That spoiler alert was a joke because you knew that already. Before you even scrolled down to see our list, you knew that GlobalGrind would pick Kendrick’s epic call for more competitive lyrics as the verse of the year.
(We should also take the time to remind you that the song was actually a Big Sean track, one that didn’t make the Detroit-rapper’s Hall of Fame album. We should also remind you that Jay Electronica mumbled a couple of words on there. Spoiler alert number two: there’s no Big Sean or Jay Electronica verses on our list.)
So now that we got number one figured out, what about the rest? There was a lot of great rap music that dropped this year, and making a list of only 13 meant that we had to snub great verses from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, ScHoolboy Q, Chance The Rapper and Black Thought.
(*Insert sad face here*)
That means the top 13 verses of 2013 are special. And they are. Check out who we picked below.
13. Ka – “Off the Record”
First of all: the delivery isn’t for everyone. Brownsville rapper Ka rarely ever raps over a whisper, almost like he’s not even enthusiastic about his own bars. His tone has been known to throw some rap fans off, but it shouldn’t. Listen closely and you’ll hear that Ka’s rhymes are full of dense tales about growing up in a non-gentrified Brooklyn.
There’s a lot of fantastic verses on his sophomore album, The Knights Gambit, but “Off the Record” is the standout. It’s the only concept song Ka has on the album; he tells a Scorsese-level crime noir, while referencing some of hip-hop’s most iconic album titles.
Only real heads will appreciate this.
12. Danny Brown – First verse on “Side A [Old]”
Danny Brown wastes no time. Within five seconds of Old, Danny Brown’s 2013 album, the rapper is spitting rapid-fire verses about cooking up drugs in a cold Detroit apartment.
Like most good writing, it’s the details that matter:
“In the kitchen, oven open for the heat
Got my young, light skinned hoe rollin’ up the tree
Wearin’ jackets in the house, it’s the Michigan way
Boiling water on the stove, Ramen noodles for dinner
Dope fiends out the halfway house and they still sniffin’
Homie mommy’s 50, smokin’ and still tricking’
Still talkin’ shit with this loosie I’m ass lickin’
See my breath when I talk, but nigga, I ain’t trippin'”
That verse would set the tone off for the entire Old album, which featured a harder Danny Brown rapping about his drug dealing past.
11. Kevin Gates – First verse on “IDGAF”
Kevin Gates started popping up on people’s radars after his star-making performance on Pusha T’s “Trust You.” Man, that verse is great, and it would have made our list, if it wasn’t for “IDGAF,” off of Gates’ The Luca Brasi Story mixtape.
When it comes to Kevin Gates verses, the more introspective the better. In “IDGAF” the rapper takes us into his world: Dropping names of people and streets as if we were standing on the corner with him.
10. Freddie Gibbs – First verse “The Real G Money”
A couple of months ago, legendary rapper Scarface sent out a tweet giving props to Freddie Gibbs. The tweet was very appropriate: Freddie Gibbs is the closest thing we have to Scarface in 2013 (other than Scarface, of course, who still can rap pretty well.)
Gangsta Gibbs is just as psychotic and depressed as ‘Face, but he is more lyrically gifted, playing with multiple flows in any given verse. In “The Real G Money” he drops truly terrifying lines like this:
“Hustlin’, jackin’, murder and mackin’ been such a part of me
Such an evil seed, wonder what will my son or daughter be?
For the record, Freddie Gibbs drops verses like this on the regular. Need 2013 examples? Check out his ESGN album; or check out his verse on Danny Brown’s “The Return;” or check out his verse on Joey Fatts’ “Need More;” or check out his verse on Raekwon’s “New Day.” Or, just check his whole catalogue.
9. Meek Mill – Second verse on “Lil Nigga Snupe”
At times, Meek Mill’s voice can be a problem. He yells on nearly every song, and 15 plus tracks of Meek Mill screams can be exhausting.
But Meek’s voice is what makes “Lil Nigga Snupe” — his ode to his dead partner Lil Snupe, who was killed earlier this year — special. You can feel the pain in Meek’s voice as he tries to grasp with the death of his artist, who had just turned 18:
“As I’m rolling through my city, nigga, all I see is murder
Ain’t nobody seen it but shit everybody heard it
And ain’t nobody hiring so everybody serving
And all this gunfire and shit everybody murkin, better get a strap
Young niggas selling caine just to get it back
And they busting out them racks till they sitting back
And if a nigga hit my homie, we gon’ hit him back
And if you send him over here, know we gon’ send him back”
Ten years from now, we’ll be looking at “Lil Nigga Snupe” as one of Meek’s best moments.
8. Jay Z – First verse on “Heaven”
2013 hasn’t been the best year for Jay Z lyrically. Jay dropped countless dud verses, on tracks like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” and Drake’s “Pound Cake.” There were even moments on his own album, Magna Carta… Holy Grail, where he wasn’t sharp. (“Roc La Familia” is especially woeful.)
But Jay is one of the greats for a reason, and he can show his ass whenever he wants to. Hov’s first verse on “Heaven” displays that as he does away with silly illuminati conspiracy theories:
“Conspiracy theorist screaming Illuminati
They can’t believe this much skill is in the human body
He’s 6’2″, how the fuck he fit in a new Bugatti?
Aw, fuck it, you got me
Question religion, question it all
Question existence until them questions are solved”
Question it all.
7. Lupe Fiasco – on “Poor Decisions”
On “Poor Decisions,” off of MMG’s Self Made Vol. 3 album, Rick Ross and Wale have verses for “rich niggas making poor decisions.” While Lupe is addressing “poor niggas making rich decisions.” And he does it in a number of classic Lupe ways: By having supernatural elements in his verse (talking t-rexes) and by using an extended metaphor (a deck of cards.)
Lupe doesn’t leave, however, without dropping some very important words of wisdom, aimed at some of his peers:
“Rappers influence your shootin’ sprees
Turn around and publish bars like it ain’t got shit to do with me
Easy to record so ruthlessly”
6. Drake – “Versace (Remix)”
In 2011, Drake showed Future major love by appearing on the “Tony Montana (Remix)” and in 2013, he gave a helping hand to the young ATL-trio Migos by dropping an absolutely flame verse on the group’s “Versace” beat. Drake catches wreck on this, spitting clever lines while using the Migos flow.
Also, remember this: without Migos and their “Versace” track we probably would have never gotten “The Language,” an all-time fun Drake song.
5. Tyler, the Creator – “Rusty”
Before Eminem dropped his The Marshall Mathers LP 2 album, “Rusty” was the best Eminem verse of the year. It’s a classic Em verse, one that mixes humor (“I’m harder than DJ Khaled playing the fucking quiet game”) with social commentary (“Look at that article that says my subject matter is wrong, saying I hate gays even though Frank is on 10 of my songs”).
The illest thing about the song? Eminem had nothing to do with it. That’s Tyler, the Creator — who, like many 20-somethings, grew up on Em — rapping his ass off, spitting one of the finest verses of his career.
4. Eminem – The second verse on “Don’t Front”
Most people point to “Rap God” as Eminem’s outstanding lyrical performance of 2013. However, for our list, we thought we would go a different route, and highlight his performance on “Don’t Front,” a remake of Buckshot’s classic “I Got Cha Opin.”
While “Rap God” is lyrically impressive, the replay value isn’t high: it’s almost as if the song is too technical for it’s own good. Em’s lyrics become noise after a while.
“Don’t Front” is different. The song is just fun to listen to, as Em uses his old-school 8 Mile flow to twist words around:
“Rest in piece to Big Proof, you was a beast, you lyrically mirrored me
Molded my flow off of you, your spirit’s flowing through me
I love you, Doody, without you I feel so incomplete
I’m no king, no need for rose petals to be thrown at my feet
I’m a thorn in your side, get thrown into a throne
Better watch the fucking tone that you speak, feel like I’m in the zone
I’m in a whole different league on my mothafuckin’ own, it’s just me
No opponents can compete, and I’ve never been known to retreat
From beef, beep-beep, follow trends or wallow in defeat
I’m still hungry as fuck, but can’t even say bon appetit”
Son is a wizard.
3. Pusha T – First verse on “40 Acres”
Pusha T has a bad rep for glorifying drug dealing, using witty one-liners; But the rapper gets serious when he has to. And those have been some of his strongest moments. (Check the Clipse’s “Hello New World” or “Life Change.”)
“40 Acres” is Pusha’s big introspective moment on his debut My Name is My Name: and it features a defiant, stubborn Pusha watching the world change around him. (His brother No Malice found God, while his manger Tony Gonzalez is doing decades in prison.)
“You thought Tony in that cell would’ve made us timid
We found his old cell, bitch, we searchin’ through the digits
Anything Spanish, got me speaking Spanglish
Money is universal, that’s the only language
The dream ain’t die, only some real niggas
We was born to mothers who couldn’t deal with us
Left by fathers who wouldn’t build with us
I had both mine home, let’s keep it real niggas
My better half chose the better path, applaude him
Younger brother me a spoiled child, I fought him
I heard that the Devil’s new playground is boredom”
Pusha’s flashy moments are great; his deep ones are even better.
2. Kanye West – Second first on “New Slaves”
A couple of months ago, Kanye West made a rare Twitter appearance and declared that the second verse of “New Slaves” was the “best verse of all time.”
He’s off, but not that off. It’s certainly one of the best verses of his career, and if it wasn’t for a certain Kendrick Lamar bomb it would be the verse of the year.
In that second verse Kanye gave us the kind of voice we haven’t heard in commercial hip-hop since early ’90s Ice Cube: a voice that was smart, loud, mad, funny, political, crude — just everything hip-hop is supposed to be.
Remember: there’s leaders and there’s followers…
1. Kendrick Lamar – “Control”
Read the intro.
Like, what more can we say about this verse? OK, let’s put it like this: when was the last time a rapper’s verse caused this kind of discussion? We can’t recall.
All we have to say is Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler and Mac Miller: step your bars up.