Doesn't it seem like there are more rappers working now than there ever have been in the 30-plus-year history of hip-hop? Wading through the maelstrom of beats and bars is a daunting task. Well, we care a lot about the music, and we've been scouring the deluge of loose singles, remixes, collabs, freEPs, mixtapes, and albums in search of quality lyricism, and we've compiled 10 of 2010's best verses. Some are dazzling solo cuts, and others are impressive guest features. Some are well known, and others may not be. All that matters is that of all them are, to quote RZA, "fuckin ridicaless."
We obviously couldn't list everything. A lot happens in a year, and this article had to end somewhere. Honorable mentions go out to Odd Future's Tyler, the Creator, whose bratty, blistering verse on "Sandwitches" is practically his group's mission statement; to Jay Electronica, whose titanic single "Exhibit C" was released just a week shy of the beginning of the calendar year; and to Nicki Minaj, who turned in the performance of her career on Kanye West's "Monster." (Minaj's verse was heavy on charisma, but ultimately too light on substance to make the list. Also, shout out to Kanye, who delivered droves of madcap one-liners this year.) Here are what we think are the best rap verses of 2010. Feel free to chime in and let us know what we your favorites are and what we may have missed.
Danny Brown: "Re-Up"
Amidst a sea of free albums, EPs, and mixtapes, Danny Brown's The Hybrid easily stood out as something you would want to cough up some change for. And highlight "Re-Up" embodies just why the album easily could have been a proper release. In particular, there's the first verse, which opens with the telling and bravado-laced line: "Used to get domed up by crackheads/ But still got my balls licked by pretty bitches." Later on, he spits one of the year's best punch lines: "Bitch talkin' pampers/ Know she's fulla shit/ Impossible for babies to take that many shits." It's all delivered with a strained, drunken flow akin to an amalgamation of Busta Rhymes and Ol' Dirty Bastard with some Motown flair. ~Andrew Martin
Kanye West: "Power (Remix)"
Say what you will about Kanye West, but he certainly rapped his way out of the proverbial doghouse this year, what with his weekly G.O.O.D. Friday music series, his Prefix-approved fifth album, and a slew of guest spots for artists ranging from Nicki Minaj to 30 Seconds to Mars. Kanye came back vastly improved on the mic to boot, and the unhinged closing verse of the Jay-Z assisted "Power (Remix)" is Kanye's lyrical spaz out of the year. Swizz Beatz cuts the S1-produced, King Crimson-sampling instrumental off, drops a beat that reinterprets Snap!'s cheesy dance classic "The Power," and instructs Kanye to black out. And, boy, does he: "Don't even think you can allude to the rumors/ I'm immune to the booze/ I'mma prove to you losers." ~Craig Jenkins
Yelawolf: "You Ain't No DJ," by Big Boi
Going toe-to-toe with an established MC is never an easy task. And that only gets doubled when you're a relatively new name in the mainstream rap community. It can be a make-or-break situation, for sure. But for Alabama's Yelawolf, his appearance on Big Boi's “You Ain't No DJ,” off Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, came off less like a rookie performance than a veteran looking to take his host to task. Yela completely utilizes the odd timing of the Andre 3000 production and makes it his own, attacking the beat at random intervals and punctuating his assault with lines like: “Rich with a hundred dollars, soul like a batch of collards/ Yeah, I’m pale but I’ll impale you with an Impala.” Those bars are just part of the big picture of why Yela captured the attention of so many critics and industry executives over the past year or so. ~Andrew Martin
Homeboy Sandman: "Not Pop"
"I get it poppin', but it's not pop," the Brooklyn-based Homeboy Sandman spits on "Not Pop," off The Good Sun, his unique and exceptional third album. Sandman is a ball of intensity. With his gruff voice just a hair short of a scream, Sandman uses "Not Pop" as a diatribe about label politics and cookie-cutter pop sensations who don't write their own songs. This is a guy who really cares about rap. "I don't refer to hip-hop as the game/ Ain't no playin' takin place." Sandman's advice to up and coming rappers: "Stop savin' up bread/ Go save brethren/ Stop chasing the papes/ And just stay present/ Stop making complaints/ And go make legends." Words to live by. ~Craig Jenkins
Shad: "Rose Garden"
A well-known MC in underground circles, Canadian rapper Shad saw increasing fame this past year thanks a damn good third album, TSOL, boasting catchy, hyper-lyrical singles "Yaa I Get It" and "Rose Garden." The latter of those offers some of his most impressive rhymes to date, and the first verse is essentially his mission statement. He acknowledges his love for naps, his faith, his love for hip-hop, and his relentless optimism even in the most trying of times. This is no more evident than in the following bars: "But Cee-Lo said it best: I know too much and I owe too much to let it rest/ Heard a voice say hey, you never question when you get the blessings/ So don't get vexed when your life is stressed." Shad's delivery and honest tone make the verse especially moving for 20-somethings facing a quarter-life crisis. ~Andrew Martin
El-P: "Sit Down, Man" by Das Racist
Rapper, producer, and once and hopefully future Definitive Jux head honcho El-P released the exquisitely brooding and cinematic instrumental album Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 this year, but those holding out for an album's worth of El's spitfire wordplay are going to have to hold out until next year. He did jump in the booth one time, though, as a guest on the title track of Das Racist's latest mixtape, Sit Down, Man. El murders the beat with his cryptic cocktail of disarming honesty, political bile, trash talk, and, of course, humor: "Gypsies read the palm and then vomit/ And give me back my dollar/ Hollerin' 'Oh my God, get out, you monster.'" The verse ends with El snarling, "Sit down!" as if to say, "Beat that." ~Craig Jenkins
Hodgy Beats: "Loco" by MellowHype
If you're familiar with the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective, it's likely that you associate them with grotesque, misogynistic, and sexually explicit lyrical content. In other words, you probably know the shocking rhymes from OFWGKTA's leader, Tyler, the Creator, and his younger brother, Earl. But there's more to the crew than that. Take Hodgy Beats's technically proficient flow and thuggish tendencies as an example. “Loco,” off MellowHype's BLACKENEDWHITE, is perhaps the quintessential Hodgy performance. In a single breath he references his weaponry, likens himself to a deceased Black Panthers leader, and provides a look into his upbringing. “Pigs raid my crib I'm feelin' like Fred Hampton/ I got firearms under my mattress, campin'/ Yo, I'm from the ghetto where there's special enhancements/ N**gas begin to shoot and don't get second chances.” ~Andrew Martin
Royce da 5'9": "Deadly Medley" by Black Milk
The best shit talk is both really insulting and really funny. Look at "Deadly Medley" off Black Milk's Album of the Year. Black Milk and fellow Detroit rap luminaries Elzhi and Royce Da 5'9" lace the track's soulful instrumental with a stream of hilarious braggadocio, with the trio turning in winners like Black Milk's "My shit is Martin Luther/ Your shit is Martin Lawrence" and Elzhi's "Half of y'all shouldn't rap/ Y'all do a shitty job/ Like colon cleansing." It is Royce who steals the show, though, with his whip-smart and outrageously charismatic middle verse. Royce gets in most of the song's funniest bars, dropping gems like, "I can catch a bullet with my teeth!" and "I'm in the best shape of my life lyrically/ I don't even write seriously/ I just fuck around!" ~Craig Jenkins
Black Thought: "Doin' It Again" by The Roots
Black Thought has (almost) always had one track on each album that features the Roots's MC, for lack of a better term, blacking out. “Doin' It Again” is How I Got Over's instance of this phenomenon. While he's lyrically strong throughout the remainder of the album -- minus a few punch lines duds -- Black Thought absolutely rips apart the John Legend-featured cut. Black Thought's seem to only get better as he spits line after line over the celebratory drums and piano. Case in point: His second verse boasts the Philly native rapping the following: “I'm like Martin Luther King, you like Rodney/ The difference is I give it everything inside me/ Dear diary, the fans still swear by me/ Even though I'm Late Night now like 'Here's Johnny.'" ~Andrew Martin
Phonte: "Tigallo for Dolo" by Little Brother
North Carolina hip-hop duo Little Brother split up this year. Rapper Big Pooh is doing solo work and also touring with Hall of Justus, a cadre of North Carolina MCs including Joe Scudda, Chaundon, and more, and Pooh's partner in rhyme Phonte is singing in the Foreign Exchange, who just released Authenticity, one of the year's finest albums. Little Brother did leave behind a swan song in Leftback, and 'Te uses the solo cut "Tigallo for Dolo" to get a few things off his chest. For three minutes, Phonte vents about the pressures of starting a family, getting older, and planning for the future. He explains that rap isn't something he's looking to do for the rest of his life. "The rap game's no country for old men/ I always spit whenever the spirit hits me/ But fuck if I'mma be doin' this shit when I'm 60." Phonte's current break from full-time rhyming suddenly makes sense. ~Craig Jenkins
What were your favorite verses this year? Let us know in the comments below.
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