Rap is like poetry. To succeed in this game, you not only need to have serious swag, you also need to have a serious Shakespearean vocabulary.
Today we pay tribute to the bards of hip-hop, rappers who bend words over, add to the cultural lexicon, and hit you like a sledgehammer with their deep content. In our humble estimation, these are the top-ten best lines ever written for the genre.
1. Lauryn Hill: “Everything Is Everything”
You can’t match this rapper slash actress
More powerful than two Cleopatras
Bomb graffiti on the tomb of Nefertiti
MCs ain’t ready to take it to the Serengeti
My rhymes is heavy like the mind of sister Betty (El Shabazz!)
Bow down to Lauryn Hill. There’s a reason she won eight Grammys on her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Comparing herself to the wife of Malcolm X, Lauryn takes swag to a whole new revolutionary level.
2. Tupac: “Changes”
Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a n**ga, he’s a hero
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare
Although it seems heaven sent / We ain’t ready to see a black President
A revolutionary cut down in his prime, this rose from concrete spoke truth about the social plights of American blacks like no one else. Wish he had lived to see President Obama.
3. Notorious B.I.G.: “Juicy”
It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up Magazine
Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine
Probably the most karaoke’d rap lyrics ever, Big Poppa charmingly relates his teenage dream and dates himself in the golden era of hip–hop.
4. Jay Z: “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” (remix)
How could you falter, when you’re the Rock of Gibraltar?
I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water
I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!
Let me handle my business, damn.
Jay Z is a multi-million dollar empire with three Rock meanings: The crack he sold as a youth, his company Roc Nation, and that Herculean island. All signify the messianic effort it took to build Roc Nation – like Jesus walking on water. Put your diamonds up.
5. Kanye West: “Jesus Walks”
I ain’t here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I’m just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus
Speaking of Jesus, the man who can’t leave home without his Jesus piece turned an appeal to Christ into a Grammy winner.
6. Mos Def: “Ms. Fat Booty”
I seen her on the ave, spotted her more than once
Ass so fat that you could see it from the front!
Mos Def’s hilarious tale of how he fell in love with a stripper is a classic for its word pictures.
7. Eminem: “Lose Yourself”
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already: mom’s spaghetti.
No one put the fear of the battle rap better. Vomit and all.
8. Nas: “N.Y. State of Mind”
It drops deep as it does in my breath
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death
Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined
I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.
Our favorite Street Disciple accomplished pairing his brand of intelligent social consciousness and thug life in Illmatic. New York made him.
9. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: “Thrift Shop”
Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin’ next to mE
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly sheets (Piiissssss)
But sh*t, it was ninety-nine cents! (Bag it)”
Being a bad-ass in grandpa’s hand-me-downs at the club, and the R.Kelly diss? Whole song should be quoted.
10. Nicki Minaj: “Lil’ Freak”
I keep a couple hoes like Santa I keep a Vixen
Got that Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen.
Nicki has killed the guest rap game. Anybody who can turn Santa Clause into a pimp deserves to be here.
And as an added bonus, let us never forget big Snoop Dogg’s “fa’ sheezy my neezy”. Words added to the cultural lexicon forever.