Why Rap Lyrics Are Called Bars
Why Rap Lyrics Are Called Bars

Common Scenarios

If you have been to a hip-hop website or a hip-hop social media page, you have probably read a sentence (or two) or seen a comment to some rap lyrics which states: “Bars!”

Jay-Z drops a hot new verse… “Bars!”

Eminem drops an amazing new album… “Bars for days!”

Either that or you have heard the term in a rapper’s verse. For instance, You cats be clowning, I got more bars than a prison. Or… You can’t catch ’em when I drop them coz my bars are heavy. Okay, fine. I admit it, those are pitiful attempts to conjure up what would be regarded as a killer rap punchline…But you get the picture.

A Journey Through Time to Understand Why Rap Lyrics Are Called “bars”

Okay, so now we know how popular the term or phrase “bars” is in hip-hop and the several instances in which the phrase is used. But where does the term originate from?

The term “bar” in music theory dates back as far as the 1650s. During that time, a bar referred to a song’s time signature or the number of beats in each measure.

If you understand music theory and can read music, you will know that the term “bar” comes from using an actual line, or bar, to mark out musical measures on musical pages or scrolls.

Consequently, musicians of all kinds and from different ages and genres have actually used “bars” in their compositions. Yes, this includes Beethoven and Mozart. Crazy, I just imagined Beethoven performing the last bit of a classical composition and was like….” Bars!” It felt weird, lol! (I bet Beethoven would either collapse or be very excited if he understood the phrase in the hip-hop context).

What Are “Bars” and Why Are They so Important in Hip-Hop?

Now that we understand the history of “bars” in music –and that they have existed since time immemorial, it brings us to the next big question.

The Question Is – What Are “bars” or What Is a “bar”?

The simple answer is that a bar is a measure of time in music. That’s it. Crazy right??? Thought so!

It must be mentioned however that in rap music, a bar signifies a portion of the verse or song within a 1, 2, 3, 4 count. Bars are simply a way in which music is measured. In fact, a synonym for the word “bar” is a “measure”.

Bars are actually important in hip-hop for communicating how long a particular verse or chorus should be. When rappers who are collaborating want to communicate how long the other rapper’s lines or verses should be, they can easily do so by telling the other rapper how many bars of the beat or instrumental that the rapper’s portion should fill. This way, the other rapper will easily be able to determine when to start and stop his verse depending on how many bars he or she has been given.

Bars are also important for song structure, song composition, and for determining how long the chorus and verses are –or how long they should be. Different song types and patterns require different arrangements of bars in a particular song.

Why Are Rap Lyrics Called Bars?

The answer to this question is found in hip-hop culture and its slang. According to dictionary.com, in hip-hop slang, “bars” refers to a rapper’s lyrics – especially when the lyrics are considered extremely good.

As hip-hop and hip-hop culture grew in dominance and popularity in the 1990s and 2000s, rappers and listeners alike began to generally use the term “bars” for lyrics and not necessarily the meaning of the term as it is understood in music theory. This eventually led to the Urban Dictionary first coining or entering the term bars in 2003.

Bars On Urban Dictionary
Definition of Bars on Urban Dictionary

Around this time, the use of the phrase “bars” became commonplace as an adjective or descriptive term for rap lines and verses during rap battles and slam poetry. Crowds of fans would be noticeably heard chanting the phrase when they respect, appreciate, or are blown away by a damaging, creative, or brilliant rap line.

Trivia and Other Things You Need to Know About Bars

Some interesting things you need to know about bars is that a “bar” is divided into 4 even sections, which are called “beats.” In other words, 4 “beats” make up a “bar.” Also, the length of a “bar” depends on the tempo or “speed” of the song. Songs with a higher tempo or faster “speeds” will have shorter bars, while those with lower tempos or slower “speeds” will have longer bars.

With that being said, if you are a hip-hop head or fanatic, we challenge you to look up a song titled “Hands Down” by The Game and see if you can count exactly how many bars he actually put out in the song. The Game claims he put out 100 bars in that song. Let us know exactly how many you find.  

Other songs that have “bars for days” that you should analyze according to us are:

  • 6 Foot 7 Foot” by Lil Wayne (Our candidate for “Song with the most metaphors and punchlines”) and;
  • The Way I am” by Eminem (Our candidate for “Song with the most rhymes in a single song”)

Well now that you know why rap lyrics are called bars. These songs stand out to us for a simple reason. We have nothing to say about them except….you guessed it…BARS!