What is an L in a rap? See the 2 different meanings here

Those of you who enjoy listening to rap will be aware that there are some phrases that rappers use that many of us might not be familiar with. One word that is common in the rap scene is “L”. And yes, that is a word, not just a letter.

In rap, “L” can either mean “Loss” or “Joint”.

In rap battles, when you lose, a big L will be written on the score sheet next to your name. This is the same reason why W is a win!
And if you roll a joint in an L shape, you’ll get one with a fat head!

Today, I want to talk about why rappers use “L” as a word, and how it has now found its way into the mainstream.

Some grammar snobs might turn their noses up at rappers, but to speak super fast, to a musical beat, your command of English needs to be top-notch.

History of Rap

For those of you who don’t think rap is “real music”allow me to give you a quick history lesson.

Although there has been footage of what some might consider “rap” as far back as the 1940s, it’s true story starts off in the 1970s. At nightclubs, DJs would often talk between songs.

When they talked, they had to make sure they did so in a rhythmic manner that suited the music they were playing. Eventually, DJs went from talking between songs to talking over songs.

The genre of “rap” was officially formed when the song “rapper’s delight” came onto the market.

The meaning of L

Loss

The first meaning of “L” is Loss. As you can probably guess, this is due to the word being abbreviated. But why did they need to abbreviate? “Loss” and “L” are both one syllable.

Whilst that is true, rappers found that more words rhyme with “L” than words that rhyme with “Loss”.

The idea came about when during rap battles and sports, losses were recorded as merely the letter “L”. This leads to people associating the letter with losing.

If you want proof that “L” is easier to rhyme, take 2 minutes. Spend one-minute thinking of words that Rhyme with “L” and another thinking of words that rhyme with “Loss”.

Joint

The other meaning of “L” is a type of joint. Although the origin of this interpretation is different, it still comes from the world of rap.

As I’m sure many of you are aware, there is a stereotype surrounding rappers that they like to smoke Cannabis. Sometimes, when they would roll a joint, they would put two small joints into an L shape and roll it so that the joint would have a fat top.

Posting your Ls online

Something that a lot of people are doing today is “posting their Ls online”. This is to say they share the struggles that they have in life with their followers on social media.

A lot of the time, this will relate to their dating life or their working life.

People “sharing their Ls online”enables them to relate to their followers who are likely to have the same issues.

As you can probably guess, when people do this, they mean “L” as in “Loss”. They wouldn’t be talking about a joint.

I would be lying if I said I’ve never shared my Ls online.

Etymology

The word “Loss” is an old word, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that it came to mean failure. Before that, the old English word “los” meant ruin.

And before that, the Proto-Germanic “Lausa” meant cut apart. This word came from the Proto-Indo-European “Leu”.

The word Loss has the same etymology as other related words in our language.

“I am Lost at sea.”

“Wow! What a Loser”

“I’m going to lose this game.”

As you can see, all of these words have the “los” prefix that comes from the Old English word.

Why do non-rappers use L

Rappers use a lot of words. But most of them stay within the world of rap, there are only a few that make their way into the regular lexicon.

Why has “L” left rap and become a commonly used slang word?

Many would say that when speaking unless you want to rhyme, there is no point in saying “L” because it has the same number of syllables as “Loss”.

However, most people who use the term do so when writing on social media. Even though the two words take the same amount of time to say, “L” is much quicker to type than “loss”.

Alternatives

For those of you who don’t wish to say “L”, there are other words you could say to indicate a loss.

For example, you might say “downfall”. This is commonly used when talking about people who used to be highly respected but have since ruined their reputation.

For example, you might say “After his downfall, Bill Cosby was never the same again”.

You can also say “Hardship” when talking about periods of your life that you struggled with. For example “I went through a lot of Hardships in 2020”.

Alternatively, you could just say “Loss”.

Rap words that non rappers use

There are some other words from the world of rap that have found their way into the mainstream. Here are just three of them.

First of all, we have “bad”. Before rap, “bad” was always a negative thing. But now “bad” means “good”.

A “bad b***” is a strong, independent woman. A “bad man” is a man who is respected by many.

“Phat” is another way of saying excellent.

And “bare” means “many”or “plenty”. To say that you have “bare chicks” is to say that you’re popular with the ladies. To be “getting bare Ps” is to be getting a lot of money.

Conclusion

An “L” can be a type of joint. But most of the time, it’s used as a slang term of “Loss”. It comes from the world of rap, where it started on rap battle scorecards but was soon used in the music as it’s easier to rhyme with than “loss”.

Because of its shortness, it’s now found its way into many youths’ lexicon, who like to “post their Ls online”.

Rappers often get a bad rap. But writing a rap song that expresses your feelings, and goes well with a backing track, and then performing it, is something that I certainly don’t have the skills to be able to do.