What Makes Good Hip Hop?

This afternoon I woke up and went down to a bar I was at last night because I left my card. Hey, don’t judge me! You’ve done it, anyway, I went back to the bar and ordered a campfire stout. I mean I was already there and I might as well have a beer.

I was just going to sit outside the bar, have a beer, vape, and relax before shopping for my roommates last minute barbecue. I mean, I am trying to do life stuff now. Like having barbecues, going to clubs and dancing with strangers.

Not the point.

So, I was there, and I had on my black Flogging Molly t-shirt and my nails painted black and there was this big Mexican dude sitting outside and smoking a cigarette. He was wearing a raiders t-shirt and a baseball cap. Before I sat down I was thinking of playing sad white guy music, you know, something a bit indie and emotional because apparently I do that now. I didn’t think I was going to have anything to talk about with this guy, so I minded my own business and stared at my phone for a bit.

Why the nails? I went to a goth club.

It’s another whole thing I do now I guess.

Anyway, this guy starts talking to me about bullshit. Small talk, the kind of talk that people make when they just feel uncomfortable in the moment. It’s weird to sit down with a total stranger sometimes and I think often the urge is to make conversation to try and make the whole thing a whole lot less awkward.

He starts talking to me about his job. Ironically, he works at a cancer research facility. I tell him what I do, and we start talking about Hip Hop unexpectedly. We shared three or four hip hop songs and talked about why they are good.

Now, I’m going to level with you, I really really like Hip Hop, but I’m not expert. I wasn’t really into it when I was a teenager because my Dad hated Hip Hop music and might have been a touch racist. I had a friend growing up that was into it, and he would share it with me constantly, but I never really got a chance to get into the way that other people have gotten into music. Hell, I couldn’t really get into any kind of music other than Classic Rock because all other music was bad.

Hip Hop is something I’ve come to enjoy lately, and I’ve gone back and listened to a lot of the music trying to understand the history, and the culture around it.

This guy, however, really knew his shit.

He made a few declarations about Hip Hop. The usual fan fair about Hip Hop being different these days, and artists don’t do it the way they used to. I get some of that, but I also think some of that rhetoric is just people being old and not giving new things a chance.

More interesting were his other declarations.

He started with this one: He wants a rapper to tell him a story.

There’s a stereotype about Hip Hop that all that music is about is pussy, drugs and violence. Those themes are definitely in there, but good Hip Hop tells a story about those themes. It paints a picture of a different environment.

This is a perfect example of the storytelling that a good rapper can offer. Ice T takes us through a day in the kind of life that he experiences. It’s not just about bragging. Instead, it’s a look into a window of what life was like. I’m sure, some of it is over exaggerated, but the point is that it paints a picture.

Back on the Streets after five and a deuce
Seven years later but still had the juice
My homeboy Ken Gee put me up the track
Told me E’s rolling Villain, BJ’s got the sack
Bruce is a giant – Nat C’s clocking dough
Be bop’s a pimp, my old freaks a ho
The batter rams rolling, rocks are the thing
Life has no meaning and money is king
Then he looked at me slowly and Hen had to grin
He said, man you out early, we thought you got ten
Opened his safe kicked me down with cold cash
Knew I would get busy, he didn’t waste time to ask

What gets my attention here are lines seven and eight. “The batter rams rolling/ Rocks are the thing/Life has no meaning/and money is king.” This gets me every time that I hear it because it signifies some deeper meaning in the song. There’s a certain sense of nihilism that Ice-T is getting across when he talks about his life. Why does he do the things he does? Because his environment has taught him that life has meaning and the only thing that matters in life, and the only thing people care about is money.

The next declaration the man at the bar gave me was that Rap songs have to be clever and mean something beyond the surface details. It’s not enough to talk about your hard life on the streets. There has to be something behind the story being told. There also has to be something clever in the lyrics. It’s one of the reasons that both of us gushed over Kendrick Lamar while we were talking and not someone like Future. When you pay attention to the details of a good Hip Hop song there are things to notice in the lyrics: reasons the songs were written the way they were.

Another interesting part of 6 ‘N the Mornin’ is the ending of each verse.

Didn’t know what the cops wanted, didn’t have time to ask
Bitch didn’t know what hit her, didn’t have time to ask
Nigga didn’t know what happened, didn’t have time to ask
Knew I would get busy, he didn’t waste time to ask
We didn’t know who they were, no one had time to ask
Cops wouldn’t shot us on sight, they wouldn’t took time to ask
She didn’t even know what happened, didn’t care, didn’t ask
She knew her loving was def, she didn’t waste time to ask
Didn’t know where we were going, didn’t care, didn’t ask
But it was 6 in the morning, we didn’t wake up to ask

There’s something interesting going on here is there? This motif is important to pay attention to in order to understand something more about the song. Sure, on the surface it might look like someone bragging about the gangster lifestyle. There is also a deeper idea.

One aspect of focus here is the subject of time. Everything is moving so fast that there isn’t enough time for anything. There’s not time to reflect. There’s no time to try and understand the world that Ice-T is describing here. Some people might experience times of leisure, relaxation, and reflection, but in this world there isn’t time for that. No one really understands why the events are occurring in the song they are just happening and everyone is so used to it that they don’t ask about it. No one living in this world tries to understand it.

It is what it is.

Life has no meaning and money is king 

Ice-T calls this genre “Reality Rap” instead of “Gangster Rap”. He’s said that he is just rapping about the way that things are. He’s reflecting in this song on what’s going on in his life, but he’s finding no meaning there. In reality, there is no meaning for the events that are taking place around him. This is his life. The fact that he ultimately doesn’t find any meaning at all in the song is poignant, in addition to the fact that he doesn’t bother trying to give the listener any meaning. I kind of like the moniker reality rap because in a sense he is just describing what life is like, but he’s also making reference to the fact that it’s meaningless, tiring, and for some reason everyone is just used to it being reality. 

I really enjoyed that conversation earlier today, and it got me thinking about this song a bit more. It’s not one of my favorites, but even it has more going on than one might recognize on a casual listen to the song. One of the reasons I get frustrated with the way that people dismiss Hip Hop as music about “drugs, girls, being a gangster, and partying” is that people haven’t taken the time to engage with the lyrics the way that they might if they were reading a poem instead.

Now, again, I am really fresh to really falling in love with Hip Hop, so I’m sure to some people I’m just talking bullshit right now, but I enjoy it and I’m making an effort to appreciate the music.

Off My Chest


Hello empty box.

It’s been awhile.

I wasn’t going to make this blog a personal one when I started it, but I’ve never really felt an urge to post to this blog as strong as the one I have now. I have something on my chest, a weight, that I need to get off of it.

The worst thing about a break-up from a long term relationship isn’t just the end of something that once had a pulsing vibrant heart. It’s not the sudden financial burden of losing a partner who was providing more support. It’s not the sudden loss of emotional support through the hardships of life (though that’s nice). The hardest parts of losing something as significant as a long term relationship is:

The Meaninglessness

Before a break up, every moment is bright with potential. Every accomplishment, failure, story, or conversation becomes a moment to share with someone. I feel like I’m always expecting to be able to look over my shoulder when something happens and see someone there with their hands on my shoulders giving me comfort, smiling at the moment, or laughing with me. Now, I look over my shoulder and there’s a ghost of the person who used to be there. The building blocks of life seem to have less meaning because at the center of those building blocks was a cornerstone on which every block connected.

Now the palpable loneliness greets me every time I do something and expect to be able to share it. I feel a tug in my chest and those strings are wavering in the air looking for something that’s no longer there to connect with. The little things that build up meaning suddenly are smaller, and a reminder of what was once. Speaking of reminders:


See, in a long term relationship people often give one another things to show their affection. As the years pass these things build and build up. What’s worse is all the things matter to me. Their connected to my interests because that someone I had knew what I wanted. The mechanical keyboard I’m typing this up on was a gift. The musical keyboard that I’m learning to play to try and find some new meaning for myself was another one. My favorite watch which I wear around my left wrist everyday, its face embossed with my superhero idol (Spider-Man), greets me whenever I check the time.

Each of these things surrounding me brings the ghosts of what once was back to me. Memories playing in front of my eyes, both good and bad, and pull me into the past. It’s hard not to wallow in the sadness of those moments.

What’s harder is that these things are intrinsically linked forever to who I am. I can’t be rid of them because they belong with me. Picked out with precision for me. They tell a story of someone who used to care for me, and that’s what’s hard because now where love used to be there’s:


Especially for me, breaking up means that the universe become that much more meaningless. I’ve often thought myself a existentialist, but occasionally I drop into bouts of nihilism. We’re all just trying to stave of the dread of truth: that ultimately we don’t have any place in the universe.

Having someone’s love means that suddenly there’s meaning in your life. That person, they look at you, and they see you, and that seeing means something. The universe becomes less dreadful because you can find a place to hang on for dear life when the absurdness of human existence begins to try to blow you away into the void.

Now, I feel myself slipping, my fingers slipping off the edges of the rail that I already had a loose grip on anyway. Maybe it’s my depression, but I can feel that place pulling me into it in my darker moments and sometimes I’m afraid it’s going to eat me alive.

What now?

I don’t know.

I’m picking up the pieces of myself and trying to see if they make a shape. I’m afraid, deeply frightened, that they won’t.

All I can do is…

Continue looking at my things and trying to figure out what they were meant for.

Continue looking for a job to support myself as a single person.

Continue to instruct my classes as best as I’m able.

Continue to study the subject of my field and attempt to master it.

Continue to make connections with friends who care about me.


Hopefully, choosing to continue enough times means that those pieces will come together again, and I can figure out what it means to be whole.

I promise, I won’t just make this a place to get things off my chest. I need to write interesting things into it, and I will do that. For now, this post, this is for me. It’s what I need, and I did need it.

Thanks for reading.

Introducing New Players to TTRPGs


I better write something on this blog at some point. I got my glass of johnny walker red, and I’m ready to smith words. I’m just going to write about what’s on my mind.

I’ve been GMing[1] a lot lately. I really love the experience, and I’ve been hungry for more opportunities to run games. This hunger has made me do something probably at least a little bit stupid.

I recently convinced some people to give Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) a try for a one-shot[2] game.

Of course, really when I say someone should give D&D a try I’m really just talking about any fantasy Table Top Role Playing Game[3] (TTRPG). D&D is often assumed to be the center of the TTRPG universe. It’s the most recognizable game, and often it’s the easiest game to convince people to try because of its notoriety. On the other hand, the name carries enough weight that sometimes people cringe in horror when they hear the name, but that’s not as common anymore.

So, why is offering to run a one-shot of D&D at least a little bit stupid?

Well. All of the worries that a GM can have about running a TTRPG become condensed and much scarier and you have a shorter amount of time to make a good impression. If you’re playing a campaign over ten session, than at least you have ten session to adjust for any particular problem. In a one-shot, a GM has just one-shot to create a good experience. I have given away my security blanket, and it’s cold.

So so cold.

After the dreadful ensuing panic, I thought about what could make a one-shot experience good. In a one-shot of a game, I think you want to players to have fun, encourage people to play more often, and give a good impression of the experience people can have in a TTRPG.

There are three issues that come to mind that can make that goal terrifying to achieve in a one-shot.

  1. Character creation.
  2. Learning the rules.
  3. Creating a satisfying narrative.

So, let’s tackle these one at a time.

First, character creation sucks for new players. I mean it really really does. It was really hard for me to think back to a time when I didn’t know how to make a character for a TTRPG. I mean, hell, when I first played one it was after spending hours, days, reading the shit out of a TTRPG book. I knew the rules backwards and forwards. The first time I created a character for a TTRPG I was practically an expert. Or at the very least, I knew what I was doing.


Think about trying to make a character with almost zero context in a game, and what that feels like. Think about how long it takes to make a particular character, even when you know what you want to do. Creating characters is more complicated than it seems even for an experienced player.

I recently ran into an experience of trying to make characters for Shadowrun 4th edition with no context, and with no real assistance regarding what kind of things I should be looking to put on my character sheet. I discovered problem after problem with the way my character was built, and had to spend time adjusting points, erasing things on my sheet, and just putting a ton of effort into fixing the character even after the 2nd session.

I was extremely frustrated with the process, and still am frustrated with it. I dread playing it and finding out what other bad decisions I made when constructing my character[4]. Even if it wasn’t for potential frustration with the character creation process, I’ve run a few games lately and in D&D in can take up to two hours to get people’s characters made.

That’s fine for a full on campaign that’s going to go on for months or years, but for a one-shot it really eats up a lot of time that could be spent playing the game.

That means for a one-shot a GM absolutely have to expedite the character creation process. I want to be able to hand the players a character sheet and give them everything they need to play right there. There are two ways to go about this I think.

Option one is to play the right game. There are games that lend themselves to quick character creation processes that don’t have complicated decisions that need to be made, but still offer the experience of customizing a character narratively if not mechanically.

The other option is to make characters for the players ahead of time. I personally think the former is the best way to go. I want the players to feel an attachment to their character even if they are only playing one session. That attachment to a character is part of the TTRPG experience, and I think players will feel that attachment much more if they get to make decisions about their characters.

The other fear is about teaching the rules. I’m about ten sessions or more in on my seven player D&D game. I still have players asking about the rules that are pretty basic to D&D. And that’s not really their fault. They’re players, they care about killing dragons, riding giants, sneaking past guards and taking treasure. They don’t care how that works mechanically very much as long as they get to do it.

The first session of a D&D campaign can grind to a goddamn halt constantly each time a new rule about something comes up and has to be explained, and then re-explained because someone wasn’t listening the first time. Problem areas are AC, DCs, skill checks versus saving throws, spell slots, actions, bonus actions, opportunity attacks, movement, class powers, race powers, reactions, and there’s more.

A one-shot should give players an idea about the mechanics of a game, but the game shouldn’t be so bogged by the discussion of mechanics that the players can’t get anything done.

There are a few solutions to this issue. One is, again, and this might get repetitive, pick the right game. Games that have simpler rules are surprisingly easier to run and teach. If the game you have to run doesn’t have simpler mechanics, consider simplifying them when you run the game. Don’t get caught up in the minutia of each particular rule and instead try and rule the game mechanics in the spirit of the game and worry more about the final issue in our trifecta.

Creating a satisfying narrative.

Goddamn. That’s a horrifying bullet point goal. Seriously, how does one make sure that players walk away satisfied with the narrative?

Well. This can get a bit heavy.

I think I have to talk about a major misunderstanding about good Gming. At least, one of the major misunderstanding I share with some experienced GMs. There are certainly GMs who will disagree on this subject.

The GM of a TTRPG doesn’t create the story. The GM isn’t writing a novel that a player then reads. The GM isn’t directing a television show that a player watches. They would be readers or viewers in that case, right? What I’m saying might seem a bit sarcastic, but it’s actually an important distinction regarding TTRPGs. The story is created by everyone involved at the table. The GM creates the opportunity for players to add to the story, and the GM adds on to what the players add.

A GM shouldn’t plan for a particular set of things to happen. The best option for a GM is to set up a story and let the player characters fill in blanks left by the GM. This will work better for some people than others. There are different types of GMs as there are different types of writers. Some writers prefer to have an outline before they begin a writing project, some write from the gut. Some GMs prefer to do a lot of prep, and some prefer to be more improvisational[5].

I will say once again there is one solution that carries through these three issues. Pick the right game. Some games are designed with the intent of making narrative easy to get through. The mechanics drive the narrative towards an end. But that’s not always the case, and I’m not really talking about this game versus that game in this blog post.

I think part of the secret here is to make sure that the adventure that’s been prepped is of appropriate scope and can be completed in one session. I wouldn’t set up a one-shot to be about making peace between noble houses that have been at war for centuries. A one-shot scope is probably more along the lines of helping two nobles from those rival houses get married in secret and escape the city. In fact, I wouldn’t assume that the player characters would be interested in helping them escape. Player characters might decide that the best thing for them to do is to capture the two nobles and return them to their respective houses.

I think the worst thing that a GM could do in a one-shot is write acts or scenes that have to happen. That’s not the way a TTRPG should go.

A plan like:

Hour One: Characters find out the king has a secret prison.

Hour Two: Characters infiltrate the secret prison.

Hour Three: Characters lead the prisoners in an escape.

Hour Four: Characters fight the evil warden while the prisoners flee.

This might look good on paper, but a GM never knows that the players are actually going to give a shit about prisoners. They might think the prisoners deserve to be there. They might instead look for someone who wants to pay for a prison break. Hell, the players might talk with the warden and decide to track down prisoners who escaped and bring them back to the prison or kill them.

The GM should work hard to make sure the fictional space exists to explore and there are things to do in the fictional space, but trying to force the players down a particular path is probably not going to be the best experience.

Instead, I think the object for GM here is to establish a situation that requires action. Instead of having the character discover a secret prison, in a one-shot the characters are in the secret prison and need to find a way to escape!

A good narrative experience in a one shot should aim to create a situation that requires action with a reasonable scope.

Situations which require immediate action work really well in one-shots. The Gm can avoid the awkward meet the other player characters phase of the game that a lot of TTRPG veterans have been through. If the characters are on a plane that has lost one of it’s engines and is quickly spiraling down to earth to crash into a flaming wreck of carnage, twisted metal, and the left over meat of what used to be people, a player doesn’t have to stop and explain who they are and think of an excuse to work with the other players.

Bottle episodes also work really well for this type of one-shot. The character are trapped on a island together, in a prison together, in a haunted hotel…it can go on and on. The idea is that the situation requires that the characters work towards a similar goal because the situation is one that demands a particular kind of action.

I think that about covers my worries about the subject of one-shots as a GM.

For now, leave a comment and let me know what issue worry you as a GM when it comes to one-shots? What games would you suggest for one-shots in particular? Also, how have you handled running games with complex character creation, or very detailed and specific rules?

Another big question is what other GMing topics should I address in this blog? What would you be interested in?


[1] Gming stands for Game Mastering. Game Master is a really weird phrase for the person who is running a TTRPG. I think Game Master really just comes from Dungeon Master, as D&D was the first widely played TTRPG and that naming convention stuck. When other TTRPGs hit the market, they couldn’t really use Dungeon Master but probably wanted something that carried the same weight and that gives us Game Master.

[2] A one-shot is a term used in TTRPG circles. It means a group of players and a GM are going to get together to play a particular TTRPG with the goal of finishing it in one play through without any expectations for follow up sessions. Usually, the idea is to finish an adventure or a complete story arc (As opposed to a campaign arc which can take many sessions to complete.)

[3] I’m not going to go over the definition of a Table Top Role Playing Game. The definition can be found other places, and often those definitions might be better than any definition I invent.

[4] It is unclear to me how much of this problem could have been mitigated by a better understanding of the rules, or a more thoughtful GM for the game. As it stands, the experience has definitely colored my opinion of Shadowrun, and I’m not very convinced that I like the system or should for that matter.

[5] The implications of this comparison seem pretty huge. I’d definitely like to give this subject more thought in the future. In what ways does the writing process reflect itself in the ways a GM runs a TTRPG?