Play It Loud

Check out the Jay-Z song I cover in this hip hop guitar lesson

Everyone thinks that Rock n’ Roll is the big, bad king of the musical realm, but the truth is that hip-hop has turned this barking dog into a neutered poodle…….

How could I make such a harsh criticism of a musical genre I truly and deeply admire?

It’s because hip-hop has repossessed all the fun that rock music used to have singing about. They’ve got all the girls and all the parties, and we’re left with John Mayer and Justin Bieber.

What’s the solution you ask?

Play their music on the guitar! If you can’t beat them, join them!

But seriously. Rock n’ roll is renowned for not being the most musically demanding genre of music, yet another hero of mine, Dave Grohl, says bad things about hip-hop at the Grammys.

Despite the bumper sticker I once saw on the back of a beat up Chevy that said “Drum Machines Have No Soul,” this music is incredibly moving and ambitious for a contemporary music style. \

What I’ve got for you in this article is four riffs that will really test your rhythm chops, and make you regret all that time you spent on power chords.

Prepared to get your world rocked! (And furniture rattling)

Hip hop guitar lesson covering four popular songs are covered in here

Despite my rebellious rock n’ roll self-image I present to you, I must admit that my first CD was not made by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Although I made up for that by headbanging at one of their concerts to Freebird, in the front row.

No my first CD that I can honestly remember buying through my own free will was none other than………Puff. Daddy.

I had a whole $20 to spend, and for some reason the hit song “Public Enemy No. 1” made me want to buy the entire album at the time. I think it was 98. But I couldn’t buy it because it had a parental advisory sticker on it.

So I got my grandmother to buy it! And my love of music began. I would later go on to buy Britney Spears, Linkin Park, and finally Metallica.

This article is a testament to my affection for hip-hop music, although I now prefer Tupac and Biggie to Puff.

It is a lot like Rock n’ Roll because my parents HATED rap music. What’s more thrilling to an 12 year old than listening to angry rap music in a Reagan loving household???

Enough storytime. Let’s play already.

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Strumming chords doesn’t allow you to play most music unfortunately. In hip-hop, the sounds are created with synthesizers, drum machines, and the rhythmic intricacy of words with lots of soul melodies to build a chorus with.

The genre borrows elements from genres that came before like Motown’s bass lines, Hendrix and Sly Stone style funk riffs, percussive breaks of disco music, and familiar harmonic changes of Jazz music.

In other words, this genre is not something to gloss your eyes over.

Rock n’ Roll is actually much easier and formulaic than Hip-Hop. I love this genre but even I grew tired of the blues shuffles, power chord progressions, and single note pentatonic lines that populate the compositions.

These four riffs will give you something else to chew on.


Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems by The Notorious B.I.G. Guitar Tab

 C#m7    B/C#  F#m7          E    A            B

This riff is set in E major/C#m and uses funk rhythms and basslines played by the thumb. The challenging part of this riff is strumming the chords, making the transitions smooth, and giving attention to the bass at the same time.

My focus with this adaptation was to make the lines on the high E string stand out above the rest of the song.

Although this is a thick version of the riff, I wouldn’t see a problem with playing the top two or three strings instead of the entire figure. Playing the entire thing is mostly a challenge, and is done to give a fuller sounding riff with lead and bass parts.

In Da Club by 50 Cent Guitar Tab

 F#m  C#m C#m/E  D#m7b5      (Rpt)

This is another one I took to use thick harmonies and voice leading. The riff is built on darker harmonies consisting of F#m and C#m and the chromatic half-diminished chord of D#m7b5.

When you play this one, repeat the thing all over again starting at the first bar above.

Still D.R.E. by Dr. Dre Guitar Tab

  Am                        Esus4     G

Now this one is a little bit easier compared to the two I’ve already given beforehand. I moved the harmony higher up the fretboard in order to recreate the high pitched piano keys played in the actual song.

To play this one, it’s important to use as little left hand movement as possible. That’s especially true if you’re playing on an acoustic guitar, like I did when I arranged this piece.

Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer Guitar Tab

  D         Am7     G        Am7

And this one is TONS of fun to play! Just like the last riff, conservative left hand motion is important when playing this one or else the riff will sound choppy.

As you can see, to adapt the riffs of hip-hop to the guitar requires exceptional rhythm guitar skills like the ability to switch quickly between complex harmonies, mix in basslines with full chords, and reinterpret the guitar in ways never thought of before to recreate the sounds of other instruments.

Experimentation has been an important part of the development of the guitar throughout its entire history. Francisco Tarrega learned from piano players and their techniques, as did Robert Johnson. Wes Montgomery studied jazz horn players while Yngwie Malmsteen worshipped 19th century violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini.

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The wonderful thing about the guitar is that the instrument has a wider range than most instruments, and tons of possible harmonic combinations as well. Having firm grasp of the possibilities and limitations of the instrument is what gives us true freedom in the practice of creating music with the instrument.

There you have it. Some brand new styles and riffs to practice and absorb as you grow as a songwriter, or guitar hobbyist.

When we step out of comfort zones and strive to avoid familiar territory, we can invent new ways to speak on the guitar.

This is only a preview of what’s to come, but in the mean time PLEASE subscribe to my newsletter mmm kay?