Chord progressions are the basis for just about every song you can think of.
Yes, even if it doesn’t sound like it’s being played in the traditional sense.
What you might not know is all the hip hop chord progressions you hear are one and the same.
Only played differently, in different scales.
Since you’re only given 7 total chords in a song, the combination of chords is vastly limited.
Luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place to learn how to switch it up and make your music pop.
We’re not just including the most popular hip hop chord progressions, but creative ways to switch it up as well.
Your music will not just stand out but sound super professional as well.
Given that the same chords are used throughout (hip hop) music, the key is not just knowing them.
Rather, it’s knowing how to creatively use them in your tracks.
The following 5 tips will catapult your chords in a major way.
Plus give you that unique edge that you’ll need to help your hip hop chord progressions stand out.
This article is all about hip hop chord progressions, but we’ll be covering all the hottest genres in the game.
This way, you’ll always have endless possibilities on how to flip, switch, rearrange, and alter any progression you’d like.
Table of Contents
- Roman Numerals: Quick Recap
- 1. A minor to E minor
- 2. I/Vi – 2 Chords
- 3. VI/V/i – 3 Chords
- 4. VI-V-I – 3 chords
- 5. I/V/IV – 3 Chords
- 6. E♭ minor
- 7. I-IV-I-Vi – 4 Chords
- TIP #1: Strumming/Delayed-Playing
- TIP #2: Reverse, Randomize, and/or Alternate the Order
- TIP #3: Building Extended Chords With Unique Techniques
- TIP #4: Creating Inversions
- #5: Creating Octave Stacks
- Final Thoughts: Hip Hop Chord Progressions
Roman Numerals: Quick Recap
One important thing to learn is the concept of Relative Notation.
This makes it so you’ll easily be able to list a series of chords, based on their Roman numeral counterparts.
You won’t ever have to be confined to a specific scale’s parameters, you’ll make your own rules!
It may seem crazy right now, but just keep this in mind:
The human brain doesn’t listen to a specific scale or set of notes but rather focuses on the distance between them.
To get a better idea of what this means, just refer to the Happy Birthday song.
The same goes for melodies as well.
In traditional Music Theory, Roman numerals represent both the degrees of the scale and the intervals within each chord.
- Uppercase Roman numerals (Ⅰ, Ⅱ, Ⅲ, Ⅳ, Ⅴ) represent Major Chords.
- Lowercase Roman numerals (ⅰ, ⅱ, ⅲ, ⅳ, ⅴ) represent Minor Chords.
Roman numerals are not exclusively tied to a particular scale.
It’s not representative of which chord should be played, but rather what ‘degree’ of the given scale you choose, and its corresponding chord.
For instance, III denotes either:
- A) 一 The third scale degree.
- B) 一 The chord built on it (more common).
Regardless of the scale you choose, the degree intervals will be the same.
Roman numerals are a big part of Music Theory.
They can also be used to notate the chord progression of a song independent of the key.
IN THE KEY OF C MAJOR:
- The first scale degree (tonic) is C.
- The fourth (subdominant) is F.
- The fifth (dominant) is a G.
So the I7, IV7, and V7 chords are C7, F7, and G7.
On the other hand, in the key of A major: the I7, IV7, and V7 chords would be A7, D7, and E7.
Also, the Roman numerals line up with the scale degrees.
Meaning, if you’re using a C Major scale, the I chord is a C Major chord.
A ‘V’ is the fifth note in that scale which, in this case, will be a G.
When you see ‘ii’ it’s still the second scale degree in the C Major scale, it’s just a Minor chord.
Meaning, the 2nd (or, middle) note in the 3-chord triad is transposed by 1 semitone.
In this hip hop chord progressions article, we’re going to list the most commonly used (Roman numeral-based) chords.
You’ll have the ultimate freedom to choose which key to use as well.
Can you say mind-blowing?
Hip Hop Chord Progressions: PRO-TIP
Copyright laws do NOT apply to chord progressions.
There are common strings of Roman Numerals used throughout music, usually tied to a certain genre.
You will hear it over and over again.
Some parts are familiar, even on a subconscious level, which makes them desirable.
This is simply due to variation and how the chord progression is applied and relates to the track.
Knowing this will give you an upper hand.
1. A minor to E minor
This is a super common hip hop chord progression used in millions of beats worldwide.
Remember, hip hop chord progressions are typically more simple than other genres.
It gives the artist room to shine as well.
This particular hip hop chord progression gives you a rather dark vibe, but in the best of ways.
It’s simple in essence, but its impact certainly isn’t.
Make sure to experiment with the included chords.
You never know what masterpiece you’ll stumble upon.
Dr. Dre has used this hip hop chord progression too many times to count.
It’s preferred by top producers in the game, so you have to try it out.
2. I/Vi – 2 Chords
This hip hop chord progression is absolutely dominating the hip hop world right now.
For this example, we’re going from C Major to A minor.
The notes are extremely simple:
- I = C, E, G
- Vi = A, C, E
You can incorporate some of our hip hop chord progressions tips, found later in this article.
For example, you’ve heard it in Lizzo’s ‘Truth Hurts,’ which was insanely popular.
It works particularly well when played between 70-120 BPM.
Although you’re only using 2 chords in this hip hop chord progression, you can transpose one down an octave.
This will make it sound more like a 4-chord progression (shown below).
3. VI/V/i – 3 Chords
This particular hip hop chord progression is a little more difficult than the others we’ve mentioned so far.
The reason is, it begins on the Major 6 of a minor key.
However, once you get the hang of it, it’s sure to leave a lasting impression.
You’ve certainly heard this hip hop chord progression in old-school hip hop tracks.
For example, let’s say you’re working in D minor…
You would first want to count up 6 notes in the scale.
Because there is one flat in D minor (B♭), you’re going to encounter the B♭ Major chord (B♭-D-F ).
Then, you’re going to go down to A and play the Major.
This will be A Major (A-C♯-E).
From there, you simply play the minor One of the key, which is D minor (D, F, A).
- VI = B♭, D, F
- V = A, C♯, E
- i = D, F, A
There you have it… a beautifully dark, gloomy hip hop chord progression.
Even though it’s a little more complicated, it produces an epic sound, so it’s worth getting acquainted with it.
4. VI-V-I – 3 chords
For this hip hop chord progression example, we’ll be working in the key of D minor.
D minor has the key signature of one flat (B♭).
Therefore, the VI chord (which is first in the sequence) would be B♭ Major (B♭DF)
Then you’d travel to the V chord of D minor, which is A Major (AC♯E).
Lastly, you’ll go to the I chord, which is D minor (DFA).
- VI = B♭ Major (B♭, D, F)
- V = A Major (A, C♯, E)
- i = D minor (D, F, A)
This is another darker-sounding hip hop chord progression that people go crazy for.
It evokes a certain emotion that will keep your listeners captivated.
You’ll want to loop this hip hop chord progression several times throughout your song for optimum results.
5. I/V/IV – 3 Chords
This hip hop chord progression has been used for generations.
Similar to others mentioned on our list, it is rather simple but with a huge impact.
For this hip hop chord progression tip, we’re using D Major – A Major – G Major.
You simply play:
- I = D, F♯, A
- V = A, C♯, E
- IV = G, B, D
If you remember Paper Planes by M.I.A, then you remember this hip hop chord progression.
As with that song, it leaves you very emotionally attached and connected.
6. E♭ minor
Yes, you read that correctly… only one chord to produce an entire song.
This concept is extremely popular amongst hip hop artists like Kendrick Lamar (think Humble or DNA).
You may not have even realized you were listening to a one-chord track, but you can use it to your advantage now.
You achieve this by taking a melody that is built around one single chord throughout the whole song and looping it.
For example, in Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble,’ he only used one solitary chord.
All he did to add variety was incorporate different instruments, but the piano loop itself never changed.
This kind of hip hop chord progression would greatly benefit from Inversions, which you’ll find below.
For a full video tutorial on how to create hip hop chord progressions like Kendrick Lamar, click here.
7. I-IV-I-Vi – 4 Chords
Everyone went crazy for Bodak Yellow by Cardi B in 2018…
Well, guess which hip hop chord progression was used in that one?
For this example let’s take a look at the chords in the key of Em:
- I = E minor (E, B, G)
- IV = A minor (A, C, E)
- I = Back to Em
- Vi = C Major (C, E, G)
By looping this hip hop chord progression back through over and over again, you’ll produce one crazy banger.
It’s often said hip hop chord progressions rarely incorporate 4 chords.
However, that’s simply not true.
They’re gaining more popularity by the minute, so don’t miss the boat.
TIP #1: Strumming/Delayed-Playing
One way to make it sound less like a hip hop chord progression is to play it in a less traditional fashion.
Meaning, instead of playing all 3 notes in a triad simultaneously, you’re going to play it like a melody.
This can be done in a few ways:
- A) 一 In a rhythmic-based fashion.
- B) 一 As if you were lazily playing the piano.
- C) 一 Delay only 1 note.