We’ve decided to throw our hats into the ring and give you our consensus views as a staff as to the answers of these things. Enter: DIGITS, an ongoing series. The rankings are based on the number of reoccurring songs or artists appeared on a composite list. Songs with the fewest instances were eliminated First up: The 20 Dopest Verses of All Time.
How do you quantify dope? Is it the most lyrical? Is it the most emotionally raw? Is it the best delivered? Where does flow come in? How quantifiable is something so subjective? Sometimes a verse looks way better on paper than it does when you hear it. For this exercise, the dopest verse typically involves when an emcee abnormally blacks out on a verse. Sometimes it’s a highly lyrical performance. Sometimes it’s a relentless assault far beyond the walls of the 16 bar box. With such a list, you’d probably get a different 20 verses depending on the day of the week (we sure did). But we sat down and hammered out this list based on the first 20 that came to mind from each of us. Then we tallied up the ones with the most votes, and then battled continuously over which ones would be whittled down to the final list (in random order). Hate or love it, without further ado, AllHipHop.com’s 20 Dopest Verses of All Time!
(To hear the song in which each verse resides, just click the title of the song.)
“I’m the King of Rock, There is None Higher!” Think about that. Yes there were 4 Beatles (Sorry Run). Only Jay could play an instrument, but the DJ aborted them as the group made a proclamation that would change the world and our lives forever. They didn’t wear costumes like most of the acts in the ’80’s. There weren’t even any non-MiJac Black people on MTV, much less Rap/Hip-Hop. The minimalist rock drums (You crazy for that one, Rick). The reverb on DMC’s booming voice, copied by so many afterwards. The rush of those guitars that pretty much deaded any disco powered Hip-Hop related music. The power of DMC. The swagger of Run. It’s iconic. It’s everlasting. It’s the greatest verse of all time in our eyes.
Before he was a cabdriver, Cappadonna was a serious contributor to both Only Built 4 Cuban Linxand Ironman. On “Winter Warz,” he lost his mind and assaulted the pounding drum powered beat. Rhyming for over two minutes straight and seemingly out of nowhere as a cleanup hitter, ‘Donna switched from the Stapleton lingo (“1-6-0 4-9-3-11”) to the gutter and back. He doesn’t pause for a breath, he’s just relentless. He may not be on top of the overall emcee list, but Cappa’s “Winter Warz” verse is like Sleepy Floyd’s 53 Point NBA Playoff game: An all-time performance from a footnote player.
There are so many reasons why this verse is here. The last virtuoso performance of Biggie. The first salvo from a top selling, yet underrated album. Puffy’s suspense building intro combined with Rocky Balboa’s Championship pedigree, and then B.I.G.’s explosive abandonment of the slow flow that made him king. Arguably better than any verse on his last album, the power of the verse can be summed up in one stanza. “Warm nights I perform like Mike/Anyone, Tyson, Jordan, Jackson.” Nuff said. We don’t know what’s on his tombstone, but no greater epitaph exists for his music career.
The Streets Disciple was still nasty with no sign of Escobar. Just hearing it evokes a feeling of 40 oz’s, bodega heroes and blunts. Nas’ entry to our lives was full of the power of youth. Rich with imagery (“Shoot slugs from my brain just like a rifle”) irreverence (“I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus”) and young rage (“Nasty Nas is a rebel to America”), Nas was definitely causing hysteria. While Main Source was NOT forever, and Akinyele went from dropping rhymes to bumping rumps, Mr. Jones would go on to greater heights as arguably the premiere lyricist of his generation. This verse was his entry and calling card.
Rough, rugged, and raw. Politically incorrect (clowning cerebral palsy!) hood pop culture referential (“Lullaby your stupid ass – Rockabye baby – shout to Keisha from “New Jack City”), and just flat out bugged, Redman was as raw as it got for a lyricist in his era. The cherry on top of a hardcore chocolate sundae, the cleanup verse was frenetic, comical, violent, and everything about Hip-Hop in that era, complete with the metaphors and similes. Respect is due and this verse keeps collecting.
Post-Civil Rights. Post Disco. Product of Reaganomics. Urban. Gritty. “Broken glass everywhere, people pissing in the corners, yo they just don’t care.” Mel took us from the parties in the club and took it to the mud. Mirroring Stevie Wonder’s abandonment of Berry Gordy-flavored bubble gum, Mel took that disco rap and slammed it in the grime. Yeah, he yearned for the color TV to watch the Sugar Ray fight, but “The Message” was the truth from the mouth of the Grand Master. Not from the Klan, but representing the Clan. The Furious Five. The world would never be the same.
It was supposed to be a throwaway record. 7 Minutes which began with Dre poppin off of a G-Funked up “Impeach the President.” Nobody told that to the Dogg Pound. With apologies to Rage, who got the rhyme of the month when the bible was still sacred, Kurupt BLACKED OUT! Just relentless mic slaughter with wordplay, delivery, even spelling. It was brutal and unforgettable. It was Kurupt’s message to the East Coast: Death Row was for real on the mic. He edges Rage due to emotion and length, but the female lyrical murderer gets honorable mention for her own lyrical tornado on this.
You got a small taste of him on “Just Rhymin” With Biz.” Cameo, Afro, Virgo, Domino. Well this verse on “Raw” brought another word virtuoso. Hardcore. That voice, so dominant. If you never saw Kane, you’d think he was 9 feet tall with the force of the terminator. Words were simultaneously smooth and rough. Subtle and powerful. Kane perfected both sides of the spectrum so well that the balancing act was in full effect. You got up and danced cause Kane said so. The skill to ill and break and take. Long live the Kane.
The shot heard around the world. “When I’m called off, I got a sawed off, squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off.” There were others who were more outlandish, and others who were more authentic, but not many were more convincing. Ice Cube entertained and terrified those who were close enough to see, and enthralled those who were so far away they could only live vicariously through his verse. Down, with a capital CPT. This verse is the reason your parents hate rap music and is the progenitor of mainly everything we argue about concerning the life and death of Hip-Hop.
Batting cleanup on a song with the Kane wasn’t easy but the Kool Genius delivered what many hail as the greatest verse of all time. Twice as horrifying as Vincent Price, D-evil (Before Hov) in a spell of a sleep, and while he’s counting his money you count sheep (Sleeping). It was verbal assault in its purest form. You couldn’t replace him, ice him or ace him. Base him face him slice him or race him. Indestructible on the microphone and rumors say he initially rhymed the verse until the tape reel popped. G rapped for so long the video had to cut a portion of his verse. The only rapper to have ever rendered Kane in his prime as anti-climactic on a track.
From nowhere, newcomer Canibus destroyed this track like the Knicks destroy the dreams of their fans. Even with a dope Redman verse, you don’t remember anything from this song but lyrical devastation. The fire in his voice. The raw lyricism. It was almost like the next stage of evolution. “I existed, in the Garden of Eden getting” lifted, sticking d**k to Eve before she was Adam’s mistress. “All you could do was cover your mouth and go “Ohh, did you hear that!” 50 bucks says we can tell you exactly where your tape popped. Thank God for CDs.
Rhyming over the drums of war and blanketed by string instruments, Deck heralded the triumphant return of the Clan, passionately referencing Socrates, atomic bombs, forensic science and just about everything but the kitchen sink. On a double album with 8 other emcees with different styles, The Inspectah Deck had perhaps the most memorable verse of them all.
No more admiring the Jiggaman “from 4 fiends away,” The Blueprint represented Jay-Z’s first real attempt to let us in. Even in an attempt to be more soulful, Marcy’s finest showed he’s at his best when he’s bringing the grit and the game at the same time. “U Don’t Know” is almost “Where I’m From” part 2, but with more passion and more force. Just Blaze on the boards gives Jay just enough fuel to blast off about the place where the hood’s swallowing (pause) and there’s so much coke that you can run slalom. Even when talking on the hood, Jigga throws in something like skiing to show he wasn’t your average hustler. Now you know.
The first call to arms of the Keep It Real Brigade. Previously seen batting clean-up on Organized Konfusion’s “Fudge Pudge,”O.C gives a stern warning to those who pose lyrical but really aint true, delivering a caveat to posers and rappers who present themselves as gangsters and thugs when their actual lives deviate from their rhymes. While skilled, O.C.s career wasnt been mainstream, but he spearheaded the underground vanguard and put fakers on notice: their time was up!
He’s got more classic songs, and He’s definitely got more popular songs to reference, but the original god mc rarely showcased lightning fast mic crushing flow such as he represented on Lyrics of Fury. “Funky Drummer” powered, guitar enhanced, no hooks or funny business. Rakim switches flows, and rhyme schemes effortlessly with a punishing array of line after line. The second verse gets the nod over the other two for the energy, the pace, and capable, breaks the unbreakable series that leaves you breathless. You don’t have time to clap to this. Just listen and let the rhythm hit you.
B-Boy intro and melancholy beat segue into a robust Mos Def delivering his version of The Message. No longer Reaganomics, but the post Bush, Clinton era America highlighted by Giuliani dystopia masquerading as Disneyfied New York. Mos describes a Rotten Apple encapsulated by higher costs of living, a stock market tempting brokers towards dishonesty, and evening news casting urban as villain, and overall the everymans attempt to sift through the garbage and survive. The city was alive and breathing and Mos Def had his finger on the pulse.
It’s Big Pun, the one and only son of Tony Montana, you ain’t promised manana in the rotten manzana. So true in light of Pun tragically passing away due to complications of his massive gerth. Providing gargantuan lyrics every time he touched a mic, Pun was the beacon for Latinos in Hip-Hop who for too long were relegated to second string status in the rap game. The Boricua’s flow stole many a show [Off The Books, Banned From TV, et. al] but on Dream Shatterer He’s going for self, asserting skills knows no color in the process: “I’m the first Latin rapper to baffle your soul, master the flow, n***as be swearing I’m blacker than coal.
Mr. Three Stacks was already flowing something crazy since he and Big Boi laid that Southernplayalistic music for your trunk. There is nothing too outerworldy about the track or the flow, but the beauty is in the simplicity of it all. Illustrating his position as a layman that has a superior rap ability with tongue and cheek chutzpah, [True I got more fans than the average man but not enough to loot to last me/To the end of the week I live by the beat like you live check to check, if it don’t move your feet then I don’t eat, so we like neck and neck], his job security is since no longer an issue.
For the budding psychotic, Scarface provided the soundtrack of a lifetime. For the uninformed, he offered a glimpse in to the mind of a man tettering on the edge of insanity. Combine that with one Brad Jordans penchant for being one of the South’s finest and you have a verse for the ages. My momma did her part / But it ain’t her fault that I was born with out a heart / In other words I’m heartless duke / I don’t love me, how the f**k I’mma love you? With lyrics like these and a bar none mentality Mr. Scarface received a universal ghetto pass.
Absent the antics. Minus the mom mashing. No Hailey in sight, Mr Mathers’ lyrical gymnastics outshined S. Dots verse over the melody of the beat he himself created. The verse that made Eminem all good in the hood on a critically acclaimed album, and gave a true blueprint on how to flow yet deliver a message. Dropping with the bassline and rising with the background strings, then breaking the pattern for onomatopoeia, Mr. Kiss My Ass was certainly the Renegade on this joint.
Now, tell AllHipHop your Top 20 Dopest Verses!