A wise man told me don’t argue with fools. The more society treats drug addiction as a crime, the more money drug dealers will make “relieving” the suffering of the addicts.
Money and power don’t change you, they just further expose your true self. Flavia Med rut is a freelance writer, researcher and part-time psychologist.
She believes music, long walks and a good sense of humor are imperative in keeping one’s sanity. Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westward free.
Last week, we took a look at the fifty worst rap lyrics of all time. This week, we even things out by taking a look at the other end of the spectrum and examining rap lyrics to find cleverness and wordplay worthy of being praised.
Keep reading for the full countdown to see which rhymes struck as some of the best of all time. Mos Def raises the stakes of this rhyme in the first line by presenting the challenges' humanity faces in this day in age.
He then pairs this with a commentary on the priorities of the day's youth, who are more concerned with video games than practical knowledge. And he makes it sound easy and fluent -- like a finger roll in basketball.
’T to the R-uh-O-Y, how did you and I meet?/In front of Big Lou's, fighting in the street/But only you saw what took many times to see/I dedicate this to you for believing in me.” The whole purpose of this song, as indicated in the title, is to honor memory and reminisce about a friend who's passed.
Lauryn Hill gives a taste of her biting wit and humor, commenting on the state of music -- hip-hop in particular. It's a great line, because the “motherfucker” does stand out in Lauryn's otherwise clean verse; it perks you up, but she's still using the word in an enlightened manner, thus getting the point across without compromising the quality of her lyrics.
The inclusion of the word “overdose” also suggests that perhaps trouble is operating as a kind of drug, and K'naan is so accustomed to it that he goes into withdrawals without it. The assonant use of the hard “oh” vowel sound also gives this couplet a pained, longing feel.
“The term real niggas publicly used/And I need to know what it means 'cause I'm fucking confused/Are you one for always busting your tool with nothing to lose/And something to prove to homes up in your crew?/Is it because you're selling drugs to get loot/And brag about how you done been shot and stabbed, like it's fun to be you?/But your life's a struggle, right? Hop sin calls into question the ideal of “realness” in hip-hop, which has long been affiliated with street cred.
Hop sin turns this value on its head and likens those hustling in the drug game to hamsters stuck running nowhere in their wheel. J. Cole retroactively forgives those who would judge his music before even listening to him, thereby removing all power from potential haters.
“I look into mother's stomach, wonder if you are a boy or a girl/Turning' this woman's womb into a tomb/But she and I agree, a seed we don't need/You would've been much more than a mouth to feed/But someone I would've fed this information I read/To someone my life for you, I would've had to leave/Instead I led you to death.” Common explains the profound pain that went along with the decision to get an abortion.
“The radio is just a stereo like a house ain't a home.” For Jay Electronica, the radio is a tool with which he can reach millions of ears.
The proliferation of his music isn't simply transmission of sound; it's his mode of expression, and, as the rest of this section of the song explains, a tool to teach and connect people. Besides the impeccable sound of the second line, replete with assonance, consonance and internal half-rhyme, the desperate but pitch-black funny Vince Carter metaphor is so powerful.
This line encapsulates the paranoia that informs the belief system of the revolutionary. Whether you believe Huey Newton was a good person is irrelevant to the tragedy of his death, given what he was trying to do and that he died at the hands of a rivaling revolutionary faction.
The gist of what Cage is saying may be simple: I'll burn your house down and kill you. The way he says it is completely fresh, combining the two familiar idioms of pouring liquor out for the dead homes and a dead man walking, then coming full circle, telling you how you'll die with a dark and funny Talking Heads reference and a perfect rhyme.
“And since birth I've been cursed with this curse to just curse/And just blurt this berserk and bizarre shit that works/And it sells, and it helps in itself to relieve/All this tension dispensing these sentences/Getting this stress that's been eating me recently/Off of this chest and I rest again peacefully.” Besides the content of these lines, which is powerfully descriptive, and the tone, which echoes the stress and frustration of the first few lines and the release of the last, the collage of sound that Eminem constructs, with alliteration, assonance and internal and multisyllabic rhyme, is impeccable.
Most rappers can't rap with the conviction nor the technical skill that Eminem does, and Em pulls them both off at the same time. Ideas start to hit/Next the formation of words that fit/At the table I sit, making it legit/And when my pen hits the paper.
Big Daddy Kane beautifully illustrates the creative process and delivers the lines as if he's dictating what's happening as it occurs. You can almost see the words floating around in the air, rearranging themselves until they make sense and culminate in indescribable epiphany.
Ice Cube brilliantly reworks the idiom, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” as a critique of then president George H.W. Bush and government more generally, including civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.
When the law doesn't work in your favor, and your back is against the wall, it's easy to justify drug dealing as a means of survival (a “bird” is slang for roughly 36 ounces of cocaine). Ice Cube's wordplay is especially effective because his message also works in the context of the original idiom that it's better to use what you have rather than count on help that may never come.
“No question I would speed for cracks and weed/The combination made my eyes bleed.” This is such an arresting image -- it makes no logical sense, but is somehow incredibly emotionally resonant.
We pity Region's character in the most repulsed way, like a fallen angel. Aesop takes one of the most treasured tropes in hip-hop and skillfully denies it by extending the metaphor of life as a woman and trading cynicism for wonderment.
“I can mingle with the stars and throw a party on Mars/I am a prisoner, locked up behind Xanax bars “ The first image in this rhyme is of Wayne floating beyond this world, seemingly without limits.
Then, immediately after, he cleverly uses the ironic slang term for Xanax pills (bars) to enrich his commentary about his relationship with the drug, as a prisoner. The lack of a transition between these images suggests that they are happening concurrently.
Kendrick borrows biblical images of the apocalypse to give importance and immediacy to the words that follow: Stand for something, or die in the morning. He is symbolically suggesting that judgment is coming tomorrow and that only the righteous will be saved -- or perhaps he's implying that judgment comes each day and every day you don't stand for something, you're virtually dead.
“I can hear sweat trickling down your cheek/Your heartbeat sound like Sasquatch feet/Thundering, shaking the concrete.” By magnifying usually unnoticeable phenomenon like the sound of sweat trickling and a heart beating, Biggie suggests either that his foes are in a supernatural state of fear or that he's an extraordinary predator.
Blu is a true poet that doesn't need music to keep your attention. His words are laced with a kind of Bohemian wisdom that inspires more questions than it can hope to answer, but the ride is nonetheless enlightening.
2Pac has always been one for keeping things simple, at least on the surface, but what this rhyme suggests about the nature of man is insidious. Our drives for pride and violence can change the most fundamental parts about ourselves, and to characterize revenge as a sweet joy next only to sex makes it all the more menacing.
Eminem finds a balance of bitterness and humor that characterized his relation with religious morality in the early 2000s. He takes baptism, the Christian tradition symbolizing cleansing and resurrection, and turns into a means for attempted murder against him.
He uses assonance and internal rhyme throughout, but in the last line he reverses the internal rhyme from “water, no wonder” to “under longer,” signifying a switch from holy water to something far less than holy. Flipping Dean Martin's “Your Nobody til Somebody Loves You,” the impact of these lyrics have been enhanced by Biggie's untimely death, making it feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy -- especially given the title of Biggie's album, Life After Death.
This abrupt shift doesn't allow the listener time to let Kanye's cousin grow, so when he's suddenly behind glass, we can't believe it either. The flip is unexpected and borderline disrespectful: A dead president is more useful than a living one.
“Want to move out the hood and defeat that cancer/I ask how she stay on her feet like dancers/How she keep on adding paint to a life-size canvas.” For all the awful lines Little B has uttered, the fact that he can write something this beautiful is truly amazing.
This single line basically encapsulates the concept of a good kid in a mad city, and it cuts into one of the most essential moral questions in human existence: Can good come from evil? The best part about the line, as is true of the best poetry, is that it doesn't answer the question it asks.
So eloquently does he communicate that his hard work has not, thus far, paid off; the master plan becomes something of a Cinderella story in the making. These lines speak to the idealistic exuberance of youth and the slow, inconspicuous poison of cynicism and sin that creeps into a person.
Posed as opposites are the sinners and Five Per centers, the spreaders of religious truth and morality, though they are connected through rhyme. “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy/There's vomit on his sweater already: mom's spaghetti/He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready/To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting/What he wrote down.
The whole crowd goes so loud/He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out/He's choking, how? Eminem leans heavily on internal rhyme to build palpable tension until, suddenly, it's gone, along with the dream.
“If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be/Lyrically, Tali Well/Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense/But I did 5 mill' -- I ain't been rhyming like Common since.” Tali Well and Common are the classic conscious rappers who try to reinforce the positive aspects of rap like self-awareness and intelligence.
Wonder why Christmas missed us/Birthdays was the worst days/Now we sip champagne when we thirsty.” The juxtaposition of this poverty with the image of Big indulging in fine champagne when water would suffice presents the full picture of a made man.
Using rhyme, 2Pac connects two unlikely images, moving beyond simply humanizing his mother to exalting her as only a son could. These lyrics are informed and enriched by the rest of the song, whose vignettes detail the grim life in the inescapable concrete jungle.
“I start to think, and then I sink/Into the paper like I was ink/When I'm writing, I'm trapped in between the lines /I escape when I finish the rhyme.” Hakim raises the stakes of his creative process by embracing the Tao of poetry writing.
He falls into his own words -- like a trip down the rabbit hole that won't release you until he reaches the elusive epiphany. Hakim's thought finishes with the rhyme, echoing his words.
Sleep as Death's brother dates back to Homer's Iliad, but Na's recontextualized the idea in such a menacing, streetwise manner, it has become a mainstay in the hip-hop canon. And Na's doesn't necessarily mean sleep literally -- it's a part of the N.Y. state of mind: Don't rest.
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