Five Hip Hop Riffs

The Guitar Riffs for Ukulele series is mostly packed with rock music. But I like to broaden things out a bit now and then. So here’s a bunch of riffs from hip hop.

Jay-Z and Kanye West – Ni**as in Paris


This has to be my favourite riff of last year. Which is really saying something in a year when The Black Keys released an album.

Dr Dre – Still DRE


This one works so well on the ukulele I’m a bit surprised he chose not to use one for the original. UPDATE: Thanks to Adam sleuthed out this interview where Dre says the riff is piano, guitar and ukulele mixed together.

Check out the song that inspired this riff Grant Green’s Maybe Tomorrow. Be sure to keep the chord stabs really staccato (i.e. stop them as soon as they sound).

Missy Elliott – Get Ur Freak On


This has to be the most most mashedup song in history. I’m picking this with my index and middle fingers in a running-man motion. But this is one occasion when using a pick might give you a sound closer to the original.

Usher – Yeah


Perfect example of how effective a really simple riff can be.

Panjabi MC feat. Jay-Z – Beware


This one has been popular again recently thanks to its use in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film The Dictator.

I’ve made this one way harder than it really needs to be by splitting it between the g and A strings. I just love the song of the same note played on different strings. In fact, in this tune I wrote I play the same note on each of the four strings in quick succession.

If, like me, you’re an idiot and want to play it the hard way barre across at the sixth fret for most of the riff and move that shape up when you go to the 7th and 9th frets.

If you’re a sensible person grab a pick and play it like this:

More Hip Hop

Mr B – Chap Hop History
Jay Z – Death of Autotune
Biz Markie – Just a Friend
Outkast – Hey Ya

View Comments


  1. Tara May 25th, 2012 1:46 am


  2. Chris May 25th, 2012 4:45 am

    The songs of six grade…aww such nostalgia

  3. Wastad May 25th, 2012 8:52 am

    Great- but i think you missed one- the knight rider thème in the punjabi mcs, that’s nostalgia!

  4. Tina May 25th, 2012 8:53 am

    Yeah, more! :-) :-)

  5. Woodshed May 25th, 2012 7:32 pm

    Tara: Glad you liked!

    Chris: You’re obviously younger than me!

    Wastad: Now that’s closer to my 6th grade age.

    Tina: Might do. There were plenty more I wanted to include.

  6. Stuie May 25th, 2012 9:29 pm

    if you have a drop g
    play 8th fret on G 3x pause 2x then 6th doing the same
    it just happened naturally but if you know it well enough it should just happen

  7. adam May 25th, 2012 9:46 pm

    I’ve been trying to arrange a hip hop song but i haven’t found the right song. With the majority of hip hop songs relying on loops I haven’t found that perfect strumable yet recognizable tune. With the exception of Big Poppa which is a lot of fun.

    What I’m trying to say is that the site is amazing and keep up the good work.

  8. Alexandre May 26th, 2012 7:43 am

    Great post!
    If only I could sing rap : p

  9. Woudoo May 28th, 2012 1:28 pm

    Niceee! good thing to spend a lovely afternoon with my uke!

  10. Woodshed May 29th, 2012 6:36 am

    Woudoo: Hope you enjoyed your afternoon!

  11. Mitchell May 30th, 2012 5:38 pm

    This is awesome! Thanks for putting this together. It’s nice to get a little something outside of the norm.

  12. Woodshed May 31st, 2012 8:59 am

    Mitchell: Glad you liked!

  13. Calvin June 1st, 2012 8:22 pm

    This is tremendous. Thanks so much

  14. Woodshed June 2nd, 2012 8:07 am

    Calvin: Thanks very much!

  15. Sledgehammer June 2nd, 2012 9:00 pm

    These are great! Please do more!

  16. Woodshed June 3rd, 2012 11:27 am

    Sledgehammer: Thanks! I might well do.

  17. Jimmy D June 5th, 2012 12:20 pm


    But yeah this is relevant to my interests, for too long I’ve had to just play the chords to Creep and rap over them (which works beautifully well, I’m almost suspicious that Thom Yorke and Luda secretly collaborated on that)

  18. Woodshed June 6th, 2012 10:59 pm

    Jimmy: Please tell me there’s video of you doing that!

  19. Bessie June 12th, 2012 9:31 am


  20. Woodshed June 13th, 2012 2:33 pm

    Bessie: It’s a possibility. He is pretty great!

  21. ukuhippo June 26th, 2012 8:17 am

    I’m driving my wife crazy with these, I love them. Thanks a lot Woodshed. I’m also trying to tab a hiphop-riff from Eminem (even if he’s far from one of my favorites, I love this riff).

    Slim Shady:


    probably with a pull-off near the end.

  22. Woodshed June 26th, 2012 3:01 pm

    ukuhippo: Excellent! I’ll probably do a version of that in the next hip hop riffs post.

  23. Adam Donahue May 27th, 2015 5:16 am

    The Still D.R.E. riff actually does use a ukulele. I remembered reading that somewhere and dug up a link:


  24. Woodshed May 30th, 2015 3:36 pm

    Adam: Wow! Thanks very much for that. I’ll add it to the post.

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