A couple of years ago, people were seriously asking if “hip-hop was dead," but you don’t really hear that kind of talk anymore. Hip-hop music is as healthy as it has ever been.
The best thing about rap music is that there's something for everyone, whether you want the hard street sh*t that Chief Keef creates, or the poppy stuff that dudes like Flo Rida make.
The other thing that makes hip-hop still great is that the art of rapping has not been lost. There is still some honor in being called a great lyricist.
That’s why we had a tough time creating our best rap verses of the year list. Rapping in 2012 was generally excellent and we had a large selection to pick from. Still, we think we have the best of the best here, folks.
21. A$AP Rocky – The first verse on “Goldie”
A$AP Rocky is something we like to call sneaky nice. Meaning, for whatever reason, when we think of Rocky we don’t think of this super lyrical dude. But Rocky’s bars are often sharp and his verses are often stacked with wit. Plus, he has a chameleon like flow which changes bar to bar. Rocky’s first verse on the “jiggy” “Goldie” stands out as being his sharpest of 2012.
"Let's take it to the bases, you in the midst of greatness
My Martin was a Maison, rocked Margielas with no laces
Cristal go by the cases, wait hold up that was racist
I would prefer the Aces, ain't no different when you taste it
A 40 ounce to chase it, that's just a understatement
I'm early to the party, but my 'Rari is the latest"
20. Danny Brown – “Terrorist Threats”
Danny Brown has sort of become the king of outrageous and hilarious verses about sex, drugs and booze. The Detroit native, however, showed he had another depth to him.
Danny Brown appeared on Ab-Soul’s paranoid “Terrorist Threats.” And while Ab-Soul was spitting lines about conspiracy theories, Danny decided to go in a different direction — rapping a haunting verse about the everyday struggle for dudes in the street.
"Feel my pain, going insane, I’m ashamed
Cause I ain’t got shit but an EBT card from a fiend
That owe me and it’s in her daughter name
How the fuck is they pose to eat?
How the fuck am I pose to eat?
Got a nigga in the streets, no health care
Tryna slang weed just to put shoes on his feet"
19. Diddy - “Same Damn Time (Remix)”
Shout out to whoever Puff’s ghostwriter was this year (we see you, King Los!) because he absolutely penned Puff a filthy verse for Future’s “Same Damn Time (Remix).”
What makes this verse particularly special is the fact that he’s talking a lot of big-money talk, and it’s all true. Honestly, this verse wouldn’t hold the same weight if someone like 2 Chainz spit it, because we all know Mr. Chainz doesn’t have “buy a mall by your house money.”
"Boy your money and my money ain’t the same damn kind
I can live your life and my life at the same damn time
See my riding out money that’s yo’ “buy yo’ house” money
I got that “I can build a mall right by your house” money
(Hold up) Say you got that 550, you talking ’bout that Benz, nigga?
Say I got that 550, I’m talking ’bout them M’s, nigga"
18. Ghostface Killah – “New God Flow”
When “New God Flow” first dropped, it featured Pusha T and Kanye West both going H.A.M. over a beat that featured a sample from Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele classic “Mighty Healthy.”
Then, when Cruel Summer was released, the album featured a new version of “New God Flow,” which featured a verse from Ghost himself. Remember when we said Pusha and Kanye went H.A.M.? Well we’re gonna take that back. Because Ghost went completely H.A.M. on this, spitting like it was 2000 again.
"I’m not bow-legged but old school like red fox
My favorite colour in my hustle days was red tops
My gold eagle arm shitted out a red rock
Threw it off my project roof, saw red dots
Kanye, shine a light on my Wallabees
You can have a good time with G.O.D"
17. Rick Ross – The first verse on “So Sophisticated”
Ross gets a lot of slack for recycling beats, hooks and rhyme schemes, but the Bawse has real lyrical ability and great presence. And when he wants to flex his ability, there are not a lot of rappers in the game that are better. Ross’ verses on “So Sophisticated” just shows how nice he can be.
On the first verse of “So Sophisticated,” he ends every line using the same five-syllable pattern (sophisticated, initiated, complicated, refrigerated). It’s impressive stuff for any rapper.
"I’m from the city where the Muslims even Christians hate it
Even the black folk hate to see another nigga made it
Tell all them pussies to chill, champagne refrigerated
Just bought a chopper ‘cause the last one, got it confiscated
Counting a hundred mil so many times, I contemplate it
You wanna be the hottest but that shit get complicated
I pull your card, I know you’re pussy by your conversation
Show you the safe you’ll have to kill me for that combination
Made another two milli just off the compilation"
16. Curren$y – The first verse on “Chasin’ Paper”
There have probably been a thousand rap songs called “Chasin’ Paper.” And those songs all had the same kind of lyrics — rappers bragging about how much money they have and what they’ll do to get it.
Curren$y decided to do something different. The rapper details his financial come up with class and without doing any significant amount of boasting.
"To want it all, I was born to ball
Making Lamborghini engine sounds pedaling my bike
Lusted at luxury life since a tyke
Switches on a Monte Carlo turn a car into a trike
These images was burned in my mind
Chasing that paper like it stole something of mine
It did though, friends killed over small bills
I still go, hard spitting bars for them folk"
15. Joey Bada$$ - The last verse on “Hardknock”
Joey Bada$$ is cut from a different cloth than most up-and-coming rappers. With every verse he spits, you can just hear '90s legends like Prodigy, Raekwon and Smith & Wesson.
“Hardknock” doesn’t even sound right coming from an MP3. This joint is so dirty you think it should be coming out of a tape cassette. On the song’s last verse, Joey just spits a jaw-dropping verse, speaking on the ills of the streets.
"I’m out for presidents to represent me
Yo chick keep messaging me, who the bestest MC? They be mentioning me
Too hot, I be molesting the beat, fuck math
Teachers should teach us to get Smith & Wesson’s off the street
So first class be a lesson for me
Fuck what you teaching for some regents, I'm flying over regions
Reaching, all time highs where Jesus can’t reach us
Step to me and get the recipe to make you rest in peace
This is for my niggas, killers, hundred dollar billers
On the block in the rock spot, Glock cocked watching out for cops
All about their cheddar, young guns know nothing that’s better
Like fuck a prison letter, those Beretta’s led us to the lettuce
Relish fetishes, menaces
Want the senator’s percentages, if you ain't prejudice you still a nemesis"
14. 2 Chainz – “Mercy”
When determining one of the best verses of the year, lyrics mean a ton, but they damn sure don’t mean everything.
Rappers get a gang of points for charisma and delivery, which is why 2 Chainz’s excellent verse on “Mercy” makes the cut. Even though Kanye, Big Sean and Pusha were all probably spitting better bars, no one caught the beat with as much flair as 2 Chainz did. It’s probably the reason why Kanye put him last on the track.
"Spit rounds like the gun range, beat it up like Rampage
100 bands, cut your girl, now your girl need a bandaid
Grade A, A1, chain the color of Akon
Black diamonds, backpack rhyming, co-signed by Louis Vuitton (Yup!)"
13. Meek Mill - “Intro (Dreams and Nightmares)”
“Dreams and Nightmares” was a simple track for Meek Mill to make; he simply just put 20 plus years of pain and suffering all into one long, epic verse.
What makes the track special is the energy Meek brings. He starts the track off calmly, but by the time the beat changes, around 90 seconds into the song, Meek just explodes, basically screaming out his verse.
"See my dreams unfold, nightmares come true
It was time to marry the game and I said, "Yeah, I do"
If you want it you gotta see it with a clear-eyed view
Got a shorty, she try'na bless me like I said, "Achoo"
Like a nigga sneezed, nigga please before them triggers squeeze
I'm gettin' cream, never let them hoes get in between
Of what we started, lil' nigga but I'm lionhearted
They love me when I was stuck and hated when I was departed
I go and get it regardless, draw it like I'm an artist
No crawling, went straight to walkin' with foreign cars in my garage
Got foreign bitches menaging, fuckin', suckin', and swallowin'
Anything for a dollar, they tell me get 'em, I got 'em
I did it without an album
I did shit with Mariah
Lil' nigga I'm on fire
Icy as a hockey rink, Philly nigga I'm fly-er"
12. Killer Mike – Second verse on “Reagan"
Killer Mike is the closest thing to Ice Cube hip-hop has in 2012. We need Ice Cubes out here, rappers that can make a hood banger right after creating a track firing shots at our crooked government.
Killer Mike’s "Reagan," off of his stellar R.A.P album, is a track dedicated to Republicans' favorite president of all time, Ronald Reagan. Like the lyrical expert he is, Killer Mike precisely dissects Reagan while reminding us that he was just a pawn in a rigged game.
"They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror
But it really did was let the police terrorize whoever
But mostly black boys, but they would call us "niggers"
And lay us on our belly, while they fingers on they triggers
They boots was on our head, they dogs was on our crotches
And they would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches
And they would take our drugs and money, as they pick our pockets
I guess that that's the privilege of policing for some profit
But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits
Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics"
11. Nas – Second verse on “Queens Story”
What makes Nas one of the greatest rappers of all time is his journalistic level of detail. You can see all the images he paints with his words. Even throughout the ups and downs of his career, his ability to paint a perfect picture has never left.
In a year when he had stellar verses in tracks like “Triple Beam Dreams” and “World's an Addiction” it’s his storytelling ability on “Queens Story" that stands out the most, as he breaks down the story of hood legends around his way.
"Watch the con realest channel his mom’s spirit
Goosebumps cover me, mother’s here, I could feel her
Blood of Christ covers me, our savior and healer
Drug prices up or down, I know a few dealers
And some accident murderers
They act like they killed on purpose
Liars brag they put work in
You ain’t mean to murk him
Your gun’s a virgin
Better stay on point, if not it’s curtains
Bebo Posse reincarnated through me probably
If music money didn’t stop me
I never claimed to be the toughest
Though I’m to blame for a few faces reconstructed
It’s the game that we was stuck with
Now I’m the only black in the club with rich Yuppie kids
Sad thing, this is the top, but where the hustlers went
No familiar faces around, ain’t gotta grab the musket"
10. Lupe Fiasco – The last verse on “Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)"
It’s a shame that due to the controversy that swirled around “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” (Pete Rock was upset Lupe used his “T.R.O.Y." beat) Lupe’s standout single doesn’t get the props it deserves. It’s truly a great song. The three verses on the track are just stuffed with meaty content for folks to chew on. Verse number three is particularly filling.
"An all white Los Angeles, the dream of Mr. Chandler
Hope and pray they take Columbus day up off the calendar
South Central an example of God's gifts
So shout to all the mothers raising babies in SPA 6
The projects of Oakland city, Detroit ghost towns
Monopolies on poverty where D-boy coke bound
It’s parts of Manila like the video for "Thriller"
But the US Embassy is reminiscent of a villa
If poverty is chocolate and privilege vanilla
Then what’s the flavor of the Sunday preacher’s pedophilia"
9 Joe Budden – “Truth or Truth Pt.1”
Leading up to the release of Slaughterhouse’s On the House mixtape, members of the super lyrical group were saying that Joe Budden might have spit the greatest verse of all time on a track called “Truth or Truth.” The verse isn’t the greatest of all time, but it is special.
Using no filter, Joe Budden bared his soul to the hip-hop community, rapping about everything from his relationship woes to relapsing.
"Same Joe I am today is the same Joe y'all get
Y'all will interrupt a nigga while he at his place of worship
And think that came along with your 20 dollar purchase
You bought the music, not the nigga that made it
But let me touch up on that nigga that made it
If you're judging me on actions then I'll take that L every time
If you conclude "Joe Budden is a corny mah'fucker"
Cause all it mean if I'm a corny mah'fucker
Is the greatest rapper ever's just a corny mah'fucker
My bad, I'm not as street as you
But all this time I was being me, not being you
I get behind that mic, let all my demons through
Without knowing shit about the people that I'm speaking to
Add that to me not seeing a reason to
And that says a lot in a room full of silence, listen...
At 21 I had a drug problem
At 31 still drugs is a problem
But the thing about that pill is it made everything real
And I felt I needed to see
Funny thing about it all, I ain't like what I saw
Now the Lord's voice is in my head like
"You'll be DEAD soon for questioning me"
Another lesson for me"
8. Andre 3000 – “Sixteen”
When we started out making this list, the plan was to only have one verse from each rapper. The thought was that there were too many stellar verses, lots of folks deserved some shine. (We probably could have done 21 Kendrick Lamar verses and just went home.)
However, we had one exception, and that was Andre 3000. We honestly couldn’t choose between his epic verse on "Sixteen" or another verse, which is further down the list. We decided to have both. Andre’s stellar story telling on “Sixteen" is just too good to pass up.
"Summer '88, or was it '89
Or was it winter-time, ah, nevermind
I'm in my room, booming
Drawin' LL Cool J album covers with Crayolas on construction paper
I'm trying to fuck my neighbor, I'm tryna hook my waves up
I'm tryna pull my grades up, to get them saddle lace ups
Before lil' Marc was Jacob, before them girls wore makeup
Before my voice would break up, before we'd tour them shake clubs
Before my mama wake up, before my crumbs would cake up
Before they tell me they love me and we'll never break up
Before the time she makes love to someone that I thought was my homeboy
But boy, was I wrong, now
I don't budge, don't want much, just a roof and a porch
And a Porsche, and a horse and unfortunately
But of course an assortment of torches that scorches the skin, when they enter
Intruders, whose tutors did a lousy job
How's he God if he lets Lucifer let loose on us?
That noose on us won't loosen up, but loose enough to juice us up"
7. Pusha T – “I Don’t Like (Remix)”
Pusha T. had a great year, in which he completely bodied everything. For a minute, we felt like putting “insert verse into the blank” next to Pusha’s name. But, after some arguing, we settled on his dangerous verse from Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like (Remix).”
Part of the reason was because it’s been so long since we’ve heard Pusha just spazz on a beat that was this gutta.
"Fraud niggas, y'all niggas, that's that shit I don't like
Your shit make believe, rapping 'bout my own life
Real names kill things, that's that shit I won't write
Cause my niggas still selling dope like they ain't on their third strikes
Camping out in that corridor, fuck you waiting on Jordans for?
I middle-man it for 23, just meet me somewhere around Baltimore
(Woo!) That's rare nigga, (Woo!) Ric Flair nigga
(Woo!) The power's in my hair nigga, (Woo!) I give this beat the chair nigga"
6. Gunplay – “Cartoons & Cereal”
Gunplay just might be a maniac. And if the rapper ever gets convicted of a serious crime (like a murder charge or something) we are pretty sure they’ll use his verse from “Cartoons and Cereal” as a piece of evidence.
Those 16 bars from Gunplay were easily the most haunting of the year.
"I did wrong, karma came
Crackers gave me ball and chain
Friends, enemies all the same
State, fed, both can hang
Nobody can mute me, but I never said nobody can't shoot me
Just another stat to the white folks
Still whip work to the white yolk, absolutely!
Everyday feel like the one before
Hunt the money, don't hunt the ho
If you do what you always done
Then you get what you always got
You dumb buffoons!
I ain't seen the back of my eyelids
For about the past 72 hours
Hand on my heart, face to the hood
I pledge every word you ever heard was honest"
5. Drake - “Stay Schemin’”
Remember that beef between Drake and Common? Yeah, we don’t either. For the most part, the little rift between the two rappers was one of the weakest beefs of all time.
If any good came out of this scuffle, its Drake’s scathing verse on Rick Ross’ Rich Forever single, “Stay Schemin.'” The song reached legendary status for this Drake line: "Kobe 'bout to lose a hundred fifty M’s. Kobe my nigga I hate it had to be him. Bitch you wasn't with me shooting in the gym!"
"It bothers me when the gods get to acting like the broads
Guess every team doesn’t come complete with niggas like ours
That's why I see no need to compete with niggas like y’all
I just ask that when you see me you speak up, nigga, that's all
Don’t be ducking like you never wanted nothing
It's feeling like rap changed, it was a time it was rugged
Back when if a nigga reached it was for the weapon
Nowadays niggas reach just to sell they record
Spaghetti bolognese in the Polo Lounge
Me and my G from DC that's how I roll around
Might look light, but we heavy though
You think Drake will pull some shit like that? You never know"
4. Jay-Z - “3 Kings”
Jay-Z has been blacking out on verses for years. It’s to the point where just a really good verse (like the one he spit on “Clique”) doesn’t even cut it anymore. We need greatness from him every time. Jay’s epic sonning on “3 Kings” is greatness.
What makes the verse even more epic is his laidback, cool-as-sh*t flow. Essentially, what he’s doing is killing you and smiling while he does it.
"Uh, I only love her if her eye brown
Play this shit while you play around with my crown
King H-O, y'all should know by now
But if you don't know, uh
Millions on the wall in all my rooms
Niggas couldn't fuck with my daughter's room
Niggas couldn't walk in my daughter's socks
Banksy bitches, Basquiat
I ran through that buck fifty Live Nation fronted me
They workin' on another deal, they talkin' two hundred fifty
I'm holdin' out for three
Two seventy five and I just might agree"
(SOURCE: RapGenius)3. Kendrick Lamar – The last verse on “m.A.A.d city”
One of the hardest obstacles while doing this list was trying to pick a Kendrick Lamar verse. Was it going to be his heartfelt first verse on “Black Boy Fly?” Or maybe it was his stunt-heavy bars on Dom Kennedy’s “We Ball?” Or how about the tragic first verse on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst?”
Those were all wonderful pieces of work, but the verse that we’re riding with is his last one on “m.A.A.d city.”
Using those funny voice noises that Outkast was famous for back in the day, Kendrick paints a picture of Compton’s problems.
"Kill them all if they gossip, the Children of the Corn
They vandalizing, the option of living a lie, drown their body with toxins
Constantly drinking and drive, hit the powder then watch this flame
That arrive in his eye; this a coward, the concept is aim and
They bang it and slide out that bitch with deposits
And the price on his head, the tithes probably go to the projects
I live inside the belly of the rough
Compton, U.S.A. made Me an Angel on Angel Dust, what"
2. Kanye West - “Clique”
Kanye took a lot of Ls to Jay-Z on their Watch the Throne album. (That’s not such a terrible thing, considering that Jay-Z is probably one of the three greatest rappers of all time.)
So it was cool to see Kanye get some revenge on “Clique.” Kanye completely bodies Hov with a masterpiece of a verse in which he mentions everything from bumping onto ex-C.I.A. director George Tenet, to Kim K's home movie.
"Break records at Louis, ate breakfast at Gucci
My girl a superstar all from a home movie
Bow on our arrival - the un-American idols
What niggas did in Paris, got 'em hanging off the Eiffel
Yeah I'm talking business, we talking CIA
I'm talking George Tenet, I seen him the other day
He asked me about my Maybach, think he had the same
Except mine tinted and his might have been rented
You know white people get money, don't spend it
Or maybe they get money, buy a business
I rather buy 80 gold chains and go ign'ant
I know Spike Lee gone kill me but let me finish
Blame it on the pigment, we living no limits"
1. Andre 3000 – “Sorry”
Even though Andre 3000 hasn’t released an album in which he’s just spitting in about 11 years, you can tell that the man cares about the craft of creating a quality verse. Every guest verse he’s done over the last couple of years has been an amazing piece of work, full of vivid detail and wonderful wordplay.
What makes Andre cool is that he also knows when he has to step it up a notch. So when T.I., one of the greatest southern rappers of all time, calls asking for a verse, he knows he can’t half-ass things. Andre just completely raps circles around Tip on "Sorry," as he touches on the many regrets he has.
In a year full of stellar verses, this one stands out as king.
"What it ain't, What it is?
Even if you gotta live
I learned that apartment is way more exciting than a big ass house on a hill
I used to be a way better writer and a rapper
When I used to want a black Karmann Ghia
Now a nigga speeding in a Porsche
Feeling like I'm going off a course
Cut these fuck niggas off
Negative in my life, scream that till I'm hoarse
Duck these get the fuck off me projectiles, bitch you ain't really got a choice
I'm living my life live yours
I don't even like rapping fast, but that's how the word come to me
Talk to me sideways nigga that's your ass
Slow it down, this that shit that'll make you call your momma
Say hey I'm sorry for begging for all them clothes you couldn't afford
And this the type of shit that'll make you call your rap partner
And say I'm sorry I'm awkward, my fault for fuckin' up the tours
I hated all the attention so I ran from it
Fuck it if we did, but I hope we ain't lose no fans from it
I'm a grown-ass kid, you know ain't never cared about no damn money
Why do we try so hard to be stars, just to dodge comments"