Recently we were asked, what's the single most greatest lyric in hip-hop of all time? After thinking long and hard, we realized it was nearly impossible. It's difficult to determine the single greatest song let alone pointing out a single lyric or bar. What qualifies a great or iconic lyric? They are lines that are timeless, recognizable, profound and have depth. While many artists may tend to go for shock value, like when Rick Ross put "Molly all in her champagne" or when Drake said she wasn't with him "shooting in the gym". Some of the best lyrics don't require shock value, but are real and relatable. We've come up with a list and in no particular order have determined some of the greatest lyrics in hip-hop.
Tupac/Makavelli (Hail Mary) 1996
“I ain't a killer but don't push me.”
Tupac’s legacy will forever transcend within hip-hop. Tupac, Using the pseudo name Makavelli released The Don Killuminatti, with Hail Mary as his single shortly after his death in 1996. The opening line, right off the bat “I ain't a killer but don’t push me” sets the tone and is so relatable to most black men in America. No, we don’t want any problems, nor are we looking for trouble but don’t get it twisted.
When Pac follows, the verse with, “Revenge is like the sweetest joy next to gettin p*$$y” he left no room for imagination for the level fulfillment one gets by obtaining vengeance. Pac’s metaphor is quite profound to say the least, especially when we really think about the depths men go through to get p*$$y.
Andre 3000 ‘International Players Anthem’ (I Choose You) (UGK Feat. OutKast)
"So, I typed a text to a girl I used to see Sayin' that I chose this cutie pie with whom I wanna be And I apologize if this message gets you down Then I CC'ed every girl that I'd see-see 'round' town"
There were so many nuggets dropped in this song. The International Players Anthem, literally became an players anthem to many. I personally know a handful of brothers that can relate to Andre's opening lyrics. We may start out playing the field and then boom, you're struck by love. You may not have sent a text to all the women you were involved with but you did have to turn in your players card because you've found the one. And one good girl is worth a thousand broads.
Nas – (America- Untitled) 2008
“We in chronic need of a second look of the law books And the whole race dichotomy…
Too many rappers, athletes, and actors… But not enough niggas in NASA…”
Nas’ very underrated Untitled album, initially came under fire when he originally wanted to name the album Nigger. I’m sure if you ask any young black male from kindergarten to fifth grade what is it he wants to be when he grows up, 9 out of 10 to some degree will say an athlete or entertainer. Not to say there is something wrong with either of those professions, but there is something wrong when our youth grows up thinking that the two are the only measurements of success. But when Nas reminded us that there isn’t many of “us” in NASA; he speaks to us wanting the fame and money, but neglecting the things of importance and more significance.
Notorious B.I.G. (Things Done Changed-Ready to Die) 1994
“If I wasn't in the rap game I'd probably have a key knee deep in the crack game… Because the streets is a short stop… Either you're slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot…”
This entire song is pure FIRE! In fact, you probably didn’t know that B.I.G.’s song Things Done Changed from his 1994 Ready to Die album was produced by none other than Dr. Dre himself. B.I.G. illustrates the limited options he was left to face growing up in Brooklyn. The thought of becoming a rapper knowing that the only two other options given to a young black man is to sell drugs (which is sure to end in failure) or to try and make it through sports. Talk about being boxed in.
Lil Wayne (DontGetIt-The Carter III) 2008
“The wind blow, my dreads swang… He had hair like wool, like Wayne… Dropping ashes in the bible… I shake em out and they fall on the rifle…”
Weezy came with it on his 2008 Classic album The Carter III. He released DontGetit, sampled from Nina Simone’s Misunderstood; putting an even darker twist to the already somewhat melancholy Nina Simone version. What sticks out most in Wayne’s bar is his contrast, almost like a good versus evil or perception versus reality. He references Jesus when he says “He had hair like wool, like Wayne.” When he says, “Dropping ashes in the Bible”, that phrase alone almost was controversial especially since we know Weezy wasn't talking about ashes from a cigarette but ashes from a blunt. When he says he drops them (ashes from a blunt) out of the Bible, and they fall on the rifle, whoa! Most preachers refer to their bibles as swords and although we shall fear no evil, Weezy has a rifle (modern day sword) in the vicinity just in case.
Jay Z (Song Cry- Blue Print II)
“That's your fault, how many times you forgiven me? How was I to know that you was plain sick of me? I know the way a n*gga livin was whack But you don't get a n*gga back like that!”
Hov’s classic Song Cry was and still is an ode to all the fellas that struggle expressing their sensitive side, Jay-Z's Song Cry song, somewhat of a narcissistic apology letter. His lyrics are proof that most men can't handle what we may dish out to the women we're in relationships with. In other words, the audacity of you doing to me what I've done to you.
Jay Z (Seen it All (Young Jeezy)- Seen it All)
“Uncle died on the spot Pop killed the family with heroin shots Gave my life to the block Figured, I get shot 'least I die on top”
A very underrated song by Young Jeezy featuring Jay-Z. I was always told that there are two ways out of the drug game; you either end up dead or in jail. However, young men still take their chances with ambitions to become the next Scare Face or Nino Brown; both died by the way. In the lyrics, Hov acknowledges the likely outcome of his decision to give his life to the streets, but at least he won't die broke. In other words, he'd rather live fast and accept his ominous fate if it means he can enjoy the kickbacks even if only temporarily.
Tupac (Keep Ya Head UP)
"Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots"
This song is the epitome of black resilience. Yes, the blacker the berry, the more ripe and sweeter it is. The darker the flesh the deeper the roots is a poetic way of saying black power. No, not in a rise up and black is better, but more so black is great even when society tries to downplay our excellence. Tupac's Keep Ya Head up is full of gems and is sure to uplift you.
Notorious B.I.G (Juicy)
We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us Birthdays was the worst days Now we sip Champagne when we thirsty
Remember when Diddy had members of the band walk across the Brooklyn Bridge while reciting every word of B.I.G.'s Juicy? Even at a young age I could understand the context of a man that had it rough growing up but had finally made it to riches. That grown man still carries that burden of missing out on every child's favorite holiday that comes once a year. To make up for the time lost, he drinks champagne, which is normally reserved for celebratory occasions on a regular ordinary bases.
Ice Cube (It Was A Good Day)
"Today I didn't even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day."
First of all, everyone should be able to recite this entire song. Goodness gracious, this is a feel good song. Ever have a day that you were just on and the universe just works in your favor. Damn to walk out the door to start your day, and automatically think if you'll live another 24 hours is deep in itself. Everything went right for Cube. From killing it on the basketball court, to getting a hot hand shooting dice and dominoes to even finally getting some from the woman he always wanted. After all of that, Ice Cube's now iconic line about not having to use his semi-automatic rifle was the final proof he needed to conclude he had a good day.