their Chicken”), and figure out their hidden meanings (“I Wanna be the Superbug When I Grow Up”).
Each song title not only bottles the outlandish tone of $ilkMoney’s raps but also leaves you eager to see how the music is going to tap into the wit of its namesake.
$ilkMoney, much like Chris Crack and JPEGMAFIA, has built a strong social media following across pivotal platforms like Twitter and Instagram, but that doesn’t feel like a coincidence. He seems to be aware that song titles that tap into Internet culture and appear more like headlines or meme jokes will resonate deeply with a generation that has grown up in the glare of the Internet and social media. After all, he’s talking in their native language.
A gripping, funny, or even meandering song title is more likely to be remembered than one with two syllables. Perhaps it’s not that deep. But even the absence of thought, and the prioritizing of a more free-flow approach to song title cultivation, is a lot more interesting than opportunistically cutting and pasting the last three words of a hook.
If you can grip a listener with a title and make them feel something before your song has even begun, then, arguably, you’re much more likely to convert them into a fan.
Chris Crack, JPEGMAFIA, and $ilkMoney know that in a world where everybody wants to be a rapper—and there’s more competition than ever before—song titles must jump off the page and stop people in their tracks.
If a rapper can create social commentary just from a song title alone, just imagine how powerful their music can be.